Being a Nintendo fan for the better part of my 31 years, I’ve known frustration. I’ve been through the gauntlet on NES games, tasted the satisfaction of SNES, felt the burn of multiplayer party games on the N64, GameCube and Wii, and gone it alone on all the handhelds – GameBoy, GameBoy Advance, DS and DSi to name a few. But the 3DS brings a new mix of all those things – frustration, satisfaction, multiplayer fun and portable distraction. So is the story of Mario Kart 7 – a game that has flaws, sure, but is a whole lot of fun – and championed-in a very important 3DS update.

That update included the ability to join friends’ games via the friends list – a vital function of the friends list initially left out. As well, players met through Mario Kart now show up in your Mii Plaza. But these things aren’t as important as the gameplay in Mario Kart 7. After all, it doesn’t matter if you can join a friend’s game if you’re not interested in doing so. It’s good news then, that Mario Kart 7 is loads of fun, despite some quirks and problems, and it’s a really fun game to play with your kids for all of the obvious reasons.The gameplay in Mario Kart 7 is, at its most basic, the same thing you always expect from a Mario Kart franchise game: you race, you shoot stuff at each other, you win, you lose. And if we just took MK7 straight based on that, I’d still be on-board for a near-perfect score. Just fair warning.

Mario Kart 7, however, has a couple of differences that make it a new experience. In this game, your kart is outfitted with both a glider and an underwater propeller. Certain ramps will launch you into the air and let you glide over gaps and portions of the track – and some of these will allow you to bypass sections or find alternate routes. Similarly, when you submerge, a propeller will sprout from your kart and let you race underwater to find new ways to finish tracks. Both gliding and underwater sections come with their own set of physics that work really well. You can also customize your kart with larger and smaller wheels, which change things like handling and off-road ratings. A lot of the customizations are unlocked by collecting coins through Grand Prix mode, which is good for players of all skills.

Now you can glide...a welcome addition

Weapons, as usual, are a mixed bag. You’ll still be using the same shells, mushrooms, bob-ombs and stars, but you’ve also got a couple more weapons to use – namely, the fire flower and leaf. The fire flower lets you to shoot fireballs. The leaf gives you a Tanooki tail and lets you whip other kart racers. Also – everyone’s least favorite weapon – the blue shell – is back. Why?! While in online matches, you don’t see too many blue shells being slung around, single player matches become frustrating with the amount of blue shells you end up taking in the cornhole. You’ve got plenty of time and space in the 50cc races to rebound from a blue shell attack, but once you get up to the breakneck 150cc races, a blue shell can easily take you from first to last place. And since you’re holding a very-portable system, you’ve got to check your rage before you throw your 3DS.

Another new weapon is the “Lucky 7” – where seven of the other items circle your racer. You get to shoot them as you see fit, but if you’re bumped at all, you lose them all, so it’s good measure to start tossing everything at once if you ever get that Lucky 7.

You’ll be playing with 17 characters this time around – which is a slight drop from the last Mario Kart game. This also isn’t really a bad thing because of two reasons – first, you don’t get Baby Mario or Baby Luigi – no big loss. Next, you’re able to race with your own Mii after you play through all of the tracks (provided you get a particular star rating on all of them). So, after about a week or so (okay, more like two days), you’ll be able to race with your Mii – which makes online racing so much more fun. Other (of the 17) characters are unlocked by placing first in the 150cc mode.

Oh wait, we didn’t mention yet that you can race this puppy online? You can! Nintendo finally manned-up their onl