Platform: Nintendo Wii
1-12 Players Online
EDTV – 480p
16x9 Widescreen Support
Mario Kart Channel
Nunchuk and Wii-Remote
Mario Kart has been the definitive title when gamers think about what makes a kart racer a good game. It has been approximately 16 years since Nintendo released their first version of Mario Kart to the world, and since that time there have been many companies who have tried but could not succeed in replicating the magic of the Mario Kart games. Well Nintendo has once again released an updated version of its long running kart series, but this time for the Wii. And for fans of the past games this latest iteration not only pays homage to past versions, but makes a few new changes to bring some freshness to the series.
Visually, Mario Kart is a pretty game. The colors, as one would expect, jump of the screen and they compliment an art style which is best defined as cartoonish. The scenery in the game is pretty enjoyable but you will find a lot of flat details along the side of some of the tracks. However, this simplified detail works very well as it just fits in where it is used. There are also lots of little details too. For example, some of the tracks utilize Mii’s in the crowd, and if you look closely you will recognize a lot of them as they come from the Mii collection you have on your Wii. That is definitely a nice little touch. Overall the game’s visual style is pleasing to the eye. Technically speaking the game supports 480p 16x9 widescreen and moves at a rock solid frame rate. I didn’t notice any draw-in or clipping either.
In terms of the tracks you race on, they can be hit and miss. Before you get your knickers in a knot let me explain. 16 of the tracks (and five Battle arenas) have been designed with the Wii in mind utilizing some great lighting and special effects via the Wii’s processor. There are lots of jumps and bumps in the new tracks as well and you can really tell they have been designed with the new hardware. There are also 16 classic tracks (and five more Battle arenas) which originate from other consoles or handhelds which Mario Kart has previously appeared on. These tracks are somewhat nostalgic and neat to see at first. However a lot of them are simple in design and somewhat underwhelming considering the weaker hardware they were designed for in the first place.
Character models are very solid and animate well. There is a wide selection of characters with a total of 25 on the roster. Each of them has their own stable of personalized vehicles which is a nice touch. All of Yoshi’s vehicles look different from Boo’s or Baby Peach’s vehicles and it is easy to discern them from one another.
If there is any negative in the visual department it is that it does take quite a hit in quality when playing split-screen multiplayer. However I am not sure how much you will want to play split-screen given that you can now go online. Should you not have the ability to go online then just be prepared for the multiplayer mayhem on the same screen to seem somewhat less then the single player graphics.
As for the audio, the best way to describe it is typical Nintendo. Many faithful fans of the Redmond based giant will recognize a lot of the music that is in the game. That is not to say that there isn’t anything new. There is some new music to be found, especially on the new tracks. As for the rest of the sound effects, they too have that Nintendo cuteness to it from the sound of your kart skidding around a corner to the environmental effects found on many of the levels. Mario Kart also includes the typical character sounds that one would associate with each. From such iconic figures as Donkey Kong to Yoshi to our good friend Mario, each character has a small but recognizable set of sayings that they utter during gameplay. Finally, I should also note that the Wii-remote’s speaker is also used to warn you when an incoming weapon or powered up character is coming up behind you. This is yet another nice little touch I must say.
Mario Kart is all about racing, plain and simple, so don’t worry about following any typical “Bowser kidnaps the Princess” storyline. All you must worry about is honing your racing skills while battling 11 other racers on the track for top position. You will find that the majority of the single player experience takes place in the Grand Prix mode. You can select from three different engine sizes (50cc, 100cc and 150cc) which is basically a way of amping up the difficulty level. The higher the class of engine the harder the game becomes. There are a total of eight cups to race in during the Grand Prix mode. They are broken into two groups, with two cups initially open in each. One of the two groups of tracks are newly designed tracks and while the other group is comprised of tracks from previous games on other consoles or handheld machines. There are four courses per cup, so if you have followed me so far, that is a total of 32 tracks in total to race on (16 new, 16 old).
The tracks themselves are somewhat a mixed bag in terms of enjoyment. As previously noted the 16 new ones have been designed from the ground up and take advantage of the Wii hardware and they add some great spice to the game. The other 16 tracks however are not nearly as enjoyable. Don’t get me wrong, playing on what are considered classic tracks is a nice jaunt down memory lane the first time or so, but after playing them over and over again they seem too familiar being that they are rehashes of previous tracks. Sure, there are a few new items in some of them, but at the end of the day you have played a lot of these many times before in previous versions of the series. I am sure there are some Nintendoholics out there who are screaming at my view of this, but hey, it is my view so I am sticking with it. Overall the majority of tracks are fun to race on; it is just that I would have preferred more new ones instead of carrying over many of the classic ones.
Along with the Grand Prix mode you also have Time Trials, VS., and a Battle mode. The Time Trial mode is pretty self explanatory, pick a class of kart or bike, pick a track and try to put up your best time. In VS. mode you choose a sole race or team race, pick your rules (e.g. class, CPU AI, Course, Items and Race Count) and away you go. Finally there is the Battle mode, which also has Wii specific and Classic arenas. Battle mode is strictly team based this time around too. Within the Battle mode are two game types. The first is Balloon Battle where you pop the other team’s balloons. The team with the most points at the end of the match wins. The second game type is Coin Runners. Here the team that collects the most coins wins. During Coin Runner mode you can steal coins from your opponents too. I found the Battle mode a nice change of pace and it could get pretty hectic. Both the VS and Battle modes allow for up to four player split screen which allow for you and up to 3 other people to play on the same screen. This is a great way for friends to sit around the same TV, race and have a great time.
