Mario Kart Wii...for the...Wii...
Each generation of Nintendo hardware has a Mario Kart title for its library, and now it’s the Wii’s turn—though, you could argue it’s the second Kart title, with the Virtual Console version of Mario Kart 64. We’ve seen the series grow and try new things, and this time isn’t any different. Mario Kart Wii has been marketed for the influx of new gamers—thanks to the Wii’s popularity—but it still retains some of the older flair hardcore fans will appreciate. Although many will consider the game new, series veterans can think of the game more as a Kart refresher, comprised of mostly older tracks, and a few new additions to gameplay.
Not much has changed throughout the different iterations of Mario Kart games. To-date, we’ve seen our favorite red cap-and-overalled plumber race go-karts across every Nintendo platform starting with the SNES; switching things up on the Gamecube by teaming up with a partner in Double Dash. However, Mario Kart Wii makes a return to its roots, literally.
Nope, things haven’t changed much…
While you can argue the game is “new,” its racetracks are a hybrid of new and old. With 32 tracks total, race modes (Grand Prix, Time Trial and VS) are divided into Cups, each with four different courses. If you have been a dedicated fan to the Kart games, you’ll notice tracks from previous eras, with some slight tweaks in their design. There are 16 new (and 16 old) tracks to race on, but they borrow, in some cases, heavily from past courses. While nostalgia can be a fun thing, taking trips down memory lane on re-dubbed Moo Moo Farm and Toad’s Highway courses make the Kart veteran feel a little cheated.
Not much innovation has made its way into gameplay either, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Mario Kart has always been about a not-too serious racing experience, using on-course items to change the racing dynamics. The tracks may feel a little recycled, but the Wii-integrated mechanics make for an enjoyable experience.
Buy Mario Kart, get plastic wheel…
The big change for the Kart series is in control. Like Smash Brothers Brawl, there are five different control setups to use, but in this case, only one is the centerpiece of the game: The Wii Wheel. Every part of the game has been dedicated to something that amounts to nothing more than a plastic shell; even the box art and pre-game movie are devoted to the peripheral. Although it may seem gimmicky, the Wheel actually feels good in the hands for interactive steering, and includes an exaggerated B trigger, hole for your wrist-strap and lens for infrared pointing.
Ultimately, the Wii Wheel works, but it’s a shame to see a game devoted so much to a peripheral as Kart is. The game comes prepackaged with the Wheel, but you really don’t need to actively invest in three other shells if you want your friends to play. Using whatever you have on hand, be it the Wii-mote itself, Nunchuck combo, Classic Gamepad or Gamecube controller, you’ll be able to play just as well as the person with the white wheel.
Simply put, it’s fun no matter how you play…
Tilt-steering aside, Mario Kart Wii doesn’t really offer other Wii-specific integration—save for point-and-click menus—but gameplay is just as fun, if not better, without it.
Being a simple game, there aren’t overly-complicated control schemes. Using the D-pad makes for easy deployment of items either forward or backward, by simply pressing up or down on it while using the Wii-mote. The A button gives you a reverse view, to see who’s coming up behind you, and the B trigger initiates power slides, which if held long enough, award you with mini-boosts of speed.
The tracks have been designed with the latter in mind, with a host of long curves and tight turns. Although the controls are neat and simple, they can get a little confusing as you try to complete a power slide while holding an item defensively; it’s entirely possible to deploy an item when you don’t want to, or cut the slide short, depending on how you mix up your brain signals.
Being last is almost more fun than being first…
With controls being straightforward, accessible and well-designed, Mario Kart Wii is a fun racer that many will be able to get into and enjoy—even if there is a bit of a learning curve with the power slide. However, racing on your own is a bit of a mixed bag. As usual for the kart racer, you’ll have to play through the Grand Prix mode to unlock additional courses, racers and vehicles, in 50cc, 100cc or 150cc difficulties.
