The Mario Kart series nearly spans the history of Nintendo systems starting with the Super Nintendo. Each reiteration of the series has brought with it a couple of new tracks that stretched the imagination as well as our racing ability. Mario Kart Wii is no exception mixing in some wild courses with a hardy handful of old favorites that fans of the series will recognize. Despite the addition of motorcycles and online play, the newest addition to the Kart series maintains the safe and steady course instead of veering off into new directions.
For better or for worse, nothing has changed in the series. You pick your character from your standard “Who’s Who” of Mario celebrities. Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses. Some are good at handling the tight turns while others hit the road just a little faster than others. The game lets you further tweak your character by choosing a kart or bike to adjust any number of stats to your character. As soon as that light hits green, it’s every character for themselves as you race through a track that at times seems more like a gauntlet with so many hazards being thrown your way. The magical appeal of the series is this clash between taking the turns and flying shells heading in your direction. It is also the series’ curse.
While Nintendo kept what was good with this little racing game, they also kept one of the biggest complaints– the rubber band AI. Just like a chainsaw wielding maniac in a horror movie, your opponents will always be just a couple of steps behind you. The 100cc race should be renamed to “Blue Shell Surprise.” If you happen to move too far ahead and pass that imaginary barrier, a blue shell from the back will surely put you back in your place. No warning. No way to avoid it. The game makes sure that you stick with the pack no matter how unfair it may be.
Other than the exclusion of Double Dash, if you’re expecting a radical change from the last racer, then you haven’t been playing Mario Kart for long. While the racing and gameplay is as solid as ever, don’t expect any amazing surprises this time around. The graphics are exactly what you expect – simple yet vibrant. Mario Kart Wii throws bikes into the mix but they add little to the overall gameplay. Players can now select manual or automatic in their style of driving. Automatic is really just for people who have never picked up the game before or touched a controller. Karts, of the four and two-wheel variety, can now perform trick as they hit the jumps and land with a little boost. Just like everything else, it’s a nice touch but adds nothing to an already solid experience.
Don’t expect too many fresh faces in this run. Mario and his cohorts is a selective bunch and won’t just let anyone throw a banana peel around here. Our favorite plumber along with his brother makes the return trip to the land of karts. Koopa and the gang come back for more as they chase after Peach, Daisy, and a few other barely recognizable faces. Even Mii’s get their place behind the wheel and not just the side of the track. Honestly, I’m a bit tired of the babysitting gig. From Baby Mario to Baby Daisy, nothing makes you feel like you’re playing a kiddy game like taking those tight turns in a baby carriage. Perhaps it’s time to broaden the roaster to include Link or Samus instead of filling the bench with third stringers like Dry Koopa.
Speaking of stretching for content, Mario Kart Wii splits the difference by introducing half the tracks as new content while rehashing some of the best tracks from previous titles. The new tracks are great, fun, and sometime innovative. Toad’s Factory, for instance, combines quickly moving platforms whisking you away from crushing pistons. On the other end of the spectrum, we find GBA Bowser Castle 3. Certainly one of the best that the GBA had to offer, but the series has come a long ways since then. The speckling of Thomps on a near bare stage just doesn’t cut it as a track in this age of half-pipe jumps and runaway mine carts. Though fans do like a trip down memory lane, maybe a collection of Rainbow Roads would have been the proper route rather than trying to scrape up the barest of courses.
A couple of new power-ups make an appearance this time around. There’s a lightning cloud that sticks around until you can bump bumpers with a buddy to pass it off. Get stuck holding cloud and you’ll get your own personal shrinking zap. The mega mushroom makes you big, a la Alice in Wonderland, as you pick up speed mowing down opponents. Several of the power-ups lean to the side of being too powerful or just plain annoying. The new POW block is more like headache as you watch helplessly as your car spins out. The squid is back to throw some ink in your eyes and anyone who’s played 100 cc is more than familiar with the flying blue shell of annoyance. Bring back the feather and get rid of those power-ups no one can avoid. Leveling the playing field is one thing. This is just beating it into submission.
Who wants to sit next to your buddy on the couch when you can POW block strangers in Canada? In addition to local multiplayer, new to the console series is the addition of online multiplayer. Now you and your Wii friend code can head to the raceway with up to fifteen anonymous racers around the world. As each race starts, opponents are randomly selected from across the globe and regardless of Nintendo’s love of secrecy, opponents locations are announced before the race so you can know what country you are dominating with red shells. Once the players are picked, the excitement begins as you get to… watch other people race until it’s your turn. In fact, there is a fair amount of waiting before you get to throw down, and each player is tasked with choosing a track before the race can begin. This feels like an unnecessary speed bump and nobody cares that Mike in Utah wants to race around Moo Moo Meadows.
If all the shell flinging excitement wasn’t enough, Nintendo packs in a new Wii peripheral for your collection, the Wii Wheel. The Wiimote snaps into the wheel to allow the player to control their karts with just a turn of the wrists. This method works well for casual racers. If you are putting bets down, however, we recommend the old-school GameCube controller or the new hotness, nunchuck-Wiimote combo. Both give you solid control and still allow you to perform aerial acrobatic maneuvers with ease.
Mario Kart Wii holds up against its former competition and the new tracks are a welcome addition to the series. While the multiplayer still isn’t running on all cylinders and the old tracks could have been buried with our GBA’s, Mario Kart still delivers on the all the power-up mayhem that we expect from this excellent series.
• New Tracks
• Race real opponents online
• Variety of controller choices
• Needs more playable characters
• Online could still use some streamlining