Mario Kart Wii wasn’t my favourite instalment in the series. I thought the graphics were a little bit slapdash, the proliferation of control schemes was a bit bewildering, and it seemed a shame that the recent Super Mario Galaxy had ended up having little influence on the design of the levels. But one very specific thing irritated me right the way through the experience. Mario Kart Wii introduced the POW Block as a power-up. The POW Block upsets all the characters in front of the user, causing them to lose whatever items they’re holding. But the series already has a power-up that causes most players to lose their items, the Thunderbolt. The combination of the two meant that you were forever losing your power-ups in Mario Kart Wii, and it made it pointless to hold on to them to use strategically.
Thankfully the POW Block was removed in Mario Kart 7, along with number of other superfluous power-ups like the Fake Item Box. In their place, Mario Kart 7 introduces the Super Leaf. This gives your racer a tanooki tail, which you can use to bat aside weaponry and rival racers. It’s not the most dramatic introduction to the mix, but I like it. When you play a Mario Kart game in singleplayer, you’re usually in first place. But you end up with a limited range of power-ups that aren’t very interesting or useful. The Super Tail not only livens things up by adding an extra option in the mix, it’s also just plain useful to the racer in first place. It’s a defensive item rather than an aggressive one, and when you’re in first place your primary concern is defending your lead.
Mario Kart 7 is a better game than Mario Kart Wii. It feels tighter in terms of both graphics and design, and there are even a few tracks with a clear Galaxy influence. It’s hard to tell how Nintendo will try to refine the formula for the inevitable Wii U instalment but I’d recommend ditching the Blooper. I can tolerate it in Mario Kart 7 because it highlights the 3D effect, but I don’t like it. It seems contrived having AI opponents pretending to have impaired vision and I’d rather it was gone. But we’ll just have to wait and see how Nintendo approach the formidable task of topping their lucky seventh instalment of this ever-popular series.