Tuesday, May 6, 2008
Good: Control options, online play, some of the new tracks
Bad: Why are we still using friend codes?
Mario Kart has always been the ultimate "casual" game. Growing up, even if your friends didn't like video games, they liked Mario Kart. Non-gamers of all kinds have tossed a red shell at one point or another. It's only fitting (and inevitable) that the franchise makes its first appearance on the ultimate "casual" console. Mario Kart Wii adds a bit of new aspects to a formula that's tried-and-true, but it largely stays the same as the series we've known and loved for years.
The most obvious addition is the inclusion of the Wii Wheel in the $49.99 package. It's essentially a circular piece of plastic that cradles your Wii-mote, but it does allow for a more natural feel when utilizing the motion control. The two motion-based control options are either the Wii-mote by itself or in the wheel, or you can opt for analog stick control with the Nunchuk attachment or Gamecube controller. While the GC controller was the weapon of choice for many when it came to Smash Bros. Brawl, it's not quite the same with Mario Kart Wii. The motion options allow you to perform stunts with a simple flick of the Wii-mote, whereas the GC controller makes you awkwardly press the D-pad. If you're just playing for fun with a bunch of friends, there's nothing wrong with the Wii Wheel or Wii-mote by itself. The motion controls are extremely responsive, and I've found them to be the best racing controls on the system. However, if you're seriously trying to compete in time trials, tournaments, or online play, the Wii-mote with Nunchuk is the way to go. Drifting, stunts, and hairpin turns feel far better suited for this option than any other.
I briefly mentioned the stunts earlier, and they're a very welcome addition to the races. Anytime you hit a ramp or jump, you can flick the controller just as your wheels leave the ground to perform a mid-air stunt. Upon landing, your kart will receive a speed boost. It's nothing huge, but it can often be just what you need to speed past the race leader right before the finish line.
The last console offering, Mario Kart Double Dash, added a little spin on the formula by making all the karts built for two people. However, this really didn't change the gameplay in any significant fashion (other than being able to toggle between two weapons). Mario Kart Wii thankfully goes back to the single-driver formula, but they've added bikes to the equation. There's not a huge difference in control, but they do have the ability to perform wheelies for extra speed boosts on straightaways. Not an earth-shattering addition by any means, but they're welcome nevertheless.
Being a lifelong fan of the series, I was very happy to learn that Nintendo included four full 4-race cups of classic tracks. Everything from SNES classics like Ghost Valley 2 to N64's Sherbet Land are playable, as well as tracks from Game Boy Advance, DS, and Gamecube.
You'll find more consistent quality in the classic cups than the new ones, but that's understandable since they had five games full of tracks to pull them from. That's not to say the new tracks aren't fun, but they range from the great (Maple Treeway, Coconut Mall) to the not-so-great (Grumble Volcano) to the downright difficult (Wario's Gold Mine, Moonview Highway).
Perhaps the most significant addition is the inclusion of online play. Not only is it great for this game, but it's great to see any Wii game work without a hitch online (even during 12-player online races). Smash Bros. Brawl's online play disappointed many, but Mario Kart Wii is lag-free, easy to get into, and a great online experience overall.
When you pick up a new Mario Kart title, you know exactly what to expect. A couple minor additions, a bunch of entertaining new tracks, and more of the racing action you've loved for years. This is a series that has been going strong for over 15 years without a bad title in the bunch, and Mario Kart Wii keeps the tradition going as strong as ever.
First Play: 9.0
Replay Value: 9.0