Mario Kart Wii Wii
It’s been sixteen years since Nintendo started this kart racing malarkey. Back when it first kicked off no one ever considered it was going to be a success, and before release most commented that the best it could hope for was to be an enjoyable side dish to the rest of Nintendo’s honed platforming and adventuring efforts. That outlook quickly swung around upon release, with an outpouring of near universal praise from just about everyone for the finely tuned but still fun racing it provided.
From that point on, four more versions have been released on both Nintendo consoles and handhelds, with each one having to live up to massive hype. All of those games garnered different views, excelling in some areas, and supposedly failing in others. Mario Kart Wii, the sixth edition of the series is no different, as it once again offers so much to love, but is also home to a few problematic decisions which are sure to annoy.
Like always, the core gameplay is still instantly impressive, as is the terrific track design and the long line up of characters. The sheer pomp and majesty of diving around the twisting tracks in GP modes is still endlessly entertaining, perhaps better than ever due to the expansion of raucous racers from eight to twelve. Nailing perfect powerslides is still fun too, as is hitting zip pads. The new addition of performing stunts as you race and hitting half-pipe just helps to make that smile on your face even bigger. Finding secret shortcuts and taking advantage of them is continually compelling too, and just another one of the myriad of delicious details that are presented with near pin-point perfection.
On the other hand, you could argue that the way the game restricts items depending on position is worse than ever. You will always get a banana or a fake item box when in first place, you will always get a mushroom if you are in the middle of the pack, and you’ll always get your hands a blue shell, star, or one of the nastier items if you are near last place. What’s worse is that the same still carries over to the AI, and if you get into first place on the first or second lap, then don’t expect to stay there too long, as once again the AI always seems to get a Blue Shell or Red Shell when you are in the lead for an extended length of time. In fact, it seems to be even worse this time round as I have been Blue Shelled, Lightening Bolted, and Red Shelled in quick succession, thus knocking me back to near last place with little chance of catching up.
All of the modes you’d expect are available too. 50cc 100cc 150cc Grand Prix are on show again. This time showcasing a slightly differing offering than before with karts only been available in 50cc, bikes in 100cc and a mixture of both in 150cc. However, you can unlock the option to use both vehicles in all races after some time with the game.
As is the norm for a Mario Kart games there are eight championships to partake in, with four tracks on show in each. 16 of these are brand new tracks, and 16 more been a pick and mix from the last five Mario Kart titles. For the most part the new tracks are well thought out, with reasons to love, hate and love to hate just about all of them. Some offer multiple tight right angle turns, others have long sweeping corners on show, and multiple routes are an interesting trait of some as well.
Mushroom Gorge is one that offers something completely different, seeing you bouncing across mushrooms as you race. The conveyor belts of Toad’s factory offering an exciting break from typical Mario Kart fare. On the other hand Rainbow Road offers the same vivid colours it always has, harking back to previous iterations. Like always it has a new layout, and also boasts new music, which is a rather exciting remixed version of Mario Galaxy theme that is an audiophile’s dream. In fact a great deal of the music in the game is a treat to the ears, with the Moo Moo Meadows theme being my personal favourite.
Then there is the Wii Wheel peripheral itself, which if you did not already know is just a plastic housing for the Wiimote. I have to admit though it is a well made bit of plastic, and is not only smarter looking than the uninspired Wii Zapper, but also more ergonomic to hold. Unexpectedly it is very easy to use, and does not fight you at all should you choose to use it. Performing powerslides with it is no problem either, and stunts are as simple as jerking up on the Wii Wheel while the kart is in mid-air.
However, even after this praise I have to say I quickly dropped using the Wiimote/WiiWheel altogether, grabbed a classic controller, and never looked back. Yes, I might be old-fashioned in my ways but I felt at home playing that way. More so, I also knocked 2 seconds off my best time on Luigi Circuit after the switch, so that helped me feel I’d made the right decision. However, it should be noted that none of the methods are the right or wrong choice. They all work well, and it is just down to personal preference as to which works best for you.
Back to the problems though, and another notable one would have to be the game’s battle mode. It has been the recipient of an unnecessary update, and one which does nothing but harm what was once a very successful part of the series. The big change here sees the removal of the free for all mode, with it been replace with team based scuffles. Now, I will say there is nothing wrong with having the option for team based matches, but to remove the one-on-one option is just silly. Even worse, the rules of Balloon Battle have now been changed, with it now being point based with a set time-limit instead of focusing on the removal of balloons. There is also a new multiplayer variant called Coin Runners on show, which sees you picking up coins to boost health. Yet, once again it sadly seems more of a step down from what we loved in previous efforts, so you can’t help but feel a bit disappointed as you play.
The online modes Nintendo has put together for the game is one of their best yet, installing its own Wii Channel on your system to keep track of world wide record status, local record status, and other rankings. Friends can even check to see if there is a free space available in your next race using the channel, and then jump in and join you after. Ghost data can be traded here too, and seeing a large portion of the tracks are very well designed this should lead to some really competitive time trial battles as you fight to knock milliseconds of your best times.
So, in the end Mario Kart Wii is exactly what all of the previous efforts were, a mixed bag. This latest effort is not perfect in every way, but none of the Mario Karts in the past were either. However, in terms of pure racing this is probably the best the series has spawned in years. There is a ton of things to get excited about, with most of the new tracks impressing, slip streaming that actually works and the slight differences between karts and bikes making them feel like a worthwhile addition. Powersliding works again too, with no d-pad fiddling from the DS having to be done to trigger it!
When all is said and done the sheer fun factor that emanates from all Mario Kart games is alive and well in this iteration. If you’re intent upon buying it for some solid multiplayer action (on or offline), then you will not be disappointed. However, it should be noted that those pinning their hopes on just single player exploits may grow tired quicker than first expected. However, you can always fall back to having fun with time trial if you want to focus on some solitary MK action.