Malcolm Owen On May 6, 2008 at 1:38 pm

As you would expect from a new console from a gaming stalwart, the usual games appear on the system at some point or other. All the Sega consoles had a version of Sonic the Hedgehog shortly after it’s release. Every Xbox has Master Chief stomping around. Nintendo pretty much launches every major game series it can onto theirs, and the Wii is no exception. There’s the Mario Platformer Du Jour (Galaxy), the Zelda Adventure (Twilight Princess) and, of course, the fun racing game featuring assorted loveable Ninty characters…

Mario Kart Wii is the successor to pretty much any Mario Kart game ever released. You get to race around fun tracks as Mario, Luigi or one of many other characters from the history of the Mario franchise, driving either karts or the new bikes, whilst also lobbing various weapons at your opponents. Business as usual.
However, there are a few slight changes that this version puts in, just as it’s predacesors have done themselves. Such as the aforementioned motorcycles, which, aside from having a less powerful boost from sliding, does offer temporary speed boosts when you do a wheelie. Not a bad change but it does take a tiny bit of getting used to.
The tracks are also quite familiar to previous game players. There’s 16 tracks that are made specially for the Wii edition, and they are fairly ok on their own. There’s also 16 further tracks that are Wii re-imaginings of older tracks. Even some Super Nintendo ones. these are a tiny bit hit or miss, but it’s a nice blast from the past for those that missed out before.

Since it’s the Wii, the whole motion control system comes into play. Either you can use a Virtual Console or Gamecube controller, a Wiimote and Nunchuck (I prefer this mode), or the Wiimote on it’s side, steering it as if it’s a wheel. Heck, you even get a steering wheel with the game to put the Wiimote into, which wouldn’t look too out of place from the toddler aisle at Toys ‘r’ Us. I personally feel stupid turning this wheel in mid-air, but there are others that seem to enjoy the novelty, so each to their own for this. Moving the Wiimote in either wheel or with nunchuck modes makes you perform a trick when you’re leaving a jump or to do a wheelie when you’re on the bike. Not a huge contribution to the Wii’s motion control repitoire, but it works.
The weaponry has had a few tweaks too. Aside from the staple green and red shells, banana skins and mushrooms for speed, there’s the lightning cloud (that shrinks the holder into miniature, making them slower and easier to get past), the octopus (that flies out in front of you and squirts your screen with black ink, making it a bit harder to see where you are going for a short while), the bullet (that turns you into a… well… a bullet which drives for you at high speed, more than enough to take someone from last to near the front of the pack), and the blue shell (which flies out at top speed to first place and bombs them to stillness) among others. These are supposed to make the proceedings fun, but they are sometimes so annoying when you are playing single player and you are so close to the finish, only to get hit by one or more of these and end up losing places, despite a huge lead.

As I’ve already said, Mario Kart Wii is very similar to it’s earlier incarnations if you boil it down to the basic concepts. You can select a character from Nintendo’s history then spend a few minutes trying to beat the others around the track to gain maximum points. The more points you get, the higher your ranking is at the end of the grand prix. Good performances are rewarded with unlocked grand prix races in a class, being able to race as cars or bikes instead of being restricted to one or the other, extra vehicles and extra characters. Heck, some of these unlocks come from quite strange locations, such as getting to play Rosalina if you have a Super Mario Galaxy save game on the console.
This in itself is ok, except that if you want people to play with you, they would expect that they can choose whatever character they want. Except that you have to unlock them, which in a local multiplayer scenario and a fundamentally local-multiplayer game just seems unwarranted. Even if you want to allow people to play as a Mii, which is something you would expect to do straight away, you have to unlock that by playing for an hour and hoping you do it well. This does irk me somewhat.

And then there’s the biggest feature of Mario Kart Wii: Online Play. Functionally, it’s fine. Driving against other people works well, very little in the way of issues during a race. The bits around that however are horrible.
If you want to play against random people online, you can play a Continental or Worldwide race against completely random people online. For a quick fix, it’s ok. You cannot talk to these other people, you can’t add them to your friends list, there’s not even a real lobby system, except where people select what track they want to play next and the server randomly chooses which choice actually happens. Because of this lack of communicaton with strangers, this is one of the few cases where the multiplayer makes me feel lonely.
If you want to play with your friends, then you do have the ability to talk to them. Using a predefined list of messages. And that’s it. To get people onto your friend’s list you have to exchange a unique 12 digit number with them, enter it into each other’s systems and hope that the internet magic works. Admittedly, you can add people from your Wii messaging list by sending requests through the friends channel, but that’s only a slight improvement from the friend lists as seen in Mario Strikers Charged Football. You also get some leaderboards so you can compare your lap times against the people that managed to pass the "Nintendo Multiplayer Friends List Mensa Test", so you know whom to ask how to knock 6 seconds off one time.

Don’t get me wrong. If you want a Mario Kart game on the Wii, then this game is adequate enough for most of your Kart needs. If you are looking for a hefty progression in the series, like how Super Mario Galaxy performed, there isn’t much here. Mario Kart Wii is good, but it’s not mind-blowingly-great as we expect it to be.


Russian Roulette at times, but standard Mario Kart. Online needs more work.


Good visuals but not outstanding.


Great music that most Mario fans will love.


It’s a Mario Kart game for the Wii. Not outstanding, but playable.

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