Review by Big Bob
"A great party game for friends, but unexciting otherwise."
Let me make this clear: I'm a Mario Kart veteran. I've purchased every Mario Kart since the N64, simply because they are some of the most fun multiplayer games I've ever played. Naturally, I picked up this game too. And I've had a ton of fun with it, and will definitely have a lot more throughout the Wii's lifespan. However, if you're not a fan of Mario Kart, or think the Gamecube's Double Dash is all you need, then don't even bother with this game.
The basic mechanics about Mario Kart haven't changed at all since the N64. You have a bunch of racers, a bunch of items, yadda yadda yadda. The most significant changes actually do help the game considerably. In Mario Kart DS there was a problem with "snaking"; that is, players would abuse the game's powerslide technique to extremes in order to gain maximum speed, even on straightaways. The developers of MKW took note, and while powerslides are still in the game, they rely on time and the tightness of your turn rather than your ability to press left-right-left-right. This stops the system from being abusable, though it's up to you whether or not this is considered watering down the gameplay.
The other major change is the tricks system. Whenever your kart goes off a ramp, you have the option to do a "trick" which suspends your character momentarily but gives them a speed boost upon landing. While the tricks are not hard to execute (using the Wiimote+Nunchuk requires a simple flick of the wrist), there is definitely strategy in using them; at times it's just more efficient to jump off normally than to do a trick.
And lastly, the last significant change to the gameplay is the option of using bicycles. Mario Kart DS allowed you to pick karts with different stats, and MKW expands on this by giving you the choice of using a bicycle. While this sounds minor, for advanced players this makes a huge difference in their playstyle. Bicycles can't gain as much of a speed boost from powersliding (no gold sparks), but as a trade-off they can do wheelies on straightaways, which is essentially trading balance and mobility for a speed boost. To me this was a very welcome change to the game that's much appreciated.
Other than that, the main problem with the game (for me) is a lack of innovation. The bikes and tricks were a great idea, but other than that, the game feels exactly like Double Dash. Once again the single player boils down to "get first in four races and then play Mirror Mode", ignoring the missions that Mario Kart DS had. How about a track builder, Nintendo? That would have been a really neat addition to the game, even if it was only in a limited fashion. Customizable controls could have helped, too. Also, while I'm glad that they give you the option to turn down the heavy items, an item switch not unlike the one in Melee could have really helped the game as well. Although, from what I've heard, MKW sports an online mode that's much more in-depth and engaging than anything else the Wii has so far, though my Internet connection here doesn't allow me to play online, so I can't really comment on that.
Aside from those complaints, another beef I have is with the game's presentation. For one, all the characters still look like Gamecube models. Games like Mario Galaxy and Super Smash Bros. Brawl have stunning graphics...so why does MKW have such crappy models in comparison? I'm not expecting Mario Kart to be pushing the graphical limits, but it's still frustrating considering how much the game feels like Double Dash to begin with. The music tracks are also not as good as previous games. The only times my friends and I have hummed along are in the retro stages of the game. And finally, the character selection. Why are Baby Peach, Baby Daisy, and Dry Bowser playable characters? They aren't even unique? Rosalina and Funky Kong were good ideas, as well as playable Miis, but there are still plenty of Mario characters that have yet to be playable. How about the Rawk Hawk from Paper Mario, or Mona from Wario Ware? Either would have been excellent choices for the game.
So aside from my complaints, I still love playing Mario Kart Wii with a group of friends, and it's the second best multiplayer game the Wii has (other than Brawl, of course). The problems I've noted are the lack of innovation, and again, the huge similarities the game has to Double Dash. If you lack a good multiplayer game with your friends, or have always wanted to play Mario Kart in an excellent online environment, this game is recommended. Otherwise...eh, don't bother.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 05/07/08
Game Release: Mario Kart Wii (US, 04/27/08)
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