Controlling the karts in Mario Kart has never been easier, and as Nintendo did with Super Smash Brothers, there are a lot of different methods of control. Included in the game is a steering wheel shell that you insert your Wii-remote into. This allows you to actually steer your kart around the track. I was somewhat skeptical of how this was going to pan out, but after a few laps with the new steering wheel it felt pretty good and I was able to navigate most of the courses with success. Now I am sure that I looked pretty funny too holding this white steering wheel in the air, turning it madly with nothing attached to it. This steering wheel is really a neat little feature and those looking to show off what the casual and innovative beliefs about Wii are will no doubt use this to show such.
Along with the steering wheel there are four other ways to play Mario Kart. You can use the Wii-remote by itself (e.g. no wheel), you can use the Wii-remote and Nunchuk combo, you can use the Classic Controller, or you can use the GameCube controller. Out of these modes you will likely prefer the Wii-remote and Nunchuk combo or Classic Controller. The latter felt old school while the former felt pretty new and fresh given that each hand had its own controller and purpose. I really do applaud Nintendo for providing so many different ways to play this game as it really does make it accessible to everyone in terms of controlling the on-screen action. And hey, that is what the Nintendo Wii is all about, getting everyone to play and have fun.
New to the realm of Mario Kart is the addition of stunts and motorcyles. Stunts have you making attempts to pull of mid-air moves to gain an additional speed boost. The harder the stunt the bigger the payoff, but you have to land your stunt order to gain the performance boost. Of course you must be careful when using this new mechanic as well given that an ill timed speed boost can send you over the edge of a cliff or into a geyser of lava shooting out of the ground. Motorcycles are a new vehicle which not only adds a visual change but a performance bonus as well given what you can do while in mid air. The motorbikes are really agile and you can pull of stunts like there is no tomorrow when flying off of a jump, half-pipe or even a mogul on a ski run.
Drifting is back and still plays a major role in Mario Kart but it has been somewhat altered in this latest iteration. For the uninitiated, drifting allows players to get a quick mini-burst of speed. In Mario Kart for the Wii this is determined by how long you spend in a drift around a corner. There is a control feature that allows for an automatic drift (to help novices learn what it is about) but you cannot get your mini-bursts until you learn to do it manually. Of course the type vehicle you choose also affects the drifting mechanic as well. Karts can drift longer around corners then motorbikes, but motorbikes can pop wheelies on straightaway’s for a boost in speed. Choosing what vehicle to race in can make or break your final placing, so get comfortable with one particular vehicle and go with it.
Being that this is a Mario themed kart game, the tracks include what fans have become accustomed too in terms of the special items found while racing. These range from speed mushrooms to the ever prevalent banana peels. There are a few new items this time around too such as a POW block (stuns other racers and causes them to drop items), a mega-mushroom (you grow SUPER large and can run over other racers) and a new thunder cloud which you must pass off to another racer by bumping into them, failure to do so will result in your shrinking. These new items seem to add some freshness into the game being that they are new to the series.
If I have any real gripe with the single player experience it is that the dreaded rubberband AI rears its ugly head quite often. If you take the lead in a race be prepared to get bombarded with special items. I can’t count the number of times that I got hit by multiple items from AI racers. There are only so many times that I can take getting hit by a homing shell, blueshell and then once my bearings are straight get hit by a POW block or thunder cloud. This made for some pretty frustrating races later on as you can go from first to almost last in a matter of seconds. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for a challenge, but to get hit by so many special items in a row gets darn right frustrating. This is my biggest gripe with the game.
The newest and greatest addition to Mario Kart is the integration of online multiplayer via the Wi-Fi Connection. And yes I remember you could go online with the DS version awhile ago, but the Wii’s online abilities is so much more. You can race up to 11 other racers online either in your own region (e.g. North America) or worldwide. To allow a level playing field you are given a base number of VR points, and depending on how you perform in any given race or battle you are awarded or deducted points. This puts you on a playing field with similar people of similar skill given that their points should be close to yours. Logging into a race is very simple and you find opponents with ease. All you need to do is connect to the Nintendo Wi-Fi Network, pick a place to play (regional, worldwide or friends), choose a game mode (race or battle) and then choose your character and vehicle. The Wii will find your opponents and put you in a room for some online madness.
Another neat feature that is also related to Mario Kart’s online functionality is that you can install the Mario Kart Channel to your Wii dashboard. This is a great feature as it allows you to add friends, find friends, view a friend’s time trial times, download ghosts, and get messages via the WiiConnect24 feature. All of this is done without having to load up the game. Should you wish to join a friend online then all you need to do is click on their Mii and the game will automatically fire up from the dashboard allowing you easy access to your friend’s room. This Mario Kart Channel looks to be Nintendo’s way of streamlining their online capabilities and make it somewhat more user friendly.
My online experiences were virtually flawless. I found that the lag in all my matches was non-existent and that each and every round I raced online was smooth as silk. This was even prevalent in the worldwide races that I found myself in. Keep in mind that some of my rooms included people from Greece, Belgium, Japan, Germany, Austraila, and the UK to name a few. To have such a wide mix of people from all over the globe and race in a room with no lag was quite amazing. If I missed anything it was the ability to communicate with the other racers, be it through voice chat or text.
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