Back in the driving seat
As the latest entry in one of Nintendo's most successful series, Mario Kart 7 is undoubtedly one of the most hotly anticipated 3DS games to date. Looks and performance-wise, the colourful racer does more than enough to leave Mario Kart Wii's efforts in the dust, while the courses offer the perfect mixture of challenge and accessibility to please veterans and newcomers alike.
The Circle Pad driving controls make handling nice and accurate while the game runs amazingly smoothly, chugging along at 60 frames per second in both 2D and 3D modes, making it one of the slickest Mario Kart experiences to date.
Old and new
Mario Kart 7 features the regular bunch of Nintendo mascots as drivers, including Mario, Luigi, Yoshi and Peach, plus some new additions to the series such as Metal Mario from the Super Mario 64 game, Lakitu, the spectacled cloud-riding Koopa and Honey Queen from the Mario Galaxy games.
Weapons and items also feature a blend of the familiar and new, from speed boosting mushrooms, red homing shells and slippery banana skins to the Fire Flower, which allows players to throw blazing balls of fire at other drivers, and the Super Leaf, which gives your driver's kart a bushy tail to knock opponents and items out of the way.
There are 32 tracks, 16 brand new and 16 classic courses from previous Mario Kart games given a fresh lick of paint. They vary from the wacky in nature to more traditional raceways, but all are infused with elements of Nintendo's charming game worlds, from beachy tropical paradises to banana-crammed Donkey Kong inspired tracks.
A number of courses introduce airborne and underwater sections, which add a glider and propeller to your kart respectively. The fun glider sections allow you to soar over big gaps in the raceway and attempt to pull of short-cuts in the sky before landing back on the tarmac, but the underwater sections don't feel like they add much to the experience beyond slowing down karts a little and providing some scenic variety.
Beneath the game's refreshingly crisp look and impressive performance level is the excellent karting experience fans have come to know and love. Mario Kart is about power-sliding round corners and gaining a speed boost, following the perfect racing line along fantastically designed tracks, and blasting opponents off the finish line to steal last minute victories.
Easy to learn but difficult to master, Mario Kart 7 has the lot, both online and offline, and we're in little doubt it'll be one of the best Nintendo games to enjoy this Christmas.