The Mario Kart series has taken no steps backward in its evolution from the Super Nintendo, which made its debut almost 20 years ago. With each incarnation of the game, simple tweaks have been added to the popular formula. Mario Kart 64 introduced hills, Mario Kart Double Dash brought us kart customization, Mario Kart DS added an online multiplayer and now Mario Kart 7 for the Nintendo 3DS brings flying into the game.
Flying may be the greatest addition to kart racing yet, though I should really be calling it "gliding." As you hurtle through the air, gliders give you a sense of control that you've never had before in a Mario Kart game -- and the game's action never stops.
To that degree, underwater racing has been added as well. Where in previous installations of Mario Kart water slowed you down, here a submerged section of the course retains your speed. Flying and swimming together help to make this Mario Kart the smoothest experience yet. You will rarely be slowed down or fall off a cliff, and the game is better for it.
The courses break tradition in an important way, some ditching the lap structure and instead offering a route with three sections. I loved having the variety; laps have a tendency to grate on me after the first few play-throughs.
I found the blue shells a little less devastating than in Mario Kart Wii, my least favorite Kart entry. New powerups include a new favorite of mine, the "7", which gives you seven orbiting items that range from red shells to bananas. It is incredibly fun to send projectiles flying at your enemies, machine-gun style.
Mario Kart 7 may represent perfection in the world of kart racing; it takes from the best the series has to offer, cuttting motion control and adding a well integrated third dimension. The only issue with the 3-D I had was keeping the system level. If you tilt the Nintendo 3DS to the side, you'll dislodge the 3-D effect. This happens often when you get too intense about the races -- which in Mario Kart, is always.
If you have a Nintendo 3DS, Mario Kart 7 is a must-buy . If you don't have a Nintendo 3DS, Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7 make it an absolute must-buy. Sales of the handheld are up. And for good reason.