Review: Mario Kart Wii
Posted 23 Apr 2008 at 18:23 by Tom Phillips
N-Europe's Editor-in-Chief weighs in with his views on Mario Kart Wii. Ready, set...
|"...you're going to be seeing this game sap a large amount of your time in the coming weeks and months - and that's largely down to the online mode."|
The Mario Kart series is one of fond memory for many Nintendo fans, and thus the Wii incarnation has some big boots to fill, though Nintendo are also treating this title in the series as a slightly different animal. It's a "bridge title", as new Nintendo of America VP of Sales and Marketing Cammie Dunaway explained recently, bridging the gap of appeal between casual gamers and the Nintendo hardcore. It's easy to see why. The Mario Kart series is quintessential Nintendo - the Mushroom Kingdom characters, settings, and the very form of the racer - that it doesn't take itself too seriously, and that it is about, more than anything, fun.
And so, we get to Mario Kart Wii. The emphasis on fun is still present, as are the Mushroom Kingdom regulars. But in there too? Racing around you'll bump into cars driven by your Miis, spot your Miis in the crowd, and can even race as your cute Wii-made character. This is Nintendo bringing in the casual gamer, most evident by that circular piece of plastic also included in your Mario Kart box.
Yes, the Wii Wheel. What we can say about it is, well... it's not as bad as we thought it'd be. It's not instantly intuitive - remember picking up a Wii-mote for the first time to play Wii Tennis? Well, obviously things are a little more complicated here, but it's still fairly easy to pick up. The often frantic movements required for the Wii Wheel are fun, though for accuracy those who are used to playing Mario Kart with a GameCube controller will soon tire of the Wheel and return to their beloved pads. It's no coincidence that in the world rankings the top lap times have almost entirely been performed without the use of the Wii accessory. If you're used to Mario Kart on GameCube and still have the old controllers lying around, there's little point in changing style. The Wii Wheel does provide a fresh gameplay method, and can be helpful in levelling the playing field between newcomers and Mario Kart veterans if you're all using the device.
"Mario Kart Wiiiiiiiiiii!"
The series sticks to its roots with the usual Grand Prix, Time Trial and Battle modes. More Karts, characters and cups are unlocked as you progress through the single-player, though as always, multi-player is where Mario Kart shines. No more so than in Mario Kart Wii, as the online multi-player features in this title are really the mode that will keep you going back for more. The procedure is mostly seamless, and the 12-player matches a joy to take part in, extending the game's longevity by months.
Rankings can be seen for your continent or the entire world, ghost data from Nintendo staff and the world's top racers can be downloaded - though at present it appears that the Mario Kart servers have been hacked by a small number of individuals intent on spoiling people's fun by posting up impossible times. Regardless, the ease-of-use provided by the Mario Kart Wii Channel, which is added in-game to your Wii Menu, means that adding friends and checking rankings can be managed even without the game disc inserted.
The introduction of bikes is slightly infuriating for series veterans, intent on Mario Kart just being, well, about karts. Their ability to pull off wheelies for extra speed more than offsets the fact they lack the ability to perform super drift boosts (the orange flames, after the blue). This unfairly gives them a speed advantage which you'll need to be ready for, especially when playing online.
Mario Bike Wii
Discounting the online mode and bikes, the game isn't a great deal different from Mario Kart: Double Dash!! The ability to now perform mid-air tricks is just another easy way of achieving a handy boost. Graphically the game is very much like its predecessor, bar a thin extra layer of polish. There are many detailed track environments and pleasingly the game can handle the extra racers on the track with no slowdown, but don't expect a revolutionary leap in the look of the title. Likewise with the game's music, which is suitably retro Mario Kart-esque, though includes few memorable melodies.
The weapon set is pretty much identical to Mario Kart DS, with all the old favourites back in play. New weapons this time around include the fun Thundercloud, where the recipient has a limited amount of time to bump into another racer and pass it on before they get a nasty bout of lightning. It's like a "hot potato" weapon, and adds another element of frantic fun to the proceedings. Also good is the Big Mushroom (as seen in Super Mario Bros. DS) which lets you grow huge and crush any racers in your path - best used in crowded situations. The third and final weapon is a lame duck however - the POW Block, which causes all racers in front to spin out and lose all their weapons (unless you're in the air at the time) - incredibly annoying, and not fun in the slightest.
