It's fair to say that the Nintendo 3DS has had a difficult start to life. Criticised for being unwieldy (harsh), the 3D being off-putting and sometimes painful (fair), over-priced (maybe) and lacking any quality, appealing games (definitely), crisis after crisis has been heaped upon its young frame.
However, winds of change are in the air; a plethora of new, quality first-party games are spear-heading a charge onto the system, with Mario Kart 7 neck-and-neck for leadership of the group along with Super Mario 3D Land, both having mushroomed away from the rest of the pack.
Whereas Mario Kart Wii was a quality, if unsparkling, addition to the series, Mario Kart 7 has grabbed the baton and ran with it, implementing a host of new features which make it arguably (with a strong supporting case behind it) the best of the series so far.
Looks-wise, it's up there with the best the 3DS has to offer; the palette is bright and clear, with cute character models and detailed tracks, and is easily on par with the beautiful Mario Kart: Double Dash!! on the Gamecube. As you would expect, the top-screen houses the racing whereas the touch-screen holds the useful, but easily ignorable map.
Frankly, I couldn't hear the sound over the murmuring buzz of the aircraft hangar-like Earls Court, but I imagine it is similar to previous outings.
Much to the disappointment of everyone (and strangely, considering the amount of consoles they had in clusters supporting the game) the multiplayer wasn't playable. Instead, players were treated to a single player four race tournament, with each track intended to show off the new environmental features.
For those who don't know, Mario Kart 7 now features all-terrain racing; when players take off of high jumps a glider bursts from the back of the kart, gliding through obstacles onto the distant land, whereas when a player plunges underwater a small-propeller emerges from the exhaust and propels them along the lake floor. This last point I forgot, and thus when I skidded off the track in a panic and into water between two platforms I was relieved to find myself float onto a lower platform before being fired back onto the track. These new segments work well, offering a multi-layered approach which adds much needed variety to the tracks.
The 3D is thankfully unobtrusive to the point that you forget it is there, but swaggers forward to shine when the karts take flight, spinning into view before drifting into the distance. This, rather than IN YOUR FACE effects, is how 3D is meant to be utilised, and it works wonderfully; an excellent showcase of how to best use the technology at the developer's disposal.
The core gameplay hasn't changed much, which isn't a bad thing; Mario Kart's gameplay was perfected at the first time of asking, so every new edition brings refinement rather than a spanner to the works. Races are fast and frantic, with the usual array of weapons, power-slides and traps to keep racers on their toes. I wasn't really in a position to make comment about new additions to weapons, or removal of them, but I think I saw a blue shell go past, although that might have been a recurring nightmare. Equally, customisation of the karts is now possible, but as the demo had a choice of big or small wheels it was hard to make out what the difference was, if there was any at all.
This has all the requirements to be a classic for the fledgling platform; great graphics, superb new features which add something to the game, combined with timeless gameplay that makes for a game deserving of a space in every 3DS owner's collection. Sure to be a must-have, Mario Kart 7 is hopefully a sign that this promising platform is due the injection of life it deserves.
Mario Kart 7 is released in Europe on December 4th 2011 and America on the 2nd of December 2011.