Review by UltimaterializerX
"Yet another horrifically disappointing Wii effort."
Nintendo has forgotten more and more about hardcore gamers over the years, with their constant pandering to non-gamers at the expense of those of us who built them. The Wii is the all-time example of Nintendo doing this, as Nintendo is now happier marketing to nursing home patients and soccer moms than they are actual gamers. It's become a bit embarrassment to the industry, and Nintendo's constant "fun for everyone" stuff has translated into sub-par (at least recently) gaming efforts. There's a reason Nintendo no longer makes good games.
Enter Mario Kart Wii. Mario Kart, much like Nintendo itself, peaked during the SNES days and jumped the shark on the N64. The series has grown dramatically worse with each new installment, culminating in what is a perfect icon for what the Wii has done to gaming.
In the beginning (the SNES days), the concept for Mario Kart was simple. Mario and some friends felt like getting together and racing some go karts, complete with random various items to impede a fellow racer's progress. The races were fun and simple, and even though items were annoying at times, we never felt like they were completely game-breaking. There was even three different racing speeds to choose from, as well as a simple, yet fun battle mode in which the goal was not to have three balloons pop before everyone else. However, there was glaring flaw with the original title, which was that any racer doing well was treated to subpar items like banana peels, while those in the back routinely picked up lightning bolts. This began a very bad gameplay mechanic that rewarded those doing badly, at the expense of whoever was in first place. It was a good attempt at being fair, but most fair observers would agree such gameplay mechanics don't have a place in racing titles -- the meat of which revolve around serious competition.
Because of this, the series has grown gradually worse with each new title -- from too many new characters to increasingly ridiculous racetracks, and from off-the-wall gimmicks like the dual racer system in Double Dash to the addition of snaking in the DS version. And yet some how, Nintendo managed to not learn from these mistakes, making Mario Kart Wii is the worst Kart title yet.
The standards of Mario Kart play are back, but almost all of them are the worst they've ever been in the series. First and foremost, there are now 12 racers as opposed to the traditional 8. This is a fun new idea in theory, but in practice it's borderline horrendous. If you don't get a good boost at the beginning of a race, you'll get stuck in a huge logjam of cars that can be very difficult to escape from. Furthermore, any Mario Kart fan knows that the computer has a way of getting the best items. With 12 racers instead of 8, the end result is little more than four more computer-controlled characters targeting you with cheap items, which leads us to the next point. Items are completely and wholly broken in this game.
Mario Kart games have always had a terrible time finding balance with the items, but rather than address the problem, Nintendo continues to make it worse. If you're in first place, you can bet your bottom dollar you'll get hit with every good item in the book while never getting anything good yourself. Lower-place racers will constantly get treated to Pow Blocks, Bombs, Mushrooms, Bullet Bills, Stars, Triple Red Shells and the nefarious Blue Shell (by far the worst addition to the entire series) while you get stuck with Banana Peels and Green Shells. Punishing those who do well in an effort to keep the game fun for bad players is more or less unforgivable, and at the very least there should be an option to turn items off in grand prix. Worse yet is the unfair stun time on some of these items, and the frequency you get hit by them. It's not at all uncommon to be close to the finish line on the final lap, only to get chain-stunned by three items and finish last. When the most effective strategy in a game is not to be in first place until the very end, you know you're dealing with a badly made game.
The racetracks themselves aren't much better, if only for the lazy effort Nintendo put into them. In an effort to take us down memory lane, Nintendo made half the Grand Prix cups "retro" -- tracks from past games, in other words -- and the other half are new creations. Using all these recycled goods in production is bad enough, but it's even worse when almost all the new tracks aren't made very well and said recycled goods are the highlight of single player grand prix. Most of the new tracks are littered with obnoxious obstacles, weird jumps and bad turns, not to mention the always-annoying spots where you can fall off the track and require a saving from Lakitu. What's truly disappointing is even the good tracks from the new bunch, like Rainbow Road and Luigi Circuit, are clearly influenced from past games. It's perfectly fair for a successful game company to take a dip into the past now and then, but not when it's a huge selling point for an entire game.
The central game -- that is, the actual driving of your kart or bike -- is heavily influenced by the game-ruining drift mechanic from the DS release. The fastest times possible, assuming you don't get screwed over by the items and bad track layout, involve drifting and the mini-turbos that follow. Mario Kart DS was a giant snake-fest, yet it stayed in the game for little or no logical reason. Mario Kart doesn't need drifting or mini turbos to be a fun game, and it's honestly baffling why Nintendo keeps thinking otherwise. The true shame here is the introduction of bikes was a very good idea, but only in 100cc do you see them in all their glory. In 150, you're forced to deal with a bike/kart mix. From there, you either pick a kart and watch the computer fly by you in faster vehicles, or pick a bike and get run over all the time by the heavier kart vehicles.
The side stuff is also a tad excessive, especially the unlockable characters. Do we really need to see Baby Daisy, Dry Bowser, Funky Kong and two Mii outfits? At this rate, characters in Mario Kart will be like Street Fighter 2: random words with each new installment or your money back! Unless you like the idea of Street Fighter 4 Turbo HD Remix Swartzchild Hibbert Effect Version 6.0 ^ Nth Percentile Psoriasis Infection Maximum, in which case I digress.
Worst of all is the game's actual control scheme. Motion sensing seemed like a good idea back when Wii Sports' overnight success was appealing itself to every non-gamer under the sun, but it's become apparent that motion sensing doesn't work. It's no more prevalent in Mario Kart Wii, where you're stuck either having the Wii Wheel in a virtually stationary position or switching to the alternate Gamecube controller. When a system's own controller can't get a game right, there's a huge problem.
Now this isn't to say the game is all bad, because it does do a few things well. Online content, for once, passable in a Nintendo title -- a huge shocker given Nintendo's objectively abysmal history with putting games online. It's virtually lag free, though it's way too easy to hack your way into getting Bullet Bills from every item box. Only recently has Nintendo started cracking down on all the online hacking, but at least some effort is better than no effort.
Best of all, time trials are the highlight of the game. Unfortunately, there isn't enough of it. You get to race opponents without the nuisance of items, unlock staff ghosts to race from Nintendo's own design team, and can even race ghosts from the best online times around the world. This is a good way to see advanced strategies and track paths, as well as good practice outright. The problem here of course is unless you feel like setting speed records, time trials lose their novelty once you earn all the unlockables in them -- not to mention few of these advanced techniques actually matter in a race, since items nullify most of them. Time trials are like practicing how to have sex, then dying a virgin. Seems fun at the time, but it ends up totally useless.
Last but not least, the graphics and music, despite being a bit childish at times (which Nintendo is historically notorious for, as any real gamer knows) are about as well-done as they can be. The theme following a win is pretty cute, and tracks are a beauty to look at assuming you get the chance to really look at them. Little things are planted all over the place, such as your own Miis watching from the stands and signs with red shells on them saying "SHOOT!".
Unfortunately, Mario Kart Wii as a whole is a rather subpar game, and is in the running as worst game in the entire series. Hopefully Nintendo goes back to making things simpler as the series continues on, but it's doubtful. They're developing one of the worst track records ever, if you'll excuse the pun.
Reviewer's Score: 2/10 | Originally Posted: 01/16/09, Updated 01/20/09
Game Release: Mario Kart Wii (US, 04/27/08)
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