Another new aspect is the boost pads either side of the track - handy for avoiding snow drifts...
The sixteen new courses tick all the Mario Kart boxes (a race-track, a desert, a Bowser's Castle, a Rainbow Road, etc...) and include a few instant classics. Skidding around the branches of Maple Treeway amongst the Autumn leaves, and bumping down the bouncy net at the end, or hopping from mushrooom to mushroom in Mushroom Canyon... Navigating the escalators in Coconut Mall or flying down the underwater pipe in Koopa Cape... Nintendo have certainly not lost their legendary capacity for level design.
The inclusion of sixteen classic courses is also welcome, though it seems Nintendo have limited themselves to classic tracks not already sampled in Mario Kart DS. No GCN Yoshi's Circuit, no N64 Moo Moo Farm. There are a couple of old gems, with the N64 Bowser's Castle and DS Delphino Plaza a joy to see in full Wii technicolour, though there are certainly several tracks we'd have been happy to have seen left on their original game carts...
So, to round-up. Put simply, if you're a fan of the series already, you're going to be seeing this game sap a large amount of your time in the coming weeks and months - and that's largely down to the online mode. Even after you've unlocked everything in the game, the prospect of keeping your Karting skills honed against the world's best is certainly one that we don't see losing it's appeal for a lot longer. For those new to the series, Nintendo has pulled out all the stops to make your transition into a Mario Kart fan as painless as possible. And if early sales figures are anything to go by, they've succeeded.
- Tom Phillips
Head to Page 2 for a second opinion, and N-Europe's final ratings...
N-Europe's Nathan Whincup adds his thoughts. It's like two reviews for the price of one!
|"...after going back to Mario Kart DS for a quick comparison race, I found myself chucking the DS about as if it were a killer bee hive which had been genetically fused to my flesh."|
Mario Kart is undeniably the ultimate party game. Whether you're playing Double Dash!! or DS, the game's controls and premise are easier to pick up than a dead fly doused in high-strength super glue. Mario Kart Wii continues this tradition with the pioneering of a casual-friendly motion control scheme (aka the Wheel).
Unlike our overlord Tom above me, I've found the Wii Wheel to be the best method of control that I've ever used in a Mario Kart game before. Unlike some of the other nigh-useless Wii Remote peripherals such as the Zapper (which redeemed itself with the release of Ghost Squad), the Wii Wheel feels incredibly solid and completely natural after a few practice races. And whilst the stunts are nothing more than cunningly disguised waggle-fests, after going back to Mario Kart DS for a quick comparison race, I found myself chucking the DS about as if it were a killer bee hive which had been genetically fused to my flesh.
The new tracks are mainly fantastic, as well. Maple Treeway is among the maps which I hold close to my heart, as it feels reminiscent of the charmingly colourful and bright bee worlds in Super Mario Galaxy. Even the specially hand-picked tracks from older iterations of Mario Kart games have received wonderful tweaks and upgrades which may seem minor at first, but veterans are sure to pick up on these little nuances.
The online mode is the most fleshed out and perfected of any of online-enabled Wii title so far (it even manages to surpass the mighty Smash Bros. Brawl). Gone are the days of snakers and the irritating idiots who hang back to get the best items to cheat themselves into first place, as the ranked matches are almost completely balanced and fair for players of all skill levels.
Mario Kart Wii is definitely the best title in the series, and I would heartily recommend it to anyone, purely for the awesome Wheel control scheme and the brilliant multi-player modes.
- Nathan Whincup,
N-Europe Staff Writer & Head of News
N-Europe's review scores follow below...
N-Europe Final Verdict
Don't expect revolutionary new things, but if you're after good clean fun on your Wii with mates or against online opponents - you can't get much better than this.
Seamless online gameplay
Solid track design
It's Mario Kart!
Despite the addition of bikes and tricks, nothing much is new
The GameCube pad is still best