The Mario Kart series, now more than nineteen years old, is in its seventh iteration. That might sound like the kind of observation that only comes from detailed research, but it's right there in the title. Mario Kart 7 - you see?
Anyway, if you like Mario Kart, you need this in your life. Nintendo has added a host of new content, overhauled all the old stuff, and churned out a title which is simultaneously the most complete, feature-rich, balanced, and just plain fun version yet.
But it is still Mario Kart; if you don't care for its whimsy, Mario Kart 7 isn't going to win you over. It's still just as magical and fanciful as ever - moreso, perhaps, as the genius of the concept is about as finely-tuned as possible.
No idea what we're talking about? Mario Kart, if you're new to the series, is a racing game in which you take control of Mario - or one of his many friends - in a friendly race around a number of courses, each based on classic Nintendo franchises. There's powerups, speed-ups, weapons and much more - and now, thanks to the 3DS, it's in 3D too.
While not quite the punch in the face that's possible in a Smash Bros. title, sending a turtle shell (one of the game's projectile weapons) up the tailpipe of that uppity, cake-baking princess is a rare treat. But I digress.
There are an amazing 32 tracks in the game, including 16 that are brand new and 16 that return from previous entries in the series. This provides for a staggering level of variety, which is extremely important thanks to the game's other notable inclusion - the community mode.
This online feature allows you to play with gamers from all around the world, with no apparent lag - although be warned, as a good human player (or eight) can lead to a chaotic and highly difficult experience. But that's the point, the fun of it if you will; climbing to the top of the placings is only thrilling, after all, if it comes with the feeling of accomplishment that's afforded by defeating talented opponents.
The racing itself has been overhauled, with a number of changes that either refine or dramatically alter the experience. One of the marquee changes to the game is the ability to drive underwater.
In reality, this change in the physics - you move slower, basically - plays out pretty much as you might expect. What's interesting about it is the way the (very clever) level designers have used it.
It never feels tiresome, and is often used in ways that almost give you a break - while spicing up the track layouts to ensure those sections are only possible with the physics afforded by the wetness. A neat trick, to be sure.
Speaking of the levels - almost without exception, they're spectacular. Sure, you'll have your favourites, but that'll be because you prefer tight drifting or long straights - not because any of the levels is in any way bad. Instead, the genius, multi-layered layouts ensure there's always something new to learn, some new route to discover, some clever trick to exploit.
That's not the end of the new, either. You can glide off certain jumps, there are heaps of new powerups to discover, the vehicle customisation is deeper than ever, handling and boost mechanics have been tweaked, the coin pickups are back (providing both boost and currency towards unlockables) and much more.
There's a hell of a lot of it, basically, and it's clearly only been included if it provides some sort of value or enhancement to the experience. Try as we might, we couldn't find any aspect of the game that didn't feel like it expressly belonged.
Visually, if simply looking at screenshots, you might think it was underwhelming; if so, you'd be wrong. It looks great in motion - especially when you consider that it's both in 3D and skipping along at a solid 60 frames per second.
Add in some classic course (revised to suit the new mechanics, of course) and you've got a presentation package that will thrill veterans of the series and newcomers alike.
The 3D stuff, too, works well - racing games seem to be the technology's forte, making corners much more readable as a result. It's not quite as important as it is in Ridge Racer, but it definitely helps - without being essential.
If you have a 3DS, and can handle the idea of a cartoon-like racing game, you absolutely must get this game. Believe it or not, Mario Kart 7 is the very best version of the formula yet.