Review: Mario Kart Wii

Mario Kart Wii

I want to start this review by mentioning that I am probably the biggest fan of the Mario Kart series that you’ll ever meet. I’ve been playing these games for well over 15 years and have participated in a number of tournaments across the country. So of course I went to the midnight launch back in late April and was one of the first to pick up Mario Kart Wii. The next day I spent playing through the single player mode to unlock new racers and vehicles, along with trying my hand at the online multiplayer and have been playing this game exclusively for the past two weeks. During that time, I’ve not once regretted making this purchase.

When you get down to it, Mario Kart Wii is basically just an extension of Mario Kart DS (with better graphics of course) with four major exceptions: The Wii wheel, improved online multiplayer, and an altered mini-turbo mechanic, and motor cycles. Let’s hit each one of these before we dive into the main game itself.

Wii Wheel

If you want a more in-depth review of Nintendo’s Wii wheel, check out this article that Matt posted last week. I’m going to keep this focused on my thoughts, and also those of my wife as she often plays Mario Kart Wii online with me. As I can imagine most people did the first time they played Mario Kart Wii, I busted out the included Wii wheel and tried my hand at it. Upon starting the first race in the 50cc mushroom cup, I found myself weaving back and forth across the road as if I were drunk. I immediately stopped the game, hooked up the nunchuck, and proceeded to play Mario Kart Wii as I had these past 15 years: with my thumbs. I’m going to assume that many players coming to Mario Kart Wii with a similar background as myself will more than likely opt for the controller play style (be it GameCube, Classic, or Wii Remote + nunchuck) over the wheel simply because it’s what they’re most familiar with and can begin enjoying the game from the beginning without having to learn a brand new way to control their kart.

Interestingly enough, my wife (whose only Mario Kart experience consisted of playing a few rounds back on the Nintendo 64) actually prefers the Wii wheel over any other control method. When I asked why, she said it felt more natural than steering with a stick. Plus, because she drives, using the Wii wheel is almost second nature. Obviously Nintendo is banking on the inclusion of a wheel with Mario Kart Wii to get more newcomers to purchase the game since driving is natural to most of the general public.

Peach on a bike

Regardless of whether you prefer the wheel or the standard controller, you’ll be using these to steer your vehicle around each track. Notice how I said “vehicle” instead of kart. This is because Mario Kart Wii has introduced motorcycles into the fray. Starting out, players can select from three go-karts and three motorcycles and eventually unlock another three of each vehicle type by playing through the single player grand prix mode and unlocking expert staff ghosts in time trials. While the karts and the motorcycles perform very similarly, there are two differences which set each apart: motorcycles can perform wheelies which increase your speed in straightaways while the karts have two levels of mini-turbos instead of the motorcycle’s one. After trying my hand at both, the addition of motorcycles is a fairly benign change as both vehicles perform equally well.

Now that I’ve mentioned mini-turbos, I might as well get into one of the most controversial changes in Mario Kart Wii: the overhauled mini-turbo system. Since the Nintendo 64 version of Mario Kart, players could gain a speed boost by drifting through a corner and wiggling the control stick back and fourth. This lead to a phenomenon known as “snaking” where a skilled player could travel down a straightaway, doing quick drifts back and forth just to travel down its entire length using mini-turbos. In order to combat this tactic, Nintendo altered the drifting/mini-turbo mechanic so that turbos are granted as you turn while drifting. So for example, drifting around a sharp corner will net you quicker mini-turbos as opposed to cornering a gradual bend in the road. While some long-time Mario Kart players are taken aback by this change, this new method isn’t necessarily bad, as it takes just a few races to get used to, and it also bridges the gap between Mario Kart pros and newcomers.

