Review by Born To Play

"The worst Mario Kart yet."

Mario Kart Wii

As a die hard fan of the Mario Kart titles it comes as a huge disappointment to say that the latest entry in the franchise is just not worth your time. In its fourth iteration on home consoles, and sixth overall, the popular kart racer has become a dumbed down racer that it is meant to appeal to the new casual crowd Nintendo is after. Despite a few excellent track designs, Mario Kart Wii doesn't offer anything that you haven't seen before in previous versions.

GAMEPLAY:
Every copy of Mario Kart Wii includes a new form of control known as the Wii wheel. Really this is just a shell that houses your Wii remote and you turn it left or right to steer using the remotes motion controls. The wheel works similar to the controls of Wii launch title ‘Excite Truck.' It is fun for a few races, or if you are playing casually with friends, but anyone looking to set record times or beat the Grand prix modes will most likely want to stick with the original GameCube pad. Also new to the Wii version are the addition of Motorcycles in addition to standard karts. By shaking the remote or pressing a button you can perform wheelies that give you a slight boost while driving. These same gestures can now be used on bikes or karts to perform tricks in the air, which also give you a boost if you land successfully. Unfortunately it is hard to tell if these maneuvers make much of a difference in the races, as your opponents will always seem to be right near you, even if they aren't performing tricks. One of the biggest disappointments of this game is Nintendo's decision to make the power slide technique now completely preset. No longer can you power slide on straight-aways, or get more mini-turbo boosts by moving the control stick back and forth quickly. The slide is now predetermined and you will get your boost the same time every time, and you will only get the huge orange spark boost after a long time of sliding, so there really is no point in waiting for it. It is a clear effort to make the game more accessible to everyone, and also make play more “fair” online, but hardcore Kart fans will definitely be disappointed.

The single player grand prix mode returns here, with the standard 50cc to 150cc classes returning. The lower the class the slower your kart or bike will go and the easier the game will be. Unfortunately the 150cc class is now a huge exercise in frustration because of the constant bombarding of item after item that will always seem to hit you just as you are about to cross the line first. The series had some of this cheap AI before but it has never been as bad as it is here. It is not uncommon to go from 1st to 12th on the last lap of a race, that up until that point you have raced perfectly. This wouldn't be as big a deal if the game didn't demand that you need to pretty much race perfectly in all four races to get the star ranking which unlocks more characters and vehicles. Be prepared to replay these cups a lot if you want to unlock everything this game has to offer. The game has a total of 32 tracks; 16 of them are new, and the other half are from previous installments in the franchise. There are a few standout tracks here that are among the best in the series: You will love going up and down escalators in a mall, boosting down Wario's gold mine, and bouncing over giant mushrooms. Sadly many of the tracks have a been there done that feel, and are very similar to tracks from the other games in the series. The retro tracks are a mixed bag as well and will have you scratching your head as to why some were included but others weren't.

Multiplayer returns here with the standard Vs. and battle modes, as well as the first Mario Kart online mode for consoles. Battle mode has now become a time based affair where the winner is determined by points, and not the three hit battles that were the previous standard. The Battle tracks are often too big because they were all designed for 12 player battles, so the courses seem empty if you are just playing with a few friends. The online mode is easily the best yet on the Wii, as it has robust features that include tracking your best times and seeing how you rank in the world with other players. Unfortunately the annoying friend codes return here even though third parties such as EA Sports have found better ways to manage your friends and play the Wii online. Still the online is generally pretty lag free, and it is easy to find matches with random players. You will of course still have the same item balance issues that can change your position in seconds while playing online.

GRAPHICS AND SOUND
Nobody is going to mistake this game for being anything other than a Mario Kart game. The graphics have the same bright cartoony graphics the series has become known for, and are only slightly better than the GameCube's “Double Dash!!” It suits the world perfectly and keeps the game moving at a steady pace. The sound is also what you expect from a Kart title, with the standard catch phrases from characters and cheery music that fits with the Mario series. Both aspects do their job in keeping what makes Mario Kart Mario Kart but doesn't advance the series in any way.

OVERALL
In the end Mario Kart Wii is worth a rental at best for any hardcore fan of the series. It will provide a few hours of enjoyment initially until you realize how watered down the overall experience has become. The game adds nothing new to the kart racer genre, or to the series and in many ways feels like a downgrade from GameCube's “Double Dash!!” and even the DS entry. If you are new to the series you would be much better off with one of those titles. This is a game that is definitely not worth your $50.

FINAL SCORE
4/10


Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 06/02/08

Game Release: Mario Kart Wii (US, 04/27/08)


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