Mario Kart always serves a winning formula and the last real twist to the Mario Kart series was the Gamecube title, Double Dash!! Mario Kart Wii brings another twist to the series with the introduction of the Wii Wheel, the use of motorbikes and a stunt-system. This title is easily the most accessible and casual gamers will be able to mingle into the fun with the hardcore gamers.
When Mario Kart Wii was announced I barked at the stunt system and introduction of motorbikes. I was afraid that Mario Kart would no longer feel like Mario Kart, but fortunately it still does. It cleverly combines new elements into the classic mix we have grown to love. The game features 16 new clever courses that were designed for the use of ramps and half-pipes, in which the player can perform stunts simply by flicking the Wii Remote up the moment they leave the ground. The stunts range from 360 degree spins to cheeky poses in the air. When the player reaches the ground, they will be rewarded with a turbo boost for their airborne tricks.
Doing stunts in the air may seem a good idea, however in 10 seconds time you’ll more than likely be licking your wounds after falling into the cloudy skies or a bubbling lava pit. Be warned; this game’s item system is not user-friendly! Seriously, this message should appear when you turn on the game. If you’re in first place for the whole game, don’t be surprised if you suddenly hit rock bottom in 12th position on the last lap… 10 metres away from the finish line.
It seems that Nintendo have ruined the item balance as the winner usually isn’t determined by their skill level, but by their luck. This is something that was cursed about in Mario Kart DS (especially that damn Blue Shell). However in this game, the Blue Shell feels like a banana compared to the collosal kart bashing you are likely to receive. I may be exagerrating onto some extent, however frustration will likely overcome you if this happens re-occuringly, and believe me it does. Entering the game along with the usual shells, bananas and bob-ombs are three new powerful additions, that increase frustration levels if you are at the end of the delivering blow.
To help (or taunt us) we can now look behind the kart to see what is coming from behind, whether it be a blue shell, a red shell, Bowser drugged on a Mega Mushroom or perhaps Toad buzzing with a thundercloud. Whatever it may be, most of the time its impossible to dodge unless you have an item dangling on your rear. Always use protection…
Controls, Wheels and Motorbikes
The Wii Wheel is a plastic wheel designed for the Wii Remote, so that the player can control their kart using the wheel’s motion. Its lightweight and natural-responsive control system feels great, however it may require getting used to. Problems occur if the player oversteers, causing the kart or bike to become uncontrollable until the player retains the motion.
Due to the Wii Wheel being the main control scheme for the game, some alterations have been made. Mainly the powersliding system. In prequels, the player would simply alternate left and right whilst drifting to create a mini-turbo boost. However, that has been scrapped (so unfortunate for me and snakers) and the powersliding system is now time-based depending on how long the player drifts and how hard. There are two powersliding options the player can choose:
- Automatic - The player can’t hop or perform mini-turbo boosts, but will just drift
- Manual - The player can hop and can perform mini-turbo boosts
This has been introduced to stop snaking and to simplify the controls for newcomers. Whilst snaking can still be performed it is not as effective. The Wii Wheel can also be tilted upwards whilst riding a motorbike, enabling the player to perform a wheelie. Whilst performing a wheelie, the player has less manouvreability but has a higher speed. This is a really cool addition and forces me to choose a bike over a kart. Players are also able to increase their speed by slipstreaming.
There is a lot of content in Mario Kart Wii including a whopping 32 courses, 24 characters (excluding the Miis) and a range of different karts and motorbikes. Most of the unlockables are earned by completing the single player mode. As usual, there is the Grand Prix, Time Trials, VS Race (Spontaneous Racing) and Battle Mode. To enhance the experience 11 drivers accompany you (11 + 1 = 12), whilst you race or Battle instead of the usual 8. One thing that is missing from this line-up is Mission Mode, which was a success in Mario Kart DS; however this is partially covered up by the online facilities.
The new courses have certain individualities that we haven’t experienced in Mario Kart before. Whilst these courses are bold and have a lot of character, I feel their course designs are far too wide, leading into less confrontation when trying to bump someone deliberately. The classic courses also appear a little wider than their original counterparts. You may be happy to see the courses returning from the classics, however I am disappointed to see that some classic courses did not make the cut. I won’t ruin the surprise for you by saying which classical courses will return.
