Review by troy_g_door

Reviewed: 05/29/08

Wii Have a Winner

What we get from Nintendo are often new versions of old games, and Mario Kart is no exception to the rule. With the release of Mario Kart Wii, Nintendo has launched it's mega-hit racer to the next-gen consoles. If you've played a Mario Kart in the past, you'll see nothing too surprising here. But if you are new to the series, here's the quick rundown:

The game works much like any other racer. 12 people in the race, first one to the finish wins, blah blah blah. What makes Mario Kart the fast paced action racer so many people love are the items you obtain along the way to hinder your opponents and rocket you to the checkered flag. Items range anywhere from boosts to shrinking lighting to heat-seeking turtle shells. And yes, this makes for some hectic gameplay.

What makes MKW different from its predecessors manage to keep the game fun for vets without throwing a wrench in for the newbies. The wii remote can be used as a steering wheel, much like other racing games already available for the Wii. The game even comes packaged with a plastic wheel that the remote fits into, further enhancing the feeling that you are actually driving in the game. If that's not your cup of tea, you can use a nunchuk, a classic controller, or even a gamecube controller if you were a big fan of the Double Dash controls. The big difference between the controls is that while using a controller will give you the analog precision, there's nothing quite like taking ahold of your own wheel for some multiplayer fun. Not to mention that as danger approaches, the speaker in the wii remote will give a warning signal.

The tracks in MKW are a far cry from the past, especially with the inclusion of the trick system, which allows for boosting when going over ramps. The game has a total of 32 tracks, all of which can be played normally or in mirror mode and across three difficulties. 16 of the tracks are new, riddled with jumps and shortcuts, and have beautiful, colorful environments that jump from the mario universe and a bit of nostalgia from the past Kart games. The other 16 tracks are all classic tracks from the past games, including a few from the DS version of the game. They've gone through a graphical overhaul, and some have even got a few new jumps in them to take advantage of the trick system.

Of course the game will have the usual assortment of selectable karts, but new to the series is the inclusion of bikes. While the differences between the two seem small at first, as you play you begin to really see the advantages of each type. Bikes can wheelie for a small speed boost at the expense of handling, while drifting around corners with a kart can merit a special mini turbo that launches you further and beyond a standard drifting turbo. Both the bikes and the karts can win, and neither has a clear advantage, keeping the game balanced when both are on the track.

Mario Kart Wii features several modes, consisting of the standard grand prix and time trial modes. Also akin to the series is a battle mode, which has been slightly tweaked for this rendition of the game. The battle is still a scramble to plaster the others with weapons, but instead of a four-player battle, it's a 6-on-6 match to see exactly who can trounce the other team worse. The same team aspect can be used for racing, which allows a nascar-style "help you teammates and yourself" mentality. And with the inability to harm your teammates, you don't have to have precision aim to aid the cause.

While all of these new things may seem significant, the true star of the show here is the online mode, which can be played both alone or with a guest. Here, you'll find both vs. racing and battle modes, and a rating system to see just how you stack up against the rest of the world. You can even download "rival ghosts" from a world time trial ranking to allow yourself to race someone slightly faster than you and give you the edge in beating your old times. And if lag is your worry online, fear not. Once kart gets going, it goes smooth. In my time with the game I have only once seen a stutter of lag, which did not affect the race whatsoever. Moreso, you can choose to race regionally, which helps to improve connection speed.

Excited yet? Hold on, there are a few things that keep this racer at a silver level. First are the classic tracks. While it's fun to race the old favorites, when compared to the new tracks they seem almost boring. Ultimately, you'll see yourself spending most of your time on the new 16 and neglecting the old courses. Also, using the wii wheel can have its drawbacks. once every few races (and seemingly always at the most critical time possible) I found myself drifting the wrong way. Of course if you use automatic drifting this won't inconvenience you, but for those who want to boost around corners be wary. Finally, some of the items that can be picked up seem devastatingly overpowered. Most notable of these is the mighty POW block, which forces all opponents to spin out and drop whatever items they had. Other problems with the item system can depend on skill, and if you are in last due to bad driving, getting items that speed you up aren't exactly what you need.

Don't let these gripes fool you. Mario Kart Wii is as solid a kart racer as I've ever seen. The learning curve is smooth, the controls are solid, the courses are fun and the combat always makes for an exciting race. If you have a Wii and some friends, or even just a wireless connection, Mario Kart Wii is not to be missed.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

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

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