Review by gamerman555

Reviewed: 05/06/08

I really hate those Blue Shells...

Mario Kart has always had a spot in my heart. I loved the SNES version and the N64 version. I was a bit disappointed with the GCN version, and since I don't have a DS (yes, I know, I fail) I never really played Mario Kart DS. I was looking forward to Mario Kart Wii to see how they'd include the Wii's unique controller. I got the game a few days ago, and here are my impressions.

Local Gameplay: For those looking for a Wifi Gameplay review, please see below. Upon starting up the game, you will create an account for yourself which has your unique Friend Code listed at the top. Each time you start the game, like most other games, you will select your file. From the main menu, there are several options. The first option is playing the game locally on the machine. From here you are able to play the typical Grand Prix mode (where you select a character, a cup (each with 4 races), and try to finish first for the gold cup), the battle mode (where you can face off against computer players in balloon or coin battles), the VS mode (face a set amount of characters on whatever track of your choosing), and the Time Trial mode (where you can select a track and try to beat "ghost times" which are basically very good track times set my the game designers.

If you have a friend, you can select the multiplayer option from the main menu. Here, you (and up to three other friends) can race on tracks and play battle mode.

The game itself plays quite well, however there are a few issues. Firstly, the game comes with the Wii Wheel (a single one per game package). This lets you plug in your Wiimote into a small wheel where you can physically turn the wheel to turn your character in the game. It has a very high learning curve, but after a few hours, you'll have no problem. To those people who complain about the Wii Wheel: suck it up and use it for more than 10 minutes. If you really can't use the thing, you can use the Wiimote and Nunchuck attachment (which is require to play) or the Gamecube Controller. The controls are quite nice, however the gameplay does seem to be quite a bit slower than in previous games.

There are three modes of speed: 50cc, 100cc, and 150cc. The higher the speed, the better the computer opponents are (and the faster the Kart is). A nice new addition is the ability to ride motor bikes instead of karts. They have better acceleration than Karts, but they can be bumped further off the track. That is one of the first problems of the gameplay: don't bother using Toad or another light character - if a character such as Bowser even barely touches Toad's Kart, he'll fly off the track ever single bloody time.

Another new addition is the ability to perform tricks. When you go off jumps (some of the new courses have "half-pipes") you can perform tricks so that when you land, you'll gain a small speed boost (which is quite useful, and it's just fun to perform tricks).

There are a few new items in the game, as well as some of the old. Unlike in Double Dash, "special" items are gone. Some of the new items include the Bullet Bill (you must be in last or close to last to get this: your character will hop into a bullet bill and drive you at a very fast speed for about 10 seconds, destroying everything in its path), the lighting bolt (get this and you'll get shocked after having it for about 15 seconds: hit another player to pass it onto them!), the POW block (which will make everyone in front of you spin out as if they hit a banana), the Squid (which will throw an oil splatter on the screen, making it hard to see) and the Mega Mushroom from Mario Kart DS (which makes your character big so you can squish others and run right through Shells and other traps). Old favourites such as red shells (home in on whoever is in front of you), green shells (travel straight and bounce off walls), bananas (lay them on the track and hope someone spins out on one), and fake item boxes (explosives in disguise) are also back. The shells also come in packs of 3. Oh, and the boost mushrooms (including the Golden Mushroom, giving you an infinite boost for several seconds) are back, however since most of the tracks are very curvy, they mushrooms are more or less useless.

The items make the game fun, but they also make it VERY annoying at the same time. One of my biggest peves with Double Dash was the probability of the Blue Shell (which targets whoever is in first and explodes on them, causing them to stop for about 5 seconds), and the damn thing still appears at least 1-2 times PER LAP. At higher difficulties, it makes winning next to impossible at times. The moment you get in first, you get nailed with a shell (and it almost always happens right before you pass the line so that the five people behind you can pass you). The lighting bold (which turns everyone small for several seconds) also appears far too often. The items just make the game unplayable at times. You see, when you are doing Grand Prix mode, upon finishing, you are given a rank of C, B, A, 1 Star, 2 Stars, and 3 Stars (worst to best, respectively). In order to get 3 stars, you must win every race in the cup and win by a huge margin while having great lap times. How in the world can this be done if you have to deal with Blue Shells and Lighting Bolts every few seconds. Urgh.