In Mario Kart Wii there are 8 cups (4 cups with 16 new tracks, 4 cups with 16 old tracks). When a cup is completed the player will receive a rank for their efforts; the highest rank being 3 stars. Unfortunately, this is very hard to achieve due to the computer players being damn right irritating. As mentioned earlier the item balance is unfair and the computer players take this to another level, so it becomes hard to achieve 3 stars. If you fall off the course just once (just because you’re hit in the air by a blue shell) it is impossible for you to achieve 3 stars. This is why I usually go online; out of frustration.
Mario Kart Wii has to be one of the few decent Nintendo online titles to date. The “Mario Kart Wii Channel” is a portal in which players can access the latest Mario Kart Wii contintental or worldwide rankings; as well as the ability to see the time trial rankings of your friends. On top of that players are able to take part in worldwide competitions, that are created by Nintendo every 2 weeks. These often include collecting coins, driving through rings in an order on a specified course or bashing bad guys off the stage. This has been influenced by Mario Kart DS’ Mission Mode. Unfortunately these missions can only be played within the 2 weeks, unless you don’t update the Mario Kart Wii Channel.
Though Mario Kart Wii online sounds the perfect package, its a hassle to play with friends. As usual, like any other Nintendo online title, you have to exchange friend codes. If your friend is online, a friendly blinking icon will appear next to their name. It is possible to communicate with friends, but on an extremely low level. No voice chat, no text chat, just messages Nintendo have created such as “Hello” or “Let’s play again” can be selected to communicate.
Lets talk about the actual online play. When you go online you can play Battle or VS Race; you can then choose whether you wish to play continental or worldwide. Whatever is chosen, you can be reassured that there is likely to be no lag, so be happy Mario Kart DS owners. When you do enter a lobby you will see the friendly Miis of all of your competitors and their locations around the world. Whilst you wait for the lobby’s next game to begin, you can watch the lobby’s current game and observe your competitors skill. You can also observe their skill level, by looking next to their name.
Each time a match is won (and you play well) your skill level will increase, however if you do not perform well your skill level will decrease. The higher your skill level, the harder it will be for you to earn more skill points. When their game is finished you will be able to choose any course you wish to play on. A random course from those selected by you and your competitors will be selected and the race or battle will begin.
Battle Mode has always been the heart of the multiplayer in Mario Kart, but Nintendo have done a damn good job of ruining it. Balloon Battle is no longer the same. Players can’t play against everyone else; instead you have to be part of a team. It even gets worse to know that the game now has a time limit, and players earn points for hitting people with items. If all your balloons go you lose some points, then respawn. The team with the most points win.
Whilst this is an effective method for online play, there is no reason why the usual Mario Kart Balloon Battle system that has been used since Super Mario Kart has been thrown away in the trash bin. Also the embarrasment of your team-mates slipping on a banana you left, or shooting a shell directly at them can no longer be felt. Nintendo have decided to make team-mates immune to each other. The items your team-mates fired will glow either red or blue (depending on your team colour) and you won’t be able to be hurt by them.
There is also Coin Battle and again it is only team based. The aim of the game is to collect the most coins and if you are hit, half of your coins will be scattered around the arena. Online in Battle Mode, Balloon and Coin Battles alternates each match, so you get to taste of each.
Mario Kart Wii is hard to rate since there are two different audiences. The hardcore gamers who have experienced Mario Kart before and the newcomers who have been introduced into the Mario Kart series via the Wii Wheel. Casual gamers will benefit more than hardcore gamers, because hardcore gamers know what good things have been taken away from the series. The Balloon Battle Mode has been ruined, some classic courses haven’t been re-introduced, items are very unbalanced and the effective powersliding that has been used in previous titles has vanished.
Nintendo had Mario Kart near perfection on the DS in my opinion and it seems they have slightly gone into a different direction to suit newcomers. Don’t get me wrong; the game is good and is worth a purchase, however it lacks the skill that was required in previous titles. The online features definitely bring a warm feeling to the heart and shows that Nintendo is finally getting their online hats on. All in all, its worth purchasing just for its replay value online. You won’t regret it, since your friends and family can easily play along.
- Gameplay: 8
- Graphics: 6
- Audio: 9
- Lifespan: 10
- Overall: 8.5
Colourful new courses as well as 16 classics. Brilliant online play. Easy to pick up and play despite skill level.
Battle mode is now only team-based and timed. Items are more unbalanced than ever. Are these Gamecube graphics?!? The powersliding system has gone downhill. The speed of the game feels slower than prequels. Courses feel too wide. The attempt to attract the casual audience has removed elements that made the game fun for hardcore players.