The insightful design fuses with a forward-thinking structure to make Mario Kart 7 the best online racer of any type on any console bar none.
And the stroke of design genius that makes this bold statement unequivocally, inarguably true? Blue Shells, those hateful, lead-scuppering scourges of the single-player highway. Take the race online, however, and Ol' Blue becomes the fulcrum for the most intense - and, somewhat strangely, most fair - multiplayer racing you'll ever experience. Now scrape your jaw off thefloor and we'll explain what we're wittering on about.
Take any contemporary racer - Forza, F1 2011, Need For Speed - and consider how its online races play out. All too often, they begin with a crunching pile-up on the first bend, swiftly followed by a spate of drop-outs as scrunched-up backmarkers see their chances of victory disappear over the horizon.
Here's where the Blue Shell sails in to save the day. Mario Kart 7's most cantankerous weapon serves to keep the entire field keen; everyone knows that right up until the death, they have every chance of boosting up the pack and snatching victory from the jaws of eighth place. Drop-outs are almost non-existent thanks to MK7 using the same points plus/minus system that worked so well on Wii.
Insteading of organising gruelling, overly long Grands Prix for players to start and not finish, the entire online experience is one long exhilarating exercise in improving your metascore. With each track position counting, never has stealing seventh place in the final second meant so much.
With harsh penalties for disconnecting, you can be assured that you'll have the full field breathing down your neck and armed to the teeth with the blue menace as you screech around the final bend.
Finding and connecting to an online race is a smooth and painless process, and the point- scoring system also serves as a matchmaking device, meaning that (during peak times at least) you'll almost always come up against racers of a similar skill level.
It's hard not to be impressed by how well the 3DS manages to keep track of the comic mischief that's playing out on screen - although it does this by 'guessing' much of the action, which occasionally leads to some odd visual discrepancies as the game 'corrects' the position of the other racers relative to you. It's jarring when it happens (especially, and often crushingly, at the finish line), but it's infrequent enough for it not to be a major issue.
StreetPass and SpotPass ensure that you have a healthy amount of fresh ghost data times to whoop when you're not near a Wi-Fi hotspot, but there's no question that the races are MK7's trump card, and it's all thanks to the Blue Shell. Be sure to salute it as it swooshes past.
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A triumphant showcase for the 3DS's online capabilities, even if the Communities feature needs a rethink. It's quick, unpredictable and perpetually thrilling.