There are 8 Cups, each with 4 tracks, giving the game a total of 32 courses (twice as much as Mario Kart 64 and Mario Kart: Double Dash had). 16 of the courses are new, and 16 are courses from either the SNES, N64, GCN, or DS versions of Mario Kart. The classic tracks are great for bringing back memories, but since they don't contain any areas for tricks, they somewhat clash with the new tracks (which are mostly well done).

Local Gameplay Score: 7/10

Online: Thank god they fixed the lag issue from Super Smash Bros. Brawl. You can connect to Nintendo Wifi Connection (as long as your machine is hooked up to internet through cable or wireless) and play with up to 12 people in single races, battle modes, and time trials. There is no lag whatsoever, and the online play is just plain fun.

You and a friend (only two locals from a console can go online) can take on regional opponents (I believe regional is people in the countries that surround you: I love in Canada, and when I select regional friends only, I face off against people across Canada and in the United States), worldwide opponents (face off against people from any country), or people in your friend list. In order to have friends in your list, you must exchange friend codes (which can be a bit of a pain).

You can play either single course races or battles. Each race can have 2-12 people (the Nintendo servers will automatically set you into groups). At the start of the race, you can either select a course you'd personally like to play, or make the choice random. Once you do, you'll see what other people have voted for, or if they've chosen random too. The game will then randomly pick one of the choices. If it picks my choice, and I picked Luigi Circuit, then the group will do a single race on Luigi Circuit. If it picked me and I picked random choice, the game will pick a random course for us to play on. Then you race. At the end of the race, a standing board will be displayed. You start with 5000 points. Finishing in the top half will usually net you a positive gain in points, while finishing in the bottom half will usually take points away. From what I've seen, most people are between 4500 and 5500 points: honestly, you'll win some, and lose some. Points don't really represent your skill.

If you select battles, you'll join a group of 2-12 people. The game will alternate between Coin battles and Balloon Battles. In Coin battles, you and your team must collect as many coins as you can (which can be lost if people hit you with items). The team with the most coins at the end will win. If you collect a great deal of coins, you'll gain some points (like races, your account starts at 5000 points). Even if you're on the losing team, if you picked up a tonne of coins compared to everyone else, you may gain some points instead of losing. If you do very little, even if your team won, you may lose coins. In balloon battle, you can use items to try to hit the opposing team. A hit will net your team a point. If you get hit, the other team gets a point, and you lose a balloon. Unfortuantely, if you run out of balloons, you just respawn. Both Coin and Balloon battles are timed, making the balloons themselves quite useless.

Finally, Nintendo has released a Mario Kart Wii channel where you can see the fastest time trial scores among both Nintendo staffers and other worldwide players. The players with the highest points are also given credit here. Can you make the top of the list or be featured on the time trial lists?

Online capability Score: 9.7/10

Graphics: The game basically looks the same as Mario Kart: Double Dash. Most of the graphics, although nice, have flat textures, but they aren't "poor" by any reason: they still look nice, just not very "advanced" to modern standards. The character models are quite blocky, but that isn't too much of a deal. The game has some nice lighting effects (Toad's head shines, for example, as does Mario's nose) and the Karts themselves look quite nice. The courses go through the entire colour wheel.

Graphics Score: 7.8/10

Sound Effects and Music: The music of the retro tracks is the same. The music for the new tracks is quite nice. Nothing special, but nothing bad. Most of the music for the levels fits in quite well, setting a nice atmospheric mood (such as the ambient but fast-paced beat of the Rainbow Road theme). I love how if you hit players, the characters will honk their horn at you - cute little extra. Hitting players also makes them make funny sounds.

Sounds Effects and Music Score: 7.5/10

Unlockables: There are several characters to unlock, including a few special surprises (there are a few characters that I didn't expect in the least to be there, but they were nice surprises), four cups to unlock, and of course a wide variety of karts and bikes to unlock. Unlocking most of the stuff isn't very difficult and just requires you to play the game both online and locally through the cups while performing decently. Considering it's a racing game, there's a good amount of stuff to unlock, and I don't really know what else they could put in here.

