Mario Kart 7 was one of the most anticipated games of 2011, and it generated a lot of talk both before and after its release. There was a good deal of outrage from angered Waluigi fans (because apparently there are Waluigi fans) and understandable surprise at characters like Metal Mario and especially Honey Queen. But, while the character roster is important, Mario Kart is a racing series, and good racers need good tracks. Fortunately, Mario Kart 7 delivers here. Most people find the tracks to be aesthetically appealing and don’t give them any more thought than that. But have you ever actually thought about the varied terrain of each course? Probably not. But if you do, you’ll find that the Mushroom Kingdom is a very diverse place.
Most of the racetracks in the game aren’t naturally occurring; they’re manmade or, more than likely, Toad-made. I doubt that Toads are an expensive source of labor. However, there are some places that look like very little changes were made by Mario and company before they lined up at the starting line. Take Cheep Cheep Lagoon as an example. It looks like they all simply show up and drive off the pier into the water, where the smooth sand is lined by seaweed and large clams. Besides the clams, the only other visible inhabitants here are, as expected, the Cheep Cheeps. Maybe the lack of species diversity has to do with the effects of exhaust from the karts in the water. While it may be fun, there’s no way that driving underwater is good for the environment. But, other than the limited number of aquatic animals, Cheep Cheep Lagoon is a very generic ocean, and isn’t the most exciting attraction that Mario Kart 7 has to offer.
Rosalina’s Ice World offers a different twist on underwater racing. The surface of the track is really slick and slippery, certainly not ideal driving conditions. After maneuvering around a turn that curves around a pit, the freezing racers are plunged into the icy water if they can’t make the jump to continue on land. Due to the extreme temperatures, penguins are the only species that swim down here. A unique feature of this track is the ice cavern, which is encountered after the underwater segment. The cave is entirely frozen with icicles protruding from not the ceiling, but the floor. It’s a mystery as to how that happened.
It isn’t all water and ice. There are mountains that Mario wanted to host his races on as well. Rock Rock Mountain features a very steep slope to the summit. In fact, the incline is SO steep, that there a continuous flow of large boulders rolling down it. This is similar to the snowballs that roll down the mountain at DK Pass. However, at DK Pass the racers are free to simply drive back down the other side of the mountain once they reach the top. At Rock Rock Mountain, there simply isn’t a descent; the only way down is to hang glide. Given the choice, I’d take the snowballs any day.
As if driving underwater and hang gliding off of a mountain wasn’t enough, Mario decided that a dense jungle would put a different spin on kart racing. DK Jungle is your basic jungle-themed track, with heavy trees, grass, and mud, plus a giant banana statue and DK’s hut. But one just wasn’t enough, so we’ll go back to the days of Mario Kart: Double Dash!! and retrieve another jungle course. Not only is this a retro course, but it literally goes back in time, and it wouldn’t be called Dino Dino Jungle if there weren’t dinosaurs. Like DK Jungle, this course has all of the basic components. There are also multiple geysers located on the road that are strong enough to blow a kart into the air. Of course, there’s also a huge dinosaur standing in the middle of the track, just waiting to step on somebody. In the dinosaur’s defense, I’d be pretty upset, too, if a pack of racers treated me like a common obstacle. It must be very annoying to constantly have karts hang gliding over your head. But that still doesn’t change the fact that a dinosaur could easily take down a go-kart, making this a very dangerous jungle to race in.
While there are many more traditional courses in Mario Kart 7 that are great, the ones that are more non-traditional are usually interesting in that that sometimes they don’t even really look like racetracks. And after playing through courses like Rosalina’s Ice World, DK Jungle, and Rock Rock Mountain dozens of times, one begins to wonder, “Is that what it’s really like in the Mushroom Kingdom?”