Thursday, September 15, 2011

Mario Kart 7 - Back On Track

The Mario Kart franchise is probably the longest surviving series in the racing genre of video games, and when you pick up just about any game in the franchise from the pseudo-three-dimensional Super Mario Kart to the largely competitive Mario Kart DS, you can really see why. Almost every installment in the series has worked to be an improvement over past iterations, while properly reinventing courses and items that succeeded before. Up until Mario Kart Wii, the gimmicks worked well and made for a unique experience. Honestly, Nintendo has worked hard to make each game great, and individual, so that you can go back and play Mario Kart 64 without feeling like you're trudging through a lesser developed Mario Kart: Double Dash.

But, like I said, every family has a black sheep, and for this mushroom induced hubbabub, that sheep happens to be Mario Kart Wii. MKW did its job of introducing a pretty cool gimmick, this time it was motorcycles which seemed to be influenced from the Mario-themed Excitebike: Mario Battle Stadium. On their own, the bikes in Mario Kart Wii were alright and added a cool diversity to the vehicles, which had so often been mere cars. They even added some pretty awesome costumes for Peach, Rosalina, and Daisy.

Pretty awesome indeed.
Unfortunately there were a few problems with MKW that no amount of perfectly figured princesses could save it from. The most notable of these was that it suffered from Nintendo's attempted genocide of the competitive gamer. The title was designed to as a party title, with an far too much emphasis on chance. And no, I don't mean chances that you'll pull into first, I mean the chance of being blown to bits by three blue shells and a Bob-Omb before you can even really gloat. There was no attempt at balance in this game, and it really put fans off their appetite. Especially when no less than Sega came out and punched Nintendo in the nuts later that generation. And they punched hard, with Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing possibly being the best kart racer produced for a while.

The other problem that plagued Mario Kart Wii was poor track design, and some wonky texture choices that made everything seem to mesh together, making it nearly impossible to have any real depth perception during races. Which is a real problem when you find out that left turn was actually a one-stop drop to the bottom of Maple Treeway.

This Dry Bones used to be a regular Koopa, but misleading
road signs have a bad habit of getting things killed.
Of all the Mario Kart games that have been produced since the beautiful year of 1992, MKW is the only one that I find myself hating every time I play it. This was especially painful after the gaming gods had graced us all with the majestic Mario Kart DS just a few short years before, although to be fair, things were kind of beginning to slip at Double Dash.

So you can understand why when I first heard that there was going to be a Mario Kart title for the 3DS (a handheld I'm already not entirely sold on) I was a little bit in the ballpark of "Meh." However, after watching an interview and hearing about the game just a little bit more, I realized that Mario Kart 7 is looking to be something special. Something that wants to bring the competitive back into the franchise, and keep the fun and gimmicks to boot!

And I dig this gimmick!
Courses from past games are returning, as per the usually Mario Kart tradition, but this time they aren't just past stages. This time the stages are being just ever so slightly retooled to incorporate the glider and underwater elements that are dominant in this title. So not only do we get old stages back, we get old stages back with muscles on the hoods and spinners in the tires.

The deal only got sweeter when I found out about the two new additions to the roster, a pair of characters that haven't been seen in a kart before. The first of them is creating the biggest of fan shitstorms: Metal Mario. Honestly, I don't care how many people cry about lazy texture swapping, I love Metal Mario, especially since he started becoming his own character in Mario Golf and Super Smash Bros. on the N64. Metal Mario is kind of like the Mushroom Kingdom equivalent of Dark Link, and all the more power to him.

The second new racer this time around is someone I had never really considered ever, but he's been there the whole time, and I'm surprisingly excited that he finally has a chance to sit down and be playable. This time Lakitu is done saving your drowning asses and is showing everybody what's up in his state of the art cloud car, and I couldn't be happier. I'm definitely going to be taking him for a spin when I get my hands on this game.

This is going to be more amazing than the tanks in Mario Party 5.
There's new items, such as a pretty cool fire flower that looks like it has some real strategic game, and the return of the classic MK64 blue shell. No more of that flying, exploding, first-player-only crap that hindered MKW. Oh no. This time the shell is back to tearing up the track and every single racer in its way. Move the hell out.

Really, this is the one of the few 3DS titles to be looking at. There seems to be an emphasis on quality gameplay, the roster is looking slick, items are great, and the gimmicks are going to be a blast. Check out this interview here that shows off everything in spectacular moving action, and if that doesn't convince you, then sir, go back to your generic FPS.

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