Review by tabascoman77

Reviewed: 04/28/08


I consider myself to be a Mario Kart vet, a product of the old school.

The original Mario Kart for the SNES was a great entry to the series, giving us Mario fans something we'd never seen before. I never dug the 1-on-1 racing and even the novelty of that was never appealing but the races against the computer were a hell of a lot of fun.

So, instead of doing the 1-on-1 racing bit, my friends and I stuck to the battle modes when we wanted to establish bragging rights as the greatest video game player ever.

I have fond memories of the 1-on-1 shell-tossing sessions that took forever to finish because we had gotten so good at the game.

I spent years playing that game

Alas, years later, Mario Kart 64 came out and the battle was on again. Adding two more players was a blessing for this franchise but I think I played Diddy Kong Racing (an odd title to have when Mario Kart was so successful) more often just because I loved the option of picking your vehicle and because the levels felt like you were racing through rides found at Disneyland rather than a racetrack. On top of that, the battle mode felt more spread out to me. I don't know why. I know I'm in the minority. Mario Kart 64 is found to be a classic by many a gamer.

I didn't ever really get into Mario Kart 64, I guess, but I still played it.

I never played the portable version of the game but when Double Dash came out, I got hooked again. It wasn't just the novelty of having two riders per cart, giving you double the weapons, you could drift your way around tight, angled corners, you could race on tracks that cork-screwed, bent, or went every which way, and you had the all-important weapons to throw at your friends when they thought they were gonna win.

I can't tell you how many hours my friends and I played this game for or how many times we would shout obscenities and trash-talk or how many times one of us would get screwed out of 1st Place at the last second when someone came up with the right weapon at the right time.

In my opinion, the Gamecube outing of Mario Kart ranks as one of the greatest games Nintendo has ever released in its entire history.

It was that good.

It's follow-up, Mario Kart DS, was fun but the control scheme was a bit awkward due to the cramped style of the DS controls. I liked the multiplayer option (being able to take the race to a movie theater while waiting in line is fun), but it's just harder to get excited over it when you take away the big screen and the fact that you have to be civil in a public area.

So, here we are.

Nintendo has finally released a Kart game for the Wii and the expectations for it are overwhelming. It has the unfortunate task of not only living up to the rest of the series, but it has to live up to the last console version, Mario Kart Double Dash.

Does it do the job?

Yes, it does. And then some.

Mario Kart Wii obviously takes advantage of Nintendo's cool motion-sensitive remote and, thus, you get a "Wii-Wheel" with the purchase of the game. The wheel is nothing more than a plastic shell to hold your remote but it's hardly the "gimmick" that a few publications make it out to be. You want a gimmick, then go buy the Wii Sports "Racket" or "Bat", items you don't even need to use which add nothing to the game.

The wheel is a godsend and not only delivers a unique arcade feel to the action (one is reminded of Mario Kart GP Arcade when using it) but also adds some realism. The controls seem awkward at first but once you learn how to drive (as you had to do with ALL of the Kart games before this one), you'll be having a blast. And, even if you don't like the wheel or the remote to steer, the game gives you the option of using alternate methods of control such as the Gamecube Controller or the Wii Classic Controller.

It really doesn't matter what you use or what you get used to because the control is smooth. The forementioned drift scheme is kinda funny (though it harkens back to the SNES "hopping" days) but it works once you get used to it and I actually noticed that the Wheel control actually helps you keep on the track rather than throw you off. Rainbow Road was not nearly as frustrating as it was in the past due in large part to your own reflexes. In the past, I noticed players who would actually move the Gamecube controller as if they were actually trying to "steer" their Kart back onto the track. In the Wii version, you can finally do it and then watch in amazement as your own reflexes save your butt in a tight spot. Of course, that isn't to say that this will happen every single time (I fell off more than a few times having played the track twice so far) but it does help immensely, especially with newcomers.

As for the drift feature, it's no longer comprised of skidding and tapping the control stick back and forth to build up a boost. Instead, when you go into a corner, you hold down the Wii Remote's trigger button to skid AND to boost. Let go when you want to fire ahead.

It works and it eliminates the annoying "snaking" players that plagued Double Dash using the slide every second to boost themselves way ahead of other players.

Speaking of newcomers, Nintendo is trying something new this time around: keeping the newcomers on the same track as the veterans. This can either be a blessing or a curse. The blessing is that it creates a lot more tighter races. The pack will remain close behind at all times.

My major gripe about this: cheap shots reign. Races can be an absolute mess if weapons take over. I haven't played this with friends yet (although I can't imagine it would be much different than the 150cc/Mirror AI) but the Wii AI hates you and makes that very apparent.

Remember the AI in Double Dash? It's a lot worse here.

Instead of nailing you with one weapon at a time, they can throw five or six at you in one seconds, causing you to shake your head. Imagine driving in the middle of an earthquake, then getting oil splashed on your windshield while somebody fires missles at you from behind during a major lightning storm where there's probably a 100 percent change of getting hit by a bolt or two and you get the picture.

And when you get hit, you don't just spin out and get a little bit of a start, you spin and then stop for about two seconds while your character curses what just happened...that's cute n' all but it's not funny when you're in a tight race and want to get moving again. You can't hit the gas until the animation is done and that can easily cost you a race.

Aside from all that (that's really minor, let me tell you, and you can adjust to it), everything else about the race control is gravy.

The graphics, while not HD, do come in widescreen format. I'm not going to whine about how the graphics are HD because I simply do not care. I have HDTV and HD movies and have watched games in HD and they're spectacular but I don't have to have everything in HD. I can see the game, it's colorful, I know what's going on, I'm happy.

The graphics are your typical Mario game. Bright, beautiful worlds that are like a children's book come to life and then some. There are 16 new tracks along with 16 older tracks from the previous installments of the game. Each one is well-represented and look gorgeous. The stand-out tracks are Bowser's Castle (simply incredible - complete with a hallway that moves around you as if it's made of rubber and a giant Bowser that spits giant flaming bowling balls right at you), Koopa Falls (love the dive underwater with a cool waterslide) and Wario's Gold Mine (great rollercoaster feel to it). Even Rainbow Road with its cringe-inducing turns is incredible and will have you holding on for dear life.

My only qualm is with the multiplayer feature. When the screen splits into four, the frame-rate slows way down and you get some blur. This doesn't take away from the playability but you would think Nintendo would take more care with this rather than release a better, quicker product.

The audio is your standard Mario Kart stuff with cutesy beat-infused music mixed in with the familiar Mario musical themes and sound effects. Other audio such as drivers taunting each other and the warning sound when you're about to be hit by an item are a huge plus. There's a great feeling of dread when your Wii Remote suddenly goes haywire with an alarm warning you that you have an incoming projectile or someone is behind you with a power-up like Invincibility but it adds to the overall fun factor.

You can also unlock more characters if you're sick of the regular 10 or 12 that you already have as well as more Karts, Bikes and other vehicles.

The biggest part of all is Nintendo's online-play system...I have yet to test this but I cannot imagine that it wouldn't work right. It's cool to know that you can test your skills against the world's best Mario Kart players.

To sum it up, this game is a must-buy. I don't think that Nintendo knows how to fail when it comes to Mario video games. I'm not a huge fan of Smash Brothers but it's a fun game to play as is Mario Strikers Charged.

This game, however, is one of the best Nintendo has produced for the Wii. It only has a few (very minor) flaws but I highly recommend it.

It's the perfect follow-up for Double Dash fans.

-- Matt

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Product Release: Mario Kart Wii (w/ Racing Wheel) (US, 04/27/08)

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