Unlockables Score: 9.5/10

The CPU/AI: This is where the game stalls. Big time. If you're playing at 100cc or 150cc, there will ALWAYS be someone on your back. No matter how many boosts you get, no matter how well you perform, no matter how many times you hit them with a shell by firing it backwards at them, there will always be someone back there (work that in with the high amounts of blue shells, and winning races just becomes a pain after a while). What makes it even more annoying is that, throughout the cup, it's always the same people who finish in the top! For example, if Yoshi comes in second in the first race, he'll always finish in the top three, as well as a few other characters. In other words, unless you come first 3/4 races, you're screwed. This was a major problem in Mario Kart: Double Dash, and to a lesser degree in the N64 version.

Honestly, between the cheap tailgating and the extremely high use of the blue shell, the game just feels plain unfair and cheap at times. I know Nintendo probably does this (having the same characters always finish near to first in a single cup) to give the game some difficulty, but combined with the item usage, it just is too much. Either relax on the items or relax on the cheap tendencies of the AI to always be on your tail no matter what defense you play.

The CPU will make some good calls, however, just like a human player: they will try to knock you off, they will fire shells backwards to stop ones you fire, they have decent aim with green shells, and they can boost around corners by sliding too.

The CPU/AI Score: 5/10

Replayability: You can always try to get a 3 Star Rank on all of the cups (good luck, that will take you months), try to get scores that will place you on the top Time Trial chart on the Mario Kart Wii channel, and of course, being able to play with friends and randoms online will mean this game will never get old. There will always be someone to play with online, at least for the foreseeable future. The item issue can be a bit of a pain online, however, for example, the Blue Shell doesn't seem to be as prominent online as it is when CPU's are playing. Online matches are downright fun and funny at times, and it's great to see the skill some people have at the game. I'm proud of my 6500 score :)

Really, since the online play is so deep, lag free, and fun, there is no real reason as to why I'd take away any points here.

Replayability Score: 10/10

Final Thoughts
This game has by far the best online play on the Wii to date, and although it has some massive negatives in the gameplay sector, the game is overall (in my opinion) the best Mario Kart game since Mario Kart 64. Here is a quick rundown of the review:

+ A nice pallet of characters to choose from, including several secret characters (and several of those being big but nice surprises to the series)
+ The Wii Wheel, although having a high learning curve, adds a cool interaction possibility
+ If you don't like the Wheel, you can easily play with the Wiimote and Nunchuck (which is needed to steer) or Gamecube Controller
+ 32 Courses and 8 Cups is a nice step up from the typical 16 courses/4 cups
+ Graphics, generally, although very Gamecube-like, are still nice and colourful and typical Mario-game style
+ The addition of motorbikes, which have their own respectively pros and cons
+ The ability to perform airborne tricks to get extra speed boosts when you land
+ The online play is by far the best of any Wii game to date
+ Music and sound effects generally fit well into the atmosphere of the game
+ The Mario Kart Wii channel is a really nice addition

- CPU is always behind you, no matter what defensive plays you make
- It's always the same people who finish in the top 4 in races
- The above two, plus the stupidly high rate of the Blue Shell makes staying in first, let alone winning races on higher difficulties, nearly impossible and incredibly cheap
- The fact that the above three issues haven't been fixed considering they've been around since Double Dash
- Boosts and the Golden Mushroom are more or less useless since most tracks are very curvy and have no straight-aways (using them just sends you into a wall, hazard, or off the track completely)
- Going off the road into dirt or grass makes you go unrealistically slow
- Being a lightweight character (Toad, for example) is pointless as even the slightest touch from a middle or heavy character (Mario and Bowser, respectively) will send you flying off the track
- The lighting cloud item is really, really stupid
- The Friend Code system is also really, really stupid

Overall Score: 8.1
Rounded: 8

Buy/Rend/Even Bother: Rent/Buy
Although the item usage and CPU really make the Grand Prix mode uninjoyable at times, the multiplayer and online play make up for the fact. Don't like the CPU? Well, go online then. I just can't get enough of playing online.

It comes down to this: If your Wii ISN'T connected to the internet, RENT the game. Trust me, you will want to try it out first. If your Wii is connected to the internet, get the game. Even if you don't like the single player modes, you'll have more than enough fun playing online.

Mario Kart Wii - Nintendo (Wii)

Rating:   4.0 - Great

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

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