A short review here of Mario Kart Wii.
First of all, let me state that I am a Mario Kart fan, I have played and enjoyed every single Mario Kart game thus far (excluding the rare arcade versions). It’s important to say that now because this game has its flaws, which I will get to shortly.
First a quick history lesson to provide comparison.
- The original Super Mario Kart on the SNES was a superbly balanced game with excellent tracks and frankly it was just plain fun, both in single and multiplayer modes. It used the SNES graphics mode 7 which was a sort of a cheating method of simulating 3D gameplay with 2D graphics. All the courses were flat.
- Mario Kart 64 inevitably lost some of the original’s purity in the transition to 3D, but the courses themselves became more varied and interesting in their own right.
- The GBA version Super Circuit was a beautiful little return to the SNES game, with all the original 16 courses included as a bonus on top of the new ones. Since the GBA was similar to the SNES hardware, the game also used mode 7 and had flat tracks.
- Double Dash for the Gamecube changed the game’s dynamic by having two characters in one cart, able to switch and thus hold multiple items. In my opinion, this added an interesting and enjoyable strategic element to the game. The course really went crazy this time round, huge shifts in gradient and massive pits and holes and other obstacles dotting their landscape.
- On the DS, Nintendo managed to take most of the improvements from Double Dash, while reverting to the one-man kart system. In addition to new courses, the game offered a pick and mix of previous classic tracks.
And now here we are on the Wii. The gimmick this time round is that the game comes with the Wii Wheel, a cheap and nasty lump of useless plastic which you slot your remote into and proceed to wildly misjudge your cornering before quitting, and moving to a more sensible analogue stick control system. I’m sure some people will find the wheel an enjoyable control scheme, but as a veteran of the series, I found it remarkably unresponsive and very difficult to judge your cornering and drifting accurately. So I shifted to the Remote+Nunchuk, and suddenly everything that was wrong was made right.
Not quite though. Nintendo decided that having 8 karts racing at once was not enough, and has upped it to 12. Why? No idea. 12 isn’t more fun. It’s less fun. Having 12 karts means that in first place you have 11 people behind you, potentially picking up race-ruining items. The dreaded blue shell that takes out the player in first place (and cannot be avoided) has returned, along with a bunch of other stupid crap weapons that have no real purpose. Shells and bananas are one thing, but a magical lightning cloud which somehow makes you able to drive off-road at no penalty but will strike and shrink you unless you bump into someone and transfer it to them is just utterly fucking stupid and Nintendo should know better.
The problem with the weapons now is simple: there are too many of them, and they’ve turned first place into the worst place to be. When you get to the 150CC races, you’ll find that cups will be lost through no fault of your own, even if your driving is exceptional, simply because some asshole blue-shelled you on the finishing straight and three people overtook you. Winning becomes more about luck than skill, because the rubber-band AI (speeds up when behind, slows down when ahead) is sure to get weapon after weapon to derail your perfect racing line.
The new tracks are largely very good, as is the selection of older tracks (N64 Bower’s Castle is especially cool). There is a fine range of unlockable karters (Rosalina from Super Mario Galaxy is a nice surprise, also your Mii) and plenty of karts and bikes to choose from, each with unique racing stats. Yes, I just said bikes. Initially I was sceptical, but this addition has been handled very well. In fact, given the choice, I usually take a bike over a kart. The difference seems to be in the new drift system and jump tricks. Drifting returns from previous games, but the boost level is now based on how long you can hold a slide. I haven’t actually noticed much of a difference here, it feels more or less the same to me as before. Tricks are all new, and work by shaking the controller when you are taking a jump, giving you a nice boost when you land. Bikes cannot reach the second level red flame boost when drifting, but when on a straight you can pop a wheelie for a speed increase (just don’t do it when you need to turn).
Graphically, this game looks like Double Dash which is just not good enough. In fact it’s downright insulting that Nintendo let this game go through looking like it does, considering the beauty of Super Mario Galaxy. It’s not that it’s ugly, it’s that it’s lazy. Although actually, it might even be uglier because it has more racers on at once. That all being said, the animation is tight and it runs and plays smooth. As for the audio presentation, it’s the usual “it’s-a-me Mario” voices and a musical score that is bouncy and light and forgettable.
New to the Wii edition is Online play. What this largely amounts to is either racing Time Trial ghosts from around the globe, posted on a nice world leader board, or a series of Vs races with up to 11 other players. These races are fun, more fun than racing the computer certainly, but Nintendo’s horribly fascist attitude in this area means the only contact you have with these players is sharing your Miis. No chat, voice or otherwise. Nintendo really need to lighten up on this front because the most of fun of multiplayer Mario Kart is being able to see your friends faces when you hit them with a red shell and gloat about your winning.
What it all comes down to is whether or not Mario Kart Wii is a good game. The answer is yes it is, but in many respects it’s probably the worst Mario Kart game yet. For every good addition, there bad addition, for every skill-oriented green shell there’s a race-ruining blue shell. And the Wii Wheel is a pointless gimmick that really doesn’t do what you’d like it to which is TURN WHEN YOU TURN IT. Long story short, this is Nintendo fumbling for something to make the game stand out from previous editions, but in so doing they’ve actually made it worse. Shame.