If Mario Kart 7 feels like any other single Mario Kart title, it’s the classic GBA outing Super Circuit. That game – which newcomers will shortly be able to experience for free if they earned an Ambassador pass earlier in the year – was arguably the most balanced and hardcore-friendly iteration that Nintendo ever released. Abandoning the free-for-all party game nature of the Nintendo Wii and (to a much lesser extent) Nintendo DS outings, Mario Kart 7 takes mere seconds to blossom into the kind of furiously compelling endeavour that is effortlessly capable of piquing the affection of gamers both young and old. It is – quintessentially – the kind of game that nobody has ever been able to do better than Nintendo.

The only significant change involves customisable karts, but those elements have been so cleverly implemented that they’ll only unhinge things if you pick a set-up that isn’t right for you. You can plump for a loadout with the quickest acceleration and fastest speed if you wish, but you’ll then have to adjust to the mildly unforgiving handling; and Mario Kart is still all about how you tackle corners anyway. If you encounter someone online who manages to maintain a significant lead – even despite a barrage of those brimstone-like blue shells – you’ll be quick to observe that they’re rarely (if ever) using anything other than the classic, vanilla Mario Kart set-up. These modifications are primarily cosmetic then, but it’ll be interesting to see whether people have chosen to adapt to the tougher settings a year down the line.

You steadily gain access to those customisation options by collecting coins both online and off, though sadly one of the most enjoyable (and least celebrated) aspects of the original SNES Mario Kart hasn’t returned here. In that game you were granted a tiny speed increase if you managed to collect (and hold on to) at least ten coins during a single race, adding an element of forgotten strategy to proceedings that unfortunately hasn’t been present since the 16-bit era. Nevertheless, everything that worked about that old classic works about this new one. The small selection of new power ups are reasonably neat (though not enough to instantly secure them a place in the series’ next outing) but the numerous new hang-gliding sections are genius, quite frankly; the most significant new tactical element to appear in the series since the aforementioned coin/speed reward system.

So blue shells are still capable of making you feel like hurling yourself under a bus, and Luigi still (rather charmingly) gets a star whenever you get even remotely close to him, but you always feel just in control enough for it to get right under your skin. Using actual skill to glide over the finish line in first is as rewarding as it ever was, and Mario Kart is officially back to being what it was always supposed to be; an actual racing game. The online interface closely mirrors that of the Nintendo Wii version, but don’t let that fool you. Online races are restricted to a maximum of eight players (instead of Mario Kart Wii’s chaotic twelve) and play consequently adheres much more closely to the celebrated Mario Kart formula that everyone fell in love with in the first place. Great new tracks (the only dud: Bowser City) mingle perfectly with sixteen very welcome remixes, and the performance of the online component is downright faultless. If you’ve got a 3DS, you need it.

Mario Kart 7 is available now for the Nintendo 3DS.

Watch the Mario Kart 7 trailer below:

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