This can be seen no better place than online during multiplayer matches. This is Nintendo’s biggest change to the Mario Kart franchise, and one that I’ve been looking forward to the most once it was announced. Where as Smash Brothers was a fairly great example of how to not implement online play on the Wii, Mario Kart is the complete opposite. You can join in on regional or worldwide races or battle modes and can typically find a full group of racers and be participating in a lag-free race within 30 seconds. While friend codes once again rear their ugly head, Nintendo relieved a little bit of the strain of trading codes by allowing players send messages to individuals that are already on their Wii’s friendlist and let them exchange codes that way instead of having to do so in person. Also, a feature that I enjoy is that if you see a friend playing online, you can join their group and race/battle with them and the other random people that they’re playing with at the time. And while you can still create a custom room which only your friends can join, unlike Smash Brothers Brawl Nintendo isn’t alienating you from participating in online play if you don’t happen to know that many people that have Mario Kart Wii.

Online rankings

To expand on Mario Kart Wii’s online features, it actually has its own channel which you can install onto your Wii’s dashboard to access at any time, regardless of whether or not you have the game in your disk drive. Entering this channel grants you access to your friends list, along with checking the time trial rankings of anyone on that list, in your region, or even the entire world. You can also download ghost data from any individual and see exactly how they reached a time that was 30 seconds better than your own. Finally, you can also participate in tournaments that Nintendo creates which are slight variations on the normal levels. For example, Nintendo’s first tournament wanted players to obtain the fastest time on Mario Circuit, however they introduced roaming Chain Chomps onto the course, and repositioned the course’s wandering Goombas and the item blocks.

Now with those four major points out of the way, I’ll focus on the typical Mario Kart content which changes between every iteration. Like the DS version, Mario Kart Wii features both original tracks, and throwbacks from Mario Karts of yesteryear. While all of the older tracks translated perfectly to the new game, I’m really impressed by all of the original tracks. There isn’t a single one that I despise, unlike the older games (I’ll always hate you Baby Park!!!). Twelve racers can participate in a single race now, which at times gets somewhat frustrating as shells, the new POW block, and lightning bolts get thrown around more often than before. Oddly enough, blue shells, which seek out the current leader and eliminates them in a blue explosion, actually occur less than in Mario Kart: Double Dash, which some players may find as a relief.

Graphically the game is a slight improvement over Double Dash but when compared with other games on the system, like Smash Brothers Brawl, they’re just okay. Also, it seems that Nintendo told the voice actors to come up with some of the most annoying clips ever to record for the game. This is most apparent when you play as your Mii as every few seconds mine yells “GO GO GO!” or “YEEEAAAHH!” in a nasally, high-pitched voice. Honestly that’s partly the reason I’ve switched my main character to Dry Bowser as listening to him growl is at least tolerable.

One thing I do want to mention before I finish up this review is that long-time players of the series may find the “rubber-band” effect to be more noticeable in Mario Kart Wii than any other game in the series. In other words, the game handycaps those players in the lead while favoring those in the back of the field. While this doesn’t seem to happen as often when playing on Nintendo Wi-Fi Connect, it’s painfully obvious in local multiplayer as the game seems to generate more items which keep players grouped together rather than allowing any one to take a substantial lead.

Even with its faults, Mario Kart Wii is definietly a must have title. Mario Kart fans will find the game challenging, yet easy to adapt to while individuals that are intimidated by games should see it strangely inviting with the allure of the Wii Wheel. Additionally, this Mario Kart has more replay value than any previous iteration as the challenge of playing other racers using the Wi-Fi Connect service will keep you coming back for more races long after you’ve mastered the single player game and unlocked everything.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Multiple control methods allow many options for both novice and veteran Karters.
+ Added Wi-Fi Connect online play adds a huge amount of replay value.
+ All tracks, both new and old, are fun to play.
+ Tournaments give players new scenarios to complete offline and upload their performance for rankings.

Cons:
– Graphics aren’t really showing off what the Wii is capable of, especially compared to Brawl or other first-party titles.
– Annoying voice acting.
– More “rubber-banding” than in previous Mario Kart titles.

Game Info:
Platform: Nintendo Wii
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Release Date: 4/27/08
Genre: Kart Racing
Players: 1 – 4 locally, 2 – 12 on Nintendo Wi-Fi Connect

About the Author

Having over 25 years of gaming experience, Zach knows a thing or two when it comes to one of his favorite entertainment activities. Additionally, he has also written many articles previewing and reviewing titles which can be found in various places around the net, including VGBlogger.com.