Review by Crazyreyn
"This latest Mario Kart is Wheel-y good!"
Love it or hate it, you have to respect the Mario Kart franchise. Spanning six systems, arcade units, remote controlled cars and widely known as the epitome of multiplayer racing, the series makes a welcome return to the Nintendo Wii. The motley crew of characters and weapons make an appearance along with the recent DS additions of online and retro throwbacks. While Mario Kart Wii adds a few more additions and changes, such as a new control scheme, changes to the drifting system, motorbikes and tricks, this is the same old Mario Kart we all know and love. Every installment added something new to the fore - MK64 added four player multiplayer, Super Circuit was portable, Double Dash!! added two racers per kart, and MKDS was online. So what is new here?
The obvious is the main control scheme - a hunk of molded plastic called the Wii Wheel which houses the Wii remote. Placed in the middle, the remote sensor and the feel of the shell give the illusion you are driving, although you may feel like an idiot doing so. However give it a chance, let go of your inhibitions and you will warm to it faster than you realize. The steering feels very natural, very subtle, and feels more fun that it probably should be. Despite the surprisingly sweet messages the Wii Wheel exhumes, like wishing you were six years old in a push petal car again, for remotely serious play you have to ditch the plastic. The main reason is that because the turning is so subtle, on occasions where drifting and tight turns are essential (such as every cup after 100CC) you can not react like you can with an analog stick. Because of the subtlety in turning, drifting and drift boosting techniques are difficult to attempt, meaning Automatic drifting is realistically the only option. Add in factors such as a rubbish soft B button and arm ache over long periods really highlight that this is not intended for serious play. The main thing to note, however, is that it does work, but you will not want to use it.
Thankfully Nintendo saw past the motion gimmickry that has plagued other Wii titles and give players the option of using the Nunchuk, Classic Controller and GameCube controller. The Nunchuk is a perfectly fine choice, where everything can be performed without any restrictions, with the added benefit of the speaker and hands free play. Naturally the two controllers work as they should, and all three of these methods really emphasize how much easier it is to play with analog controls. Do not demote the wheel straight to "glorified Frisbee" status or rudimentary digging tool, but for showing someone how to play Mario Kart for the first time or in 'casual' multiplayer sessions, the Wheel is spot on.
Getting over the potentially cumbersome barrier of trying to play Mario Kart Wii, the game adds three new gameplay mechanics - tricks, motorbikes and a revamped drifting system. Tricks could be considered the biggest change to Mario Kart strategy since the introduction of drifting; at every ramp you can perform a mid-air trick by waggling the Wii Remote or Wheel as you take off, giving you a boost as you hit the ground. The timing and positioning is key - if you trick before a corner you'll shoot off the edge, but by turning before hand you stay on and with some advantage, giving an extra layer of strategy into racing lines. Not only that, but any time you get into the air you can trick - finding hidden ways of performing tricks such as off wobbly floor sections, fallen columns, tree roots and even from the inside of the N64 Mario Raceway pipe - you will always be looking out for new ways to fit in an extra trick. The addition of half pipes is utterly pointless however - serving only to waste your time, thankfully they are only featured in a couple of tracks and can be skipped entirely.
You are forced to play 100CC through with Motorbikes, a new vehicle type, but the differences to karts are practically non-existent. Although you can execute a Wheelie with a flick of the Wii Remote, giving you a boost of speed, elsewhere your drift boosts are capped, and handle just as karts do. Aside from picking a specific bike for its stats, you have no real reason to choose them after getting through the 100CC class.
The change to drift boosting is one that will cause the most concern among the Mario Kart community. Now taking longer to drift boost - up to several seconds in fact - means that drifting over and over, or snaking, is all but removed. It is possible to still do it to a degree on wider tracks, but realistically should be attributed to just corners and shortcuts. To those who hated Snaking, your prayers have been answered. To those that loved Snaking, you can still semi-snake with a degree of effectiveness. The system is a decent go between for both camps and reminds you what competitive play is really all about the items.
Aside from these changes, the gameplay is Mario Kart through and through. The items all return (with the random exception of the Boo Ghost) and despite three pointless additions - POW Blocks, Large Mushrooms and Thunderclouds - races are still as random and exciting as ever, and just as frustrating with the rubberband AI that loves to snipe a win out of nowhere. The sixteen new wacky, colourful courses - from circuits to malls, mines and cities, and ending with the staple Bowser's Castle and Rainbow Road - lack any real inspiration and are completely derivative from previous titles. The few exceptions such as the gorgeous Autumn themed Maple Treeway and river riding Koopa Cape do not quite make up for the usual punch we expect from a Mario Kart title. Akin to its portable predecessor sixteen retro tracks make an appearance, where classics such as DS Delfino Square and N64 Bowser's Castle make up for any shortcomings in the new content, and are given a new lease of lift thanks to the trick system.
The amount of content is through the roof - as well as an exhaustive eight cup grand prix across four settings, staff ghosts, multiplayer and dozens of unlockable vehicles and characters, a fully fleshed out online service gives the game legs beyond what you would normally expect from the series. Once you get past the ever convoluted friend code set up, there are a plethora of options that sky rocket longevity. The player ranking and matching system has had an entire new approach, along with the addition of two players on one system, a downloadable Wii Channel for rankings and challenges - it feels like a proper attempt at an online game. Nintendo should be commended for their dedication in providing a proper service for such a game that hinges so much on multiplayer.
Although Nintendo has done so many things right with this new edition - the intuitive (and free!) Wii Wheel, the superb online approach, tactically deep trick system - it does not feel as overwhelmingly fresh as those before it. The game takes little advantage of the Wii architecture - trackside Mii's, online and downloadable Mario Kart Channel excluded - the vast majority of this game could have been done on the GameCube. The ability to play without remote sensing control is evidence of this. However, it is just as inviting, just as charming, just as fun as before, and you will have a blast from when you first clip on that Wheel to getting blue shelled on the last corner of an all important online race. Mario Kart Wii is game that deserves your attention, whether you are new to the franchise or not, and cements the Wii as the champion of multiplayer this generation.
- Free Wii Wheel works surprisingly well for casual play
- Multiple control schemes
- Trick system is simple yet very effective
- Online is leaps and bounds from what we have seen from Nintendo previously
- A lot to unlock and do
- New tracks lack any punch
- Motorbikes practically the same as Karts
- Feels more of a Greatest Hits than a fully fleshed out new installment
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 04/21/08
Game Release: Mario Kart Wii (EU, 04/11/08)
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