Six very different roads have led us here to Mario Kart 7. Six roads representing six previous Mario Kart games across six different formats. Six roads that all follow the same highway code (red shells home, green shells roam) and share the same sights (from Mario Circuit to Bowser's Castle). And yet scratch underneath the tarmac and the journeys couldn't be more unlike.
Each Mario Kart is tuned and balanced significantly differently to all the others, to the point that it's almost impossible to find someone who can stomach them all. The result; a fractured fanbase, split six ways, who will each be approaching this latest entry in the series from a different direction.
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Your hopes and expectations of Mario Kart 7, then, will shift according to which of the previous Mario Karts you consider to be your favourite. Are you hoping for the pure, precision racing of Super Mario Kart on SNES, or a chaotic pinball machine such as Mario Kart Wii? Mario Kart 64's multiplayer bent, or the DS iteration's meaty single-player mission structure? Double Dash's fearless innovation, or the safe pair of hands that was Super Circuit?
In the event, it doesn't matter which road takes you to Mario Kart 7, because the champagne corks will be popping whatever your sensibilities. This time, Nintendo's mechanics managed to balance everything perfectly. Let us introduce you to Mario Kart 7, your new favourite Mario Kart.
Mario Kart 7 is the best in the series so far, and it carries itself like it is too. Throughout, there is a sense of triumphant, exhilarating culmination that rings out loud like the doom-siren of an incoming red shell. It's no longer enough for Mario Circuit to skirt round the edges of Peach's castle - now, the drawbridge is lowered and the track leads directly onto the royal red carpet, leading you through the main hallway before spitting you out high above the Mushroom Kingdom. Conversely Bowser's Castle opens its portcullis outwards, so you can screech around the hideous smelting factory that passes for a moat in the King Koopa's neighbourhood.
And then there's the traditional pièce de résistance, Rainbow Road. Apparently bored of being a lonely heavenly body, our favourite rainbow loop has decided to up sticks and weave itself around the contours of a nearby solar system, incorporating features such as a planetary ring system and a moon crater into its design. It makes for a breathtaking finale, a straight A to B point race that throws up a new surprise round every bend.
But you'll realise long before you take your place at the back of the Special Cup grid that this is a racer that trades on verve and wonderment. Think of MK 7 as the Mario Galaxy of the roads; a racer with the fertile imagination of a child's mind, and the attention span to boot.
You'll coo as the Piranha Plant Pipeway transitions from a Super Mario Bros 1-2 underground homage to a Mario 3D Land tribute in the space of a single hang-glide. You'll grin when you discover that the Melody Motorway is made entirely out of music, the corners comprised of various percussion instruments, each note playing in turn as you powerslide over them. There are many more.
These are the hallmarks of a series - and a developmental team - that's brimming with confidence. Of a series that, like Mario's platformers, has long since established the rules of the world it inhabits and is now trying to push against them. Just when you think that there's nowhere left to go, Mario Kart 7 pushes a little bit harder, deconstructing its most hackneyed settings and rebuilding them as something fresh and new. Into Peach's castle, onto Saturn's rings and beyond.