Mario Kart Wii is the sixth game in the long running Nintendo racing series and this time it comes with a plastic wheel and motorcycles. Who on Earth can say no to that? Mario Kart has been seen on every major Nintendo system since the Super NES (and even twice on Arcade Machines), can Ninty once again recreate the karting magic on their new home console? Here just for you, is our review of Mario Kart Wii.
Unlike other Mario games, Mario Kart doesn’t really have a story – Princess Peach hasn’t been kidnapped by Bowser, you simply have to race over a series of progressively harder cups (each with 4 individually themed tracks) trying to win gold trophies for the already full trophy cabinet back in Mushroom Kingdom.
Mario Kart is generally known for being a fun whacky racer where you race around crazy tracks using power ups to smash people out of the way. It’s not what you would call a serious racing simulator, but we’ve always said there is more to Mario Kart than meets the eye and with Mario Kart Wii, this is truer than ever. Whether you’re racing a trusty kart or one of the brand new bikes, you’ll have to pick your driver and vehicle more carefully than you may have done in previous Mario Kart games. The weight of the driver decides on the size (small, medium or large machine) but each of the vehicles also has different attributes for its racing style. So it’s well worth thinking about which ride is going to work best on which tracks and not just your favourite combo. Another thing to consider is that it players choosing bikes have the ability to do wheelies and gain extra speed on the straights whilst kart users have better speed and traction around corners.
In Mario Kart Wii we finally see a return to the feel of the SNES original, ever since Mario Kart 64, the courses have felt very two dimensional. It’s not that the tracks were actually 2D, far from it. In the original Mario Kart there was an item (the feather) which you could collect and use to jump over walls (or obstacles) for some extreme shortcutting. Sadly the feather hasn’t returned but instead we now have the ability to perform stunts to gain extra speed as we launch from a ramp. What makes the tracks feel more 3D now is that there are special trick strips on the walls – of most tracks and when you driver over these your car flips BMX style. When you return to ground you get another nice speed boost – It’s this extra interactivity with the tracks, along with the usual obstacles that get in the way which makes everything feel more dynamic this time around.
Did we mention the weapons yet? Where would Mario Kart be without some outlandish weapons (and defensive items) to use and help win the race eh? Let’s have a quick look at just some of the weapons in Mario Kart Wii. You’ve probably become accustomed to the shells as weapons of choice in Mario Kart and the Wii incarnation does nothing to change that, Green (standard) Red (Homing) and Blue (Special) shells return and they’re better than ever. Green shells are fired either forwards of backwards and travel in a straight line, they bounce around the course until they hit someone or something. In Mario Kart Wii green shells can now survive on track until they hit someone, fall off a cliff or smash into a banana skin – they don’t just timeout or disappear when the screen gets too busy. Red Shells when fired forwards or backwards (usually) home towards the nearest rival player and send them flying, what’s special about red shells this time around is that they are much smarter and follow the route of the track very well. It was always frustrating to see your well aimed red shell smash into a wall because it couldn’t go around a corner properly when following someone (especially in battle mode). The controversial blue shell is here once again, this ultra weapon flies to the head of the pack and smashes the leader into the ground with a satisfying kaboom, the shockwave can also affect other racers nearby. A new weapon for Mario Kart Wii is the POW block, this causes all other racers to spin off course (unless they have an invincibility star that is) pretty handy. Defence has never been the top priority in Mario Kart, as they say – the best form of defence is to attack, but there are a few things you can do in Mario Kart Wii to defend yourself. Firstly there is the invincibility star I mentioned before, while you have this in your possession you are not only invulnerable to every attack, you also get a nifty turn of extra speed. You can smash certain track obstacles (such as the giant Chain Chomp) right out of your way. You can also be sneaky and use some weapons as defence, for example; the red and green shells (in multiples of three) can be spread around your vehicle like a shield, and this can give you three hits worth of protection from other racers or dangers on track (such as banana skins and fake item boxes).
Onto the tracks! In a similar setup to Mario Kart DS there is a mixture of brand new tracks (16 of them) and classic retro courses from previous games (16 of them too). So you get the thrill of having to learn new routes and shortcuts as well as the fun of racing on old tracks with all the new weapons as well as a bigger field (Mario Kart Wii now features 12 racers on track at once). Mario Kart Wii has a very nice balance of tracks, to start with you have the fairly straightforward Luigi Circuit which has some boost pads and some tight banking but not too much else to get in your way. At the other end of the scale you have the ever returning evil Rainbow Road which is not only very long and demanding in nature (very twisty), it features hardly any protective walls meaning that a falling off to your doom and losing lots of time (and positions) before you’re returned to the track is a distinct possibility.
The much loved Battle mode returns once again and there is enough coin collecting and balloon popping here for any diehard fan, you can even play the battle mode online which is pretty nifty. Yes you heard right, online! Mario Kart Wii now has an online play allowing up to 12 players to race and battle online. No longer are you confined to CPU only races, woohoo! Not only can you race grand prix style with 11 total random strangers, you can set up a private room just for you and your friends, there isn’t any real voice or chat support but if you all love Mario Kart that really doesn’t matter. The online gaming works amazingly well and is virtually lag free, so far I’ve been untimely disconnected only twice and I’ve been playing it for months.
Controlling the game using a Classic Controller or Gamecube pad will come naturally to those who have played Mario Kart before, for the newbies we have the new Wii Wheel which comes boxed with the game. I was sceptical at first but it actually works really well and racing with it feels more natural than it looks. If you don’t like joypads and are too embarrassed to use the Wheel you could always use the Wii Remote and Nunchuck combo which really does fall in-between the two, not quite as old hat as using a joypad and not quite as silly looking as using the wheel.
The graphics and sound in Mario Kart for Wii is top notch as usual. Everything runs at a consistent 60fps in single player and 30fps in multiplayer, whilst not being HD the graphics look fairly high res and colourful, everything is smooth and nicely done. Sound wise, it’s the usual friendly racing tunes and sounds, there is lots of speech samples from all of the characters though which is always nice.
There’s so much to more to say about Mario Kart Wii but we’ve run out of time, let us just say that we consider it to be an essential Wii title to own, especially if you have kids, family or friends to play with. The best Mario Kart game to date? Hell yeah! We give Mario Kart Wii a rather excellent 9 out of 10.
Related: Mario Kart review, Mario Kart Wii review