Game Review: Mario Kart 7

HANDS FULL OF FUN DEPT.: I come from a multi-generational family of Nintendo users.

My mother, who was born in 1917, loved "Tetris" on the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) one of my brothers gave her.

When she died, the NES was sent to me. My daughter, who was a young teen at the time, and I, played a lot of "Super Mario 2," "Dr. Mario" -- and "Tetris."

One of my own favorite Nintendo games was and still is "Mario Sunshine," in which the little Italian plumber runs around cleaning up toxic waste. That is on the GameCube, which is a great console.

My stepdaughter had a Nintendo DS till her grandmother, who was born in the Philippines in the 1940s, discovered she loved "Brain Age." Now that DS belongs to Lola.

A favorite for most of us has been the "Mario Kart" series, starting with the Nintendo 64. I actually liked that version of the series the best, at least through the GameCube and Wii, because it had a great Wario Stadium course. All mud and dirt, with lots of jumps and great cart movement. Dirt tracks are where go-carts belong!

Now there is "MarioKart7" for the Nintendo 3DS, and it's a blast -- a new favorite.

Alas, no Wario Stadium, but there is a Wario Shipyard -- and 31 other courses on which to drive the crazy little karts. Sixteen new courses, and 16 retro courses. Even the new courses seem a little familiar -- Bowser's Castle, for instance, has been seen before, just not in quite this same configuration.

But all of the courses, old and new, feature tons of fun stuff not necessarily seen in the Mario Kart games before, although most were in other Nintendo titles. For instance, Bob-omb, which I first saw in "Mario Sunshine," is here, as are Bullet Bill and Blooper (very annoying, that Blooper). A few new tricksters are on hand, including Fire Flower, Super Leaf and Lucky 7.

The game play on the 3DS is a complete blast. The little thumb-wheel for steering took me a little time to get used to, then I loved it. I am a slow, older driver, so I've only used the 50cc Karts so far, but aced almost every track at that speed, so may move on to the 100cc or ever 150cc Karts before too long.

I mentioned the annoying Bloopers -- which spit big globs of black crud on the vision screen, making it very hard to steer. But the 3DS has a great map screen on the second screen, and I've learned to steer my Karts on that map till the crud clears up. I wouldn't have tried that on the older games' maps, on a TV, because the maps didn't seem as detailed as they do on this smaller screen.

While I have played the Mario Kart games on several different sizes of televisions over the years, I find I am very comfortable with that little 3-x-2-inch screen, and holding the entire console in my hands. It's similar to being comfy watching movies on an iPhone.

The graphics on the 3DS are bright and clear, and the 3D function can be used or turned off. I found it kind of fun but sometimes annoying -- there are screen ghosts that show up sometimes in the 3D play, and other blurring. And, some eyestrain. Most of the time my 10-year-old son (another generation of Nintendo fans) and I just play this game in 2D, which is fine.

(We like the 3D function more in "Super Mario in 3D Land," which is a very fun platforms game.)

The physics of the Kart movement are good enough that there is a learning curve for driving them, which makes the game more challenging and fun.

There are plenty of good features and ways to modify the game. Karts can be customized in a lot of ways -- It's easy to build, for instance, a kart with a boat body, tiny baby-carriage wheels and a bat-wing glider.

Speaking of gliders -- my wife (another generation!) and son and I have very much enjoyed being able to go underwater in the Karts -- a little propeller pops out, and the sound track gets a burbling sound effect to go with it -- and to glide, thanks to wings that pop out when the Kart flies off a planned ramp.

I regret to report that if you drive the Kart off a cliff -- as opposed to off a course ramp -- you and your Kart are both just toast. The wings do not pop out then to help you save yourself.

Still, the wings are fun when the game allows them. And, thankfully, the game retrieves you quickly enough when you fall off that if you have a good enough lead, you might not even lose your position in the race. If you lead isn't good enough, too bad, so sad!

An aspect of the game I haven't been able to test yet -- but very much look forward to trying -- is multiplayer mode. As many as eight 3DS consoles can connect wirelessly for users to compete against each other. And only one of them needs the game card -- the others can download enough of the game to play it from the one card.

We only have the one 3DS in this house. We were going to try it with one of my son's friends, who'd had a 3DS, but he broke it, apparently at the hinge, which was also a weakness with the older DS models.

The 3DS feels a little flimsy, which may mean nothing. Maybe it's as tough as nails. But we are being very careful with the one we have. We want it to last, because it's a blast.

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