Review by Ashley Winchester

Reviewed: 04/10/08

Wii Go Racing: Mario Kart Madness

Blog Bites: Winchester’s Wrong

Just two days ago I posted an entry on my blog, Winchester’s World, about Mario Kart Wii. Said slop made note of the fact that, apparently, Nintendo tested over 30 different wheel designs for the just-released Mario Kart Wii. After, I then proceeded to bash the game and mention how I would not waste the money on it. For shame, Winchester, for shame. Earlier today I found myself at a local electronics store in Tokyo and seeing Mario Kart Wii (hereafter MKW) in stock, I just had to get it. Thankfully my “questionable foresight” was quite wrong, and thus it is my pleasure to announce MKW is one of the most enjoyable games I’ve played in some times.

Parking in the Past; Flying Fast Forward

It’s no understatement to point out that Nintendo has, in recent years, been whoring out any and every franchise in its repertoire. The Wii in particular, has seen more questionable sequels from the big “N” than it has original titles. Let it be known that I hated Smash Brothers Brawl just as I disliked the Gamecube installment. Likewise, my enjoyment of Mario Kart Double Dash for the Gamecube also fell along the line of lamentable and so too, did I believe this installment would. The Wii Remote, coupled with the pointless Wii Wheel Nintendo unveiled for this particular product, seemed to reek of cheesy, kids-only nonsense.

Fittingly enough, the Wii Wheel (hereafter WiiW) that I so loathed, is in actuality so brilliant it makes one wonder how racing games existed previously. The WiiW is little more than a circular “case” for which the Wiimote fits inside, with the exception of a “B” button and an IR transceiver (for the motion sensing). It is rather small and, rather unremarkable when one considers the gauntlet of racing wheels available for other consoles and games. That said, the WiiW is wireless and extremely light- this goes a LONG way considering that you will be using the device to control the steering.

At first it seemed as if the Wii’s questionable control calibration (read: Why Metroid Prime 3 sucks) would immediately spell doom for the game, however steering is surprisingly responsive and accurate. Tilt the WiiW slightly and your character will turn slightly, tilt it further and the character’s kart turns a bit more. I dare say this scheme works better than the analog control previous installments made use of. Kudos to Nintendo for making such an effortless, deceptively simple gimmick by which the enjoyment of Mario Kart Wii is increased ten fold.

For those who do not wish to uss the Wii Wheel, the game will also allow use of the Wii Remote (stand-alone), the Wii Remote (with Nunchuck), the Wii Classic Controller, or the Gamecube Controller. Personally I recommend the Wii Wheel…it’s fantastic and it comes free with the game itself. (Nintendo sells stand-along Wii Wheels for about 1200 yen if memory serves me).

Rip-Roaring Racing

Anyone looking for a realistic driving simulator should already know to look elsewhere. Mario Kart is, and always has been, an extremely light hearted series that relies more on punishing opponents with power ups than it does physics or accuracy. That said, MKW offers quite a bit more than its predecessors with EIGHT (8) different Circuit Cups to try, each of which has 4 different race tracks. Multiply that by the 3 different cart classes (50cc, 100cc, 150cc) and you get a turbo charged boost of gameplay that will keep players hooked for weeks. Couple it with the various competitive and versus modes (including Wi-Fi connectivity that allows up to 12 people on the racetrack) and you may very well be spending the next few months glued to your TV.

Of the eight different Circuits, four are essentially brand new, and four are “rehashed”, so to speak. MKW makes use of the series multi-console legacy by creating 4 different Circuits based on an amalgamation of previous tracks taken from the SFC (SNES), Nintendo 64, Gamecube, and DS installments. The tracks are mixed together in such a way as to offer a great sense of diversity and to ensure that players familiar with one particular Mario Kart game will have to master new-old tracks,. That said however, the 16-Bit tracks are quite amusing to see in total 3-D glory.

Races themselves contain 12 different characters which means there is a lot of competition to deal with. As before, those racers in the worst ranked positions are favoured when it comes to picking up power-up items scattered along the tracks. While Nintendo claims there are new items present in the game, truth be told the only real difference seems to be in the appearance as the basic functionality is no different than other games. Nonetheless, Kart Krazy gamers will have some fun ahead of them in making use of an even greater plethora of power-ups and projectiles.

Offroad Online

While the WiiConnect online network can’t hold a candle to the mighty Microsoft Marketplace, Nintendo still realizes that online is the way of the future (if not also the popular present) and thus intelligently included online support for Mario Kart Wii. Players are thus able to race or battle along side opponents in their gaming quarters or, should you have an internet connection, challenge up to 12 different racers from around the globe. Granted this is hardly anything revolutionary, but it at least allows for multiplayer madness even if all your friends are away (or, for that matter, Wii-less).

Multiple Marios, Krazy Karts

MKW offers perhaps the largest racing roster yet,, with 12 initial racers and the prospective of additional hidden characters to unlock. Additionally, each character has 3 different kart konfigurations, allowing for a different driving experience even when playing as your favourite character. Likewise the large range of character choices and kart models ensure that online playing will be more diverse and dynamic than should everyone make use of a standard configuration and a short list of possible characters.,

Driving Downside

Unfortunately no game is perfect, and this extends to MKW as well. My gripes are of a very specific nature:

1. The control, while making excellent use of the motion sensor feature, is a bit lacking in the form of complexity. Nintendo opted to keep the “Jump” feature out of the game which means the tracks themselves are somewhat static, and that you can not avoid attack items in quite the same manner as with the earlier games. Personally I liked, in the original game, how you could hop over certain sections of the map and find a huge shortcut in the process. This issue actually creates somewhat of a problem when playing the 16-Bit stages and discovering that the same driving tactics do not apply since you can’t hop around corners or obstacles.

2. The lack of coins. Yes perhaps this is an old, antiquated argument, but in the past (and in the recent Mario Kart Arcade game as well), the player could run over Gold Coins on the racetrack to give a speed boost and to use as a kind of damage barrier against opponents ramming you. MKW, just as with Double Dash, does away with this gameplay element and thus the raceway is rather plain and uneventful at times.

3. The music is, unfortunately, rather bland and forgettable. Whereas the earlier titles had strong melodies that were a more prominent fixture in the product, recently the music is more “background noise”. Even the retro stage’s music is somewhat played down. I for one, truly enjoyed the catchy tunes of the SFC/SNES and N64 installments, and indeed to this day can recall key race tracks’ themes in my head.

4. The graphics…is it possible that the Gamecube Double Dash installment looked better. The character models on the Character Select screen are horribly blocky and the game itself, while succeeding in its cartoon theme, looks rather unrefined and simplistic. Smash Brothers Brawl, dare I say, looked far more advanced.

Ready, Set…Go

Mario Kart Wii is, without a doubt, one of the best investements you can make for your gimmicky Nintendo game console. It’s a fun game in its own right, it makes excellent use of the motion sensing capability, it offers sufficient online and competitive play modes, it offers a wealth of single play possibilities, and at the end of the day, is a polished and refined product the likes of which we all expect from Nintendo. Fortunately gamers outside of Japan (or without Japanese Wii consoles or the recently released Datel Freeloader) need only wait another two-odd weeks as the latest racing riot will hit North American stores near the end of this month.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Product Release: Mario Kart Wii (JP, 04/10/08)

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