Mario Kart Wii review

Mario Kart Wii with Wii Wheel for Nintendo Wii Wii WiiThis year, the typical signs of spring will be accompanied by the sweet sound of revving engines and the sight of lightning-fast shells whizzing around every corner. Mario Kart Wii features 16 new tracks in addition to 16 tracks from previous Mario Kart games, as well as online support for the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection.

System: Wii
Genre: Racing, Action
Release dates: April 10th 2008 (JPN), April 11th 2008 (EUR), April 24th 2008 (AUS), April 27th 2008 (USA)
Players: 1-4 simultaneous, 1-12 online multiplayer
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Publisher: Nintendo
Origin: Japan
Rating: E for Everyone with Comic Mischief

Mario Kart Wii screenshot
The first thing you’ll notice on the box is that Mario Kart Wii comes bundled with the Wii Wheel. It’s a steering-wheel-shaped shell for the Wii Remote. The easy-to-use Wii Wheel will also be sold as a separate accessory. For veteran Mario Kart fans who like to keep gameplay classic and are afraid of getting smoked by novice drivers using the Wii Wheel, they can rest assured because Mario Kart Wii supports four different control options. Players can also control their karts by using the Wii Remote horizontally, by using a Wii Remote and Nunchuk combination, via a Classic Controller, or even by plugging in their old GameCube controllers. Please note that when using the Classic and GameCube controllers, instead of a Wii-motion, you can only do the newly added track stunts / tricks while pressing on the Directional +-pad.

Mario Kart Wii Mii support screenshot
Mario Kart Wii will include 16 new courses and 16 classic courses from previous Mario Kart games. For the first time ever, players have the option of racing with either karts or motorbikes. Players can also hit the road as their personalized Mii caricatures in addition to the handful of classic Nintendo characters found in the game. True to the series, once you drive through question mark blocks, you’ll receive power-ups and other items for you to use to slow down other drivers. All the classics Koopa shells and speed boosts return, and new ones include: the Mega Mushroom that makes you grow large and flatten other racers, the POW-Block causes the ground of the racers in front of you to shake and be launched into the sky unless they follow the rhythm three times, and the Thunder Cloud gives a speed boost but if you keep it too long it causes lightning to strike and shrink you… unless you pass it on to someone else by bumping into them.

Mario Kart Wii online Battle Mode screenshot
As for the battle mode: 10 battle arenas will keep players busy between trips around the circuit. With a broadband hookup to Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, a total of up to 12 players can compete online with other drivers from around the world for racing dominance or 8 players for battle victory. In the racing mode you can even use two-player local split-screen in combination with online play. Names hover over players during online play. You’ll be able to select to play against players from throughout the world, players in your country, and players on your friend list.

Nintendo favorites Mario, Luigi, Peach, Yoshi, Donkey Kong, Wario, Bowser and Toad are all present, plus a host of new faces-including your own! Get into the game and put your Mii character behind the wheel, you’ll need to unlock the Mii by getting all-gold in the 50cc, 100cc & 150cc modes. Mario Kart Wii features 24 (25 counting the Mii) selectable characters. The cast of characters includes 19 returning characters from Mario Kart and 6 newcomers. There are 8 characters of each weight class, 8 for lightweight 8 for middleweight and 8 for heavyweight and Mii. Each character has unique abilities, making them more suited to certain playing styles, and less suited to others. The characters are into close balance, though, so that the true deciding factor in a match between players will be overall skill.

Each of the game’s 25 playable character starts out with a choice of three karts and 3 motorcycles, and as a player progresses through the game, he or she can unlock another 3 special karts and motorcycles for each character, also with slightly different stats. The 50cc mode features karts, the 100cc mode features motorcycles and the 150cc mode has a mix of both. However, all modes can eventually be unlocked to be used with both cars and bikes.

Watch the Mario Kart Wii launch trailer.

The worldwide race is on with a whole new set of tricks, tracks and ways to play. Drawing on courses and battle arenas from every game in the series – not to mention tons of new ones – the true king of the Mushroom Kingdom racing circuits will finally be crowned. Place first in Grand Prix circuits or clear skill-based missions to open up increasingly difficult and thrilling circuits. Players can have multiplayer races on any open courses, or battle in arenas that are now score-based and have removed the free-for-all option in lieu of a time-bound team-based effort. More on that below.

The kart racer features four modes of play: Grand Prix, Versus, Time Trial, and Battle.

* Grand Prix: the player races in a series of “Grand Prix” competitions (Cups) against computer-controlled competitors. Each Cup consists of four three-lap races. Each Cup may be approached at a 50 cc, 100 cc, or 150 cc speed, which determines the speed of the race. At the end of the cup, the player is awarded a trophy based on his or her finishing position (Bronze, Silver, or Gold) and a rating based upon how well he or she raced (E, D, C, B, A, One-Star, Two-Stars, Three-Stars, in ascending order) based upon their finishing positions and their lap times in each race.

