Video Game Rentals Delivered

Mario Kart Wii

David Yun David Yun: (contact-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2008-05-03 20:51:34

Mario Kart Wii - Rank B


Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Date: 4/27/08

With another Nintendo console, we get another Zelda, another Metroid, another Smash Bros., another Mario, another Paper Mario, and now, another Mario Kart. Aside from Super Mario Galaxy, none of these brought anything new or truly excellent to the table (ok, Zelda: Twilight Princess was terrific, but it was a GameCube port), and I'm seriously suffering from franchise fatigue. Mario Kart Wii is more of the same fun racing combat action, but...it's just more of the same, and arguably not as good as its predecessor.

For those of you new to the series, Mario Kart is a racing game starring the Nintendo mascots. As you zip around the tracks, you grab power-ups that you can use to attack your opponents, defend yourself, or simply boost your way to the lead. Longtime fans will find themselves underwhelmed by the familiarity of this installment. Visually, it's a marginal upgrade over Mario Kart: Double Dash!!. Mario Kart Wii features ever so slightly better textures and lighting, and supports widescreen displays. The tradeoff to the technologically anemic Wii system was supposed to be the "Revolution" of the motion controls, but as I'll discuss later, it doesn't live up to that promise.

It's clear that Nintendo designed Mario Kart Wii to cater to their massive new "casual gamer" market. It's extremely accessible, and is likely to frustrate the hardcore gamer who values competition. The franchise has always sported a chaotic, luck-driven style of play, but it feels even more random now. Mario Kart Wii has been dumbed down for the masses, in accordance with Nintendo's communist push for enforced gamer equality. Newbies now have the option for automatic power sliding, eliminating the game's only crucial skill. The power-ups are even more unbalanced than ever. With the addition of the Mega Mushroom (super-sizes you and makes you faster), the POW Block (stops your opponents and removes their items), and Bullet Bill (turns you into an invincible missile and speeds you ahead - you don't even have to steer!), there are now far too many ways to zip from last to first place. This gives everyone a chance for success, regardless of their actual skill. You could be the world's greatest Mario Karter, and be slammed by a Blue Shell inches from the finish line, forced to watch helplessly as half a dozen opponents zip by you.

The new elements that Nintendo added to Double Dash!! proved to be generally unpopular, but anyone who gave it a chance found that game to have a greater level of depth than any in the series. All of these advances have been rolled back, and Mario Kart Wii plays essentially identical to the decade-old Mario Kart 64. This isn't all horrible, however. You can now drag an item behind you again, serving as a shield against shell attacks. The bullshit snaking of Mario Kart DS has been rightfully reduced to ineffectiveness. You no longer jiggle the stick while power sliding to earn speed boosting sparks. Instead, you automatically spark up based on how long you hold the slide. The one new addition is the trick system. Just jiggle the Wiimote whenever you get air, and your racer will perform an X-Games style air stunt, receiving a speed boost upon hitting the ground. The tracks have plenty of ramps, moguls, and even half-pipes where you can waggle to your heart's content. It's a cute mechanic that adds a dash of style, but little complexity. For better or worse, the design philosophy of Mario Kart Wii is geared toward simplicity.

The game ships with the Wii Wheel, but gives you four control options: the Wheel, Wiimote plus Nunchuk, GameCube Controller, and Classic Controller. The traditional controller options are nice, in case you have a four player split screen party. It saves longtime gamers the expense of buying all new controllers for those sessions. However, the Wiimote and Nunchuk combo is the most precise and comfortable setup. The analog stick is necessary to fine tune turns, and it's a bit easier to flick the Wiimote for the jump tricks, as opposed to fumbling for the d-pad on the older controllers.

The Wheel is a plastic shell that you slide the Wiimote into, and is emblematic of Wii motion controls in general: great in theory, but imprecise in actual practice. It's too twitchy with a strong tendency to oversteer. The thing is, it's actually fun. You might want the precision of the analog stick to progress through the game, but the game itself is a chaotic clusterfuck anyway; you might as well embrace the madness and play it as intended. Even online, the players who use the Wheel get a special symbol indicating their Wii-cred. If you're committed to the Wii Wheel, the icon eventually turns gold. You actually receive more "ups" and "props" from the Mario Kart community if you do well with the Wheel. And for all my "the Wii is garbage if you're a hardcore gamer" bluster, I love that my three-year-old son is able to use it. He loves auto racing of any kind, but the intricacies of an analog stick and buttons are still beyond him. A plastic miniature steering wheel, on the other hand, is something he can instantly grasp.

Mario Kart Wii packs thirty-two tracks, half of which are new. For the most part, these are terrific. They are well-designed and engaging, especially Wario's Mine (depicted in the screenshot up top). The other sixteen are a compilation drawn from older Mario Kart games. The Mario Kart 64 and Double Dash!! tracks fare well (the N64 tracks in particular evoke a strong and pleasant nostalgia), but the SNES and GBA courses are flat and dull, with little interactivity.

This iteration also introduces motorbikes, which are a fun addition. Naturally, they have zippier and more fragile handling characteristics than the karts. My current race combination of choice is King Boo on Wario's bike. He just looks so insanely goofy-cool.

The roster has been expanded, but most of the additions are superfluous. I don't usually mind the kiddy-centric sensibilities of Mario games, but I can do without baby versions of the characters driving rocket powered strollers. Do even five-year-olds think that's cool? I thought Waluigi was scraping the bottom of the barrel, but Funky Kong? Really? Were fans clamoring for his appearance? You need to unlock the option, but you can also use your Mii as your racer. This, I wholeheartedly approve of, and the Miis are well integrated into the game itself. You'll see them scattered on billboards, in the crowds, and as obstacles. For example, they'll be driving cars that you need to skirt around.

As for the online play, I will never cease to complain about the Wii's insipid system of Friend Codes and the lack of voice chat. Normally, I don't knock a game for hardware limitations (like the PlayStation 3's terrible triggers for shooters and racing games), but when it's a Nintendo game on a Nintendo console, I'm not as willing to cut it any slack. Even the hand-held Nintendo DS supports voice chat. I'd love to be able to chitchat and banter with the people I'm racing.

Given these shortcomings, the online portion of Mario Kart Wii actually delivers. Jumping into games is smooth and lag is minimal. You also have access to a specific Mario Kart Channel which can be launched from inside the game or saved directly to your Wii dashboard. This lets you join tournaments and functions as a leaderboard for lap times. You can also snag ghost replays to race against, and to see how your friends or the best players in the world set their lap times. After the online disaster of Super Smash Bros. Brawl, I was totally surprised at the performance of Mario Kart Wii. Why weren't these features implemented in Brawl?

I stand by my assessment that the GameCube Double Dash!! is the best in the series, and it runs perfectly well on the Wii. It features deeper gameplay and balance and even offers online capability if you're willing to deal with the hassles of "tunneling" (a method of extending the GameCube's LAN function for internet play; there's still an underground community that supports it). However, if you just want to enjoy a simple Mario Kart experience for the Wii with no-hassle online functionality, Mario Kart Wii, while imperfect, maintains its pedigree and delivers the fun.

Note: Mario Kart Wii packs in one Wii Wheel; additional Wheels will run you $10.

Tentacleye Tentacleye: (contact-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2008-05-04 02:47:34

Hooray For Japanese Schoolgirls!


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