Review by Geno
"Its fair share of ups and downs."
I've loved the Mario Kart franchise. It's one of those Nintendo franchises, along with mainstays Zelda, Metroid and Mario, that, despite my better judgment, always insures I wander out to pick up my copy. Originally, I'd never intended to. At least, not to rush out and get it, but I got suckered into it when I found a copy at the local K-Mart while I was there doing some birthday gift shopping.
Since it was the last one, I scooped it up, figuring I'd save myself a trip by doing so. I'm glad I did, though.
If we compare the graphics to most other games on other consoles, we're naturally going to fall short. In the case of Mario Kart, this also holds true to most other Nintendo Wii games. I suppose they decided not to go incredibly fancy and just make the graphics as smooth as possible, but not put too much detail into it. There's plenty of detail where it's needed, however, but when some tracks are clearly just a flat piece of land, and aren't particularly believable at all, it makes you wonder.
A clear example of this is Wario's Gold Mine, where a majority of your racing takes place in mine shafts and over tracks for the mine cars. Well, the tracks are what I'm talking about. They're as flat as paper, and while this might not be noticeable at first, eventually it becomes obvious. This doesn't detract from the level, because it gets the job done, anyway. All the other graphics are crisp and smooth, but sometimes you'll note a few discrepancies here and there, like wheels not even being attached to some karts.
While the retro tracks in the game all have songs that have been more or less untouched (or touched up a bit), and are as memorable as ever, the actual songs in the newer levels aren't particularly mind-blowing. Compared to Brawl, this seems almost like a slap in the face. No, the music isn't horrible, by any stretch, but it just seems.. a little unimaginative. Fitting, but unimaginative. Not to mention, most of the tracks sound like they belong played by the bards at renaissance festivals.
The actual sounds themselves, however, can get extremely annoying. Everything fits here, and you'll hear your characters cry, laugh, scream and cheer. It's the actual frequency of the crying, laughing, screaming and cheering that will make you want to turn off the sound completely and turn on your favorite CD or MP3 player. You won't lose anything in the translation.
It's Mario Kart. Having said that, you expect a Mario Kart to boil down to a few main things, of which no Mario Kart can be one without: crazy race tracks, crazy Mario characters, and crazier items. In those respects, Mario Kart Wii excels. There's a large assortment of tracks, lots of characters this time around, and the introduction of new items, while excluding some old items.
I wish they'd chosen to exclude a bunch of the items.
While the gameplay itself is top notch - it feels like a Mario Kart game in the way it handles - the items themselves are absolutely frustrating, not to mention terribly frequent. Especially the strongest ones. First and second place are treated to general slowing/stopping items, like bananas and green shells, to assist with keeping their place, and making the lives of racers behind them miserable. If you're below third place, you are automatically entitled to the strongest items in the game.
You will also get these items frequently. In fact, so frequently, that you can be in last place and half a lap behind the leader and still have a chance of pulling ahead to first place in less than ten seconds. Amongst these, expect to see (and get hit by) at least five Lightning Bolts, no less than six Blue Spiky Shells (if you manage to keep to first place, that is), eight POW Blocks, and enough Red Shells to start your own army. If by this point you've managed to keep, let alone finish the race in first place, congratulations. You're on your way to the next frustrating race!
I say this because online and offline matches alike are filled with offensive items designed to make your life a living hell. Who, during the meetings for this game, decided that it would be a good idea to make a Thunder Cloud that, if you rammed into other racers, would pass it to them and subsequently shrink them? Also, who decided that we needed a POW Block, which can only be avoided in the air and hits everyone in front of the user? Indeed, who decided that almost every power up in the game would make you lose the power up you had in hand?
Remember that Mushroom you were saving to help you take the lead? Good luck holding on to it long enough to GET to the shortcut you were planning to use it on. Unless you're in Time Trials, you'll never hold on to a Mushroom long enough to get it off. Expect to get slammed by a POW Block, Blue Shell or Lightning Bolt at the least opportune time.
Despite the lack of play testing involving items, the game is surprisingly solid. Most race tracks offer ways to avoid Red Shells with a bit of skillful driving, and that might well be the majority of your frustration. Similarly, there are prompts on your screen that warn you the rough position of where opponents are that are close to you that have an item. People using Invincibility Stars, Super Mushrooms, Blue Shells, Bullet Bills, Thunder Clouds or Red Shells that are homing in on you, all receive a prompt. This gives you a few seconds to make a move to get out of the way to avoid the slow-down or complete race ruining that's coming up quickly behind you.
Bikes are the newest addition to the line-up, but am I the only one who thinks that bikes can be a little cheap? If there's no difference between the Karts and Bikes, why is it that the best players online all use Bikes? Can't just be a fad, or a coincidence. While Karts DO have a chance, there are a lot of courses with long straight-aways designed practically with Bikes in mind, and while the speed boost you get from wheelies aren't particularly game-breaking, it DOES make a difference, allowing you to bridge a gap between you and a Kart-racing opponent, or widen the gap between you and the opposition.
Regardless, bikes are a welcome addition, as they add a bit of variety.
The online play is top notch, incredibly fast and always a smooth 60 FPS. You can choose to play with people in your region, or worldwide, and also choose to play with friends. Similarly, you can participate in races, or in the ever-popular Battle Mode. In both Versus and Battle Modes, if you place high, you can win points which are, as far as I can tell, simply internet bragging rights. Whether or not you should brag is a different story. Any idiot who knows how to drift corners and pop wheelies can pretty much smoke you after they've thrown eight Red Shells into your tail pipe.
My only gripes with the online play are the Battle Mode arenas and options. They're all designed with 4v4, 5v5 and 6v6 in mind. Anything less than that, and you'll need to ask for directions to find an enemy. The arenas are far too big in these respects, even in a full game, and there's just no sense of urgency half the time. There are a lot of hiding places in these, too, and the unpredictability of items makes things difficult. You may think you've got a clear shot on the guy coming right at you, but oops, he has a Super Mushroom. Better luck next time, Skinny.
As for the options, only being able to switch between Balloon and Coin modes, with no choice on which to play, is really frustrating. Some of us just want to play one or the other, but we're forced to play them both no matter what, unless we're playing with friends. Of course, I don't think I need to beat the dead horse that Friend Codes has become.
Notes: The Wii Wheel:
My question is, how can people win with this peripheral? I appreciate Nintendo giving us extra real estate to hold our Wiimotes with so we're not dropping it all over ourselves like morons in the heat of a big race, but apparently, people use it. It's not often I see people without the little wheel icon next to their names on Wi-Fi. So I guess it should come as no surprise that these people generally wind up at the back of the race, until they get a Bullet Bill, or some other game-changing item, which they WILL get.
Despite the iffy peripheral, bad item placements and bad all-around items, there's not much else to nitpick with in this game. With a ton of courses both new and old to keep you busy online OR offline, a bunch of neat characters and karts/bikes to unlock, and the battle mode amongst other things, Mario Kart Wii is a must-buy for Mario Kart enthusiasts, professionals and casual gamers alike.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 04/29/08
Game Release: Mario Kart Wii (US, 04/27/08)
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