* Versus: two to four players racing head-to-head in a single all-human race, on any course. This mode is identical to Grand Prix, without AI players.

* Time Trial: players try to finish a course in as short a time as possible. Like in previous games, the fastest time will be saved as a ghost (a carbon copy of the player’s performance which can be raced against).

* Battle: There are two battle modes, Balloon Battle and Coin Runner. The players are split into two teams, and start on one of the ten battle courses (five retro and five new). New stages include Block Plaza, Delfino Pier, Funky Stadium, Chain Chomp Wheel and Twhomp Desert. Retro Stages are SNES Battle Course 4, GBA Battle Course 3, N64 Skyscraper, GCN Cookie Land and DS Twilight House. In Balloon Battle, each player has three balloons attached to their kart. Every time a player is hit by an opposing player, a balloon is lost, and the running score for each team is altered accordingly. If a player loses all three balloons, they are given three new balloons and are restarted on the course. When the time limit is reached, the team which popped the most balloons wins. In Coin Runner, coins are scattered over the battle course. If a player drives over a coin he or she will pick it up, but being hit by an opposing player will cause him or her to lose coins. The winning team is the team that is holding the most coins when the time limit is reached. Both of these modes support one to twelve players; any slots unfilled by players may be filled by AI players, however this option can be disabled.

The Nintendo Wi-Fi USB Connector takes your DS onlineMario Kart Wii also launches with a new channel added to the Wii Menu to enhance game play: The Mario Kart Wii Channel. This new channel builds on the huge online community of Wii owners and lets players compete in tournaments, see when their friends are playing, check worldwide rankings and compare your results from tournaments and time trials to those of your friends and other players worldwide represented by their Miis on the globe, and download ghost data which will give you the option of racing against the ghosts of the best players or improving your results gradually by taking on the Ghosts of rivals whose times are only slightly better than yours.

Watch a Mario Kart Wii battle video.

What are the main features in Mario Kart Wii?

* The Wii Wheel transforms the Wii Remote controller into a steering wheel that feels natural in anyone’s hands, while the Wii Remote and Nunchuk controller offer a classic control style for the Mario Kart veteran. In either configuration, players can perform speed-boosting tricks with a shake of the Wii Remote. Get a trick just right, and your cart will perform a dash upon landing.

* Players can race as their favorite Nintendo character, or even as themselves! Mario Kart Wii lets players race with their personalized Mii characters. And racers will see other Mii characters they have created cheering from the sidelines on some race courses.

* Players can compete with up to three friends in their living room. Or challenge up to 11 opponents via Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection in the biggest Mario Kart race yet. All tracks and modes of play are available via Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, and players can visit the Mario Kart Channel to compete in tournaments, check rankings, see when their friends are playing and download ghost data.

* Cruise new tracks and arenas or tour classic courses from Super Mario Kart, Mario Kart 64, Mario Kart: Super Circuit, Mario Kart: Double Dash and Mario Kart DS. Tired of riding on four wheels? Bust out one of the new motorbikes for special tricks and techniques.

Mario Kart Wii bikeWhether you’re racing around an obstacle-filled track or battling in an arena, drifting and tossing items are the keys to Mario Kart success. Only with a shake of the Wii Remote while launching off a ramp, you can pull off a trick that will temporarily boost your speed. When riding a bike, players can gain additional speed by flicking the Wii Remote up and popping a wheelie. Control in Mario Kart Wii is compatible with four different control schemes, so players can customize how they want to play:

* Wii Remote Controller (with or without Wii Wheel): Steer by tilting the Wii Remote left and right. Or snap the Wii Remote into the Wii Wheel to transform it into a steering wheel for an intuitive, motion-based control scheme.

* Nunchuk Controller: Steer with the Control Stick on the Nunchuk and use the Wii Remote to accelerate, perform tricks and drift.

* Classic Controller: Mario Kart veterans can let their thumbs do the driving with the Classic Controller.

* Nintendo GameCube Controller: Experienced Mario Kart fans may also enjoy this familiar scheme.

Watch some Mario Kart Wii racing gameplay.

As a conclusion let’s rate Mario Kart Wii on its fun-basis.

The main new additions in this latest Mario Kart release are an online racing mode, new motorbike vehicle types, a special balancing system for new and veteran players, and (in its initial release) a special Mario Kart wheel packaged with the game. If you’re new to the Mario Kart series don’t let the clean box art fool you, this isn’t a realistic racing game by any means, the elements of pure luck the various power-ups bring to winning the racing matches can be downright brutal, but that’s really part of the fun… never knowing if you’ll win and the excitement that brings you (and your opponents) right down to the last seconds leading up to the finishing line.