Unfortunately, the game isn’t the most well-rounded, balanced racer, as the different classifications range from too easy, to luck-based competition. You can play through the 50cc class relatively quickly—within an afternoon—but if you opt for the 150cc races, expect frustrating results. The 150cc class feels too much like you’re racing against the odds, and less a competent intelligence. For the most part, you’re battling the items drawn by your opponents, and a horrible yo-yo AI.
Also, the item selection hasn’t changed much from part Mario Kart titles. In Double Dash, we saw the use of special weaponry from different racers, but that has been done away with for this go. All you’re left with this time around is a handful of items which show up in a predictable pattern: The top positions only get bananas and green shells, middle positions receive red shells and stars, and the lowest positions pick up anything which will get them to the front of the pack. The setup is understandable, but entirely disappointing.
You got motorcycles in my kart racer…
Where the game does change things up a bit, are the actual vehicles you race. This time around, you have access not only to karts, but motorcycles as well. Each machine has a standard, off-road, speed or special type to race with. While the karts are heavier and more stable, the bikes have quicker acceleration and tighter handling.
The move to introduce motorcycles is a fun dynamic, but where are the unique vehicles for each racer? There are only a few variants between the vehicles, which are determined more by the type of racer (small, medium or large), instead of whom you actually choose.
If you get tired of racing, however, you can always opt for the Battle mode. The goal of battles is still to knock off three balloons of opposing players, but there is an added coin collecting game as well. Instead of just trying to knock off your opponent’s balloons, Coin Runner games have players racing around an arena, vying to collect the most coins for their team; items come into play as you can knock coins from your opponent’s collection. Battles are a fun distraction from the core racing gameplay, but again, recycled maps aren’t as exciting as a whole new list of arenas would have been.
Finally, you don’t have to only play against your younger sibling anymore…
It’s easy to nitpick on the single-player side of Mario Kart, but the game has never been about solo racing. If there’s one reason to pick up the game, it’s for its online play. Essentially, whatever you’re able to do playing by yourself, you’ll be able to play either locally or online as well; and Mario Kart Wii has the best online functionality on the hardware to-date.
Complete with rankings for both battles and races, the ability to upload and download ghost files, and participate in special tournaments, playing online is easy and lag-free. Playing over the internet allows for two people to play on one Wii, and uses a voting system in deciding what course you want to play. It’s also possible to jump straight into online play by creating a Mario Kart Channel.
There’s not much to get upset about on the multiplayer side of things, as even finding opponents is fun. Instead of just showing you who you’re going to play against, a virtual globe, a la the Wii’s Weather Channel, pops up and a waving Mii shows you who you are competing against and where they’re from. Also, you have your choice of how globally you wish to play: regional or worldwide.
Sure, it looks nice…
As a small aside, presentation is a strange jumble for the game. In-game racing is a mix of arcade action with cartoony, colorful animation, but all of the menus feel entirely sterile. While trying to market the Wii Wheel, there’s a juxtaposition of gameness and sleekness. The graphics aren’t pushing any boundaries, and there are times when the framerate drops a bit, but the issue is less with the technical, and more with art direction—though, it’s fun seeing your Miis throughout the race courses in varying facets.
More than just one game a generation, please…
Mario Kart has been around for nearly every Nintendo system, with the Wii’s version acting more like a “Greatest Hits” compilation of past racing glory. There is a lot that is new for the racer, with Wii-specific mechanics and online functionality, but the mix of old and new ensures that a new generation of gamers has a chance to explore what they’ve missed for past decade or so. Tight gameplay and whimsical music create an accessible title that’s fun for die-hard fans and newcomers, but it would have been nice to see a little more change for the kart classic. Mario Kart seems to explore something different with each outing, but let’s just hope it doesn’t take a new piece of hardware to see what’s next for the series.
+ Tight, precise motion functionality
+ Mii integration both racing, and throughout race courses
+ Amazing online play for a Wii title
Oh, hell no:
- Recycled and borrowed-from tracks
- Predictable, arbitrary AI and items
- Overselling the Wii Wheel