If you are familiar with the mascot kart racing genre you’ll know the Mario Kart series. Not only is it a widely popular series, it’s the series that essentially invented the genre with Super Mario Kart back in 1992. Now Nintendo has brought the series to the Wii for the first time with Mario Kart Wii.
While Mario Kart Wii is another decent entry in the series thanks to the excellent Wii Wheel control scheme and well implemented online play, the whole experience is hampered by a major sense of déjÖ vu. However, many people will probably be able to look past this issue and enjoy Mario Kart Wii.
The basic premise of the Mario Kart series has always been focused on letting people race as their favorite characters from Mario’s universe. You can play as characters such as Mario, Luigi, Bowser, Princess Peach, Yoshi, and many more. From a game play perspective, character selection is not as important as the kart selection, with each kart having its own strengths and weaknesses.
By introducing bikes, Mario Kart Wii vastly increases the number of available vehicles compared to the series’ previous entries. The bikes don’t handle all that differently from the karts, but they can perform wheelies, which gives them slightly increased speed at the cost of steering capability.
Just like previous entries in the series, your main goal in Mario Kart Wii is to finish at as high a ranking as possible while punishing your opponents with power-ups such as red and green shells, the dreaded blue shell, lightning bolts, bananas, and more.
Over-powered power-ups have always been a part of the Mario Kart formula, but Mario Kart Wii takes the term “over-powered” to a whole new level with the bullet bill power-up.
All considered, the bullet bill power-up is a bit too powerful in that it lets a racer get close to the lead in one go, with no racing skill required. The other strong power-ups are at least balanced out by the fact that you do need some racing skill to make the most of them.
Mario Kart Wii offers a healthy number of modes for single-player, multi-player or if you have an online connection for your Wii system.
In the single-player mode, the main attraction is Grand Prix, which has you racing against 11 artificial intelligence opponents (AI) in a preset lineup of four courses. This is the mode to play if you want to achieve most of the game’s unlockable content, which includes additional characters, karts and tracks.
The single-player has never been the strength of the series, and this is still the case in Mario Kart Wii. This is because the AI is boring to play against, even though the game lets it cheat at times.
Fortunately, Mario Kart Wii is a blast to play both locally with friends and online. The online play is definitely the star of the show here, as it allows you to play against up to 11 human opponents.
Local multiplayer is also decent, but not nearly as entertaining as the online play since you can only play with up to three other people. And unlike the game’s online mode, you have to tolerate the company of the lackluster AI.
The game does let you exclude the AI from local multiplayer matches, but this also hampers the experience as most of the tracks in the game are obviously designed for a full amount of players.
Mario Kart Wii offers an abundance of options for how you play with no less than four separate control schemes offered. The Wii Wheel, which comes packaged with the game, is arguably the most intuitive of the control schemes, as it actually feels as if you were driving a car.
The Wii Wheel initially takes some getting used to, but in practice, it quickly becomes a very rewarding experience in its own right. If you don’t like the Wii Wheel however, you can play with a Wii remote and nunchuck, a gamecube controller, or a classic controller.
Graphically, Mario Kart Wii is acceptable, but far from impressive. The karts themselves look nice, and the environments are suitably colorful. But the character models look very blocky up close, and the textures are only slightly sharper than they were in Mario Kart: Double Dash on the Gamecube. The only truly notable fact with the graphics is that the game moves smoothly at 60 frames per second with no drop whatsoever in frame rate.
Mario Kart Wii is not impressive in the sound department either. The music is mostly composed of basic tunes that fit with their corresponding tracks well enough, but none of it is high quality. The voice over work for the game is made up of the short voice clips you would expect from the series characters, and they get repetitive fairly quickly.
The biggest problem with Mario Kart Wii, however, is simply the fact that the base game play is completely unchanged from previous entries in the series. Essentially, Nintendo has served an old cake with some brand new icing in the form of the game’s online play and the Wii Wheel control scheme.
But the old cake that is the ancient Mario Kart formula still holds up surprisingly well, and the new icing helps the experience last for new players and veterans alike.
If you are newcomer to the series, Mario Kart Wii is a great place to start, especially with the new Wii Wheel control scheme. Veterans may have trouble getting past the feeling of déjÖ vu they may encounter while playing the game, but if you have kept up with the series and still enjoy the classic formula, the online play will undoubtedly be immensely satisfying for you.
Released: April 27
ESRB rating:E for Everyone: Comic Mischief
Availability: Retail stores and online vendors.
My rating: 2 ´ out of 4 stars.