Mario Kart Wii’s gameplay, while streamlined to be aimed at both casual and hardcore Mario Kart game fans, plays every bit as well as its predecessors. While it took a while for me as a series veteran — since 1992 — to get used to the Wii Wheel controls, I can’t stress enough that anyone should give the new control scheme a chance and after a few hours you’ll be holding that wheel in front of you like that’s how the racing action was always controlled. Not only is it just fun to play with the wheel, it looks way more fun to others who will ask to join in more often, or at least that was the case in my experience. That said, for the original analog experience you can use just the Wii Remote and Nunchuk controller and grab the GameCube and Classic controllers as well.

Once again the series is taken online with the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection and it’s expanded to include both racing (for up to 12 players), time trials (with ghost trading) and the two battle modes (for up to 8 players). Add to that 32 tracks and 8 battle maps that fit perfectly with a large number of online players (12 in races and 8 in battles) and you’ve got a package with loads of replayability. While not all tracks and maps are fun offline, especially the battle maps seem bland because of their size when playing with just a few players, but with the maximum number of players they all come into their own (except for Skyscraper, that N64 battle map always sucked, where’s Block Fort Nintendo?). It’s both a compilation of the best of the past with a lot of new features thrown in. Don’t shy away from this game if you don’t like racing games, because you’ll be missing out on loads of intense, hectic and addictive single- and multiplayer fun. Mario Kart Wii will replace many people’s favorite party game with its joyful ability to hook people until it’s the life of the room your Wii is in.

Graphics – 8.0
I feel sorry for people with a fear of primary colors, most of Mario Kart Wii’s designs are extremely rich with color to the point where it looks like a candy store exploded and rained its sugary goodness all over the tracks in the game. The visual style is a definite improvement over the previous console iteration of the series, the GameCube’s Mario Kart: Double Dash, with more depth of field with lots of little details. All the tracks are very colorful and fun to race through, especially since there are always some shortcuts to be discovered, as is a staple in the Mario Kart series. The charming character animations are very detailed and make each race come alive with their shocked and joyful expressions that are all done in a fun cartoony way. The game’s 3D engine may not be groundbreaking, but it makes sure everything in the games moves fast at a smooth 60 frames per second at all times during single- and multiplayer. And best of all, multiplayer matches load in mere seconds and there’s no lag when you’ve got up to 8 or 12 players playing together online.

Audio – 7.5
The sound effects are mainly weapons firing, engine noises, and each character has their own collection of quotes that are used to great effect as you get hit by a power-up weapon or claim victory over your opponents. The soundtrack delivers a happy score that’s mostly cheerful but forgettable background music with some stand-out classics like Maple Treeway and Moo Moo Meadows.

Ingenuity – 9.5
With a great weapons balance during races (finally less Blue Shells that take out #1) across superbly designed and remade tracks. All the familiar Mario Kart gameplay with steering, powersliding (around corners for speed boosts or automatic), and strategic power-up employments are back and you’ll have to use them all tactically — in combination with the new go-kart & bike tricks on larger circuits suited for up to 12 players — to win out in a hectic race to the finishing line.

Don’t worry if the options for powersliding to be automatic with Wii controls reduces the skill required, because the new tricks mean go-karts can get speed boosts on tracks with slope jumps and bikes can do the same trick by doing wheelies on long stretches of road. Talking about the bikes, this new vehicle addition to the series definitely adds to the game with tighter corner movements, but of course the downside of them being lighter and faster is that they can be more easily pushed aside by the heavy go-karts. In the end the cons and pros of each vehicle class means they are evenly matched and their/your performance depends on the track/cup layouts. The fact that you get a total of four different control schemes doesn’t leave much to nitpick, because it means you can play the way you’ve always played the series with the GameCube and Classic controllers or try out the Wii Wheel or just Wii controls. All are fun to play with and are well suited to the balanced gameplay.

Replay Value – 9.5
The single player modes can keep you going after the first day thanks to the fun CPU/bot players to go up against and the great variety in courses the Cups and Battle setups have, with characters and modes with many favorites from classic Mario Kart games returning. But as with any Mario Kart game, single player is great, but the game always becomes more fun and competitive in multiplayer!

After Mario Kart DS it was clear the series was meant to be taken online incase players can’t find anyone locally to play with. Online multiplayer is a great addition to Mario Kart Wii as well, but you’ll have to exchange Mario Kart Wii friend codes and be online at the same time to race against each other. Racing against others online is a blast. Can’t get more than one friend to join you in a game? Not a problem, because you can both play locally and find matches with others online. The online offerings are expanded from last time to include time trial ghost data trading (or download the best ones to improve your skills) and online battle modes. As mentioned in the gameplay description above, you install a Mario Kart channel to see how your scores and times match up against the rest of the world’s Mario Kart players and to get matches going with random people or friends. There’s even the promise of tournaments getting started in the near future. Altogether the online activity is sure to add months, if not years, of replayability.