Never underestimate Nintendo. Two months ago the 3DS looked like a handheld in the doldrums. Then came the splendid, faith-restoring Super Mario 3D Land and now there’s this: one of the better Mario Karts to date.

Not that Mario Kart 7 changes the core of the game. It’s still Wacky Races with Nintendo’s mascots tearing around fantastical racetracks (16 new ones, 16 Mario Kart favourites).

As always the finely-tuned doling-out of power-ups orchestrates the races so that no-one gets too far ahead or behind. Sometimes it’s a source of frustration as a blue shell knocks you from first to last just seconds from the finishing line, but in return there’s the thrill of turning imminent defeat into a shock victory.

It may be as conservative as Status Quo but the magic formula Nintendo came up with 19 years ago is still as incredibly potent today. There are a few twists, too: for a start there are some understated but classy 3D effects, the ability to customize your kart and – best of all – plenty of multiplayer options.

Nintendo has been slow to embrace online gaming but you wouldn’t know it from Mario Kart 7, which delivers most of what you’d expect from a modern multiplayer experience: quick matches, the ability to create groups, friend lists and private races.

There’s also local play for some face-to-face competition and integration with StreetPass, which allows players to access the ‘ghosts’ of other players and race against them.

On occasion Mario Kart 7 skids, though. The coin challenge in battle mode is dreary and the tilt-control of the drivers’ eye view is no match for the standard behind-the-kart viewpoint.

But by trimming back the number of racers, dumping the bikes and souping up the online action, Mario Kart 7 is a better, more focused game than Mario Kart Wii, and that makes it a must-buy for 3DSers.

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Mario Kart 7 review

It’s not the very best Mario Kart game, but it’s not far off, and that makes it a cracker