Mario Kart 7 just hit stores in Japan a couple of hours ago, and I went out and grabbed my copy so I could try it out and let you guys know how it is.
I've played through two of the cups, the shell cup and the mushroom cup, which consist of various tracks from the previous Mario Kart games as well as several new tracks. Normally I don't like to see this kind of recycling, but in this case it was nostalgic and pretty awesome when the track from Mario Kart 64 came up where you're bouncing on giant mushrooms. The new gameplay mechanics come into play here as well like the hang glider that automatically pops open when you reach a certain height after a jump or a fall. The glider controls really easily and feels great. It's a subtle addition to the gameplay that works well and doesn't feel like it shouldn't be there.
The biggest thing I felt while playing through the first couple of cups was that "this is Mario Kart". It still feels like the same game that you know and love, and that's a good thing I think. The 3D doesn't really add a whole lot to the experience, it just adds some subtle depth, which is cool. I didn't notice any motion sickness or anything like what others have complained about. The underwater sections are kind of wacky but fit in and didn't bother me like I thought they would.
Where Mario Kart 7 seems to really shine is it's online multiplayer. It just works really well right out of the box. After selecting internet play, you choose race or battle, and it quickly matches you up with several other players and displays their name and Mii on the screen. I chose battle mode and dove into what felt like an old friend I hadn't seen for a while. Again the battle maps are a mix of old and new and feel great to play on. The classic three balloon battles are as fun as ever, and another game has you collecting coins and attacking enemies to make them drop theirs, which is also fun. I intended to only play one or two matches but ended up playing about ten, so I can see this being pretty addictive. I'm looking forward to challenging random fools on the train.
So basically, if you like Mario Kart, from what I've played so far this is a no brainer to buy. It's fun, has great online multiplayer, and feels just like Mario Kart should while adding some minor things to the gameplay that make it better. Between this and Super Mario 3D Land my 3DS is finally starting to pay off in fun experiences.
I made a quick video of my first load of the game and a bit of gameplay for anyone interested, and you can check it out below.