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Saturday, 12 April 2008

Mario Kart Wii: Review

This review is totally my opinion.  And no one elses.

If you have a different opinion, feel free to comment.

This is my first review in a while, the last one being Endless Ocean (Wii) back in November '07; which was a long time ago.  So cut me some slack if I'm a bit rusty on some stuff.


Having played pretty much every Mario Kart before this (except the SNES one) I was quite hyped about MKWii.  Not only would it feature 12 players online but also a selection of new (and old) tracks and more characters and vehicles than ever before!  There's also the addition of tricks, which I'm not sure how it would affect gameplay - more on this later.  And there are now 4 different methods to play!  There's also the controversial removal of the ability to snake, which levels the playing field a lot.  But the trick system is a good way to make sure the whole thing doesn't rely completely on luck.

As I've said, I've played most of the previous Mario Karts in existence.  And I loved them (most of them anyway); and Mario Kart DS only made me love the series more.  The DS game was literally one of the high-points of the whole series.  And I'm glad to say that Mario Kart Wii improves upon the DS game and adds some interesting tracks to boot.  One of the first things I did was jump in and play 4 player split-screen.  Which, I'm proud to announce, is as amazing as ever.  The lack of voice chat online (which may be a good thing, mind) means that local is generally more fun especially when it involves as much trash talk as my play session did.  After some fun few hours of throwing shells at each other, and generally having a riot, I decided I better get down to unlocking some dudes and tracks.  From the get go, you have access to half of the available tracks (4 cups out of the 8) and even then I found that these 4 cups (meaning 16 tracks) were enough to quench my first playing multiplayer.

Now, onto the tracks.  There are obviously some inclusions of tracks of yore, harking as far back as the SNES games.  It literally takes some tracks from every Mario Kart game before it and revamps it, and they do look spectacular.  And the new tracks are equally as enjoyable, and sometimes more so I found.  Especially "Bowser's castle" track where one part near the beginning wobbles like your inside Bowser's belly.  Until you notice Bowser is right beside you, vying for first place with you.  Then it just begins to get a bit disturbing.  Nah, only joking.  All the new tracks are fun to play, but on the first try some can be downright frustrating.  I found Wario's Gold Mine to be one of the main culprits, maybe it was because I was playing with only a 1/4 of the screen's real estate available, but my first race there looked like I was purposefully jumping off the sides.  After a few more attempts there (on singleplayer) I've gotten much better and enjoyable.  You can easily tell new and old tracks apart because of the lack of jumps in the older ones.  Occasionally the developers add some occasional half-pipe boost things that you can trick off in the old ones, but they remain largely unchanged.  Whereas the newer tracks have quite a lot of jumps and mess around with those half-pipe boost things a lot more.  One of my favourite tracks right now is "Coconut Mall" where there are so many ways to travel around the track.  The map itself is misleading, as there are ways underneath and over parts, it's truly enjoyable.  Sometimes you think you're way out in front with no one outside you, until you get back onto the singular track and everyone's beside you jostling for position!  The track design is brilliant for these new tracks, and they provide more interactivity than ever.  There are carts going along rail track's in Wario's Gold Mine, escalators in Coconut Mall (that affect your speed), giant press-stamps in Toad's factory etc.  You'll also notice, quite early on, that the tracks are wider.  At first, I didn't like the idea of wide tracks, but it grows on you.  Especially if you play online against twelve other people, it's simple exhilarating  when everyone is trying to get first place when your moments away from the finish line.

Moving on.  Characters and vehicles are now rearranged into Light, Medium and Heavy classes.  With pretty obvious results.

  Acceleration Top Speed Off-road
Light *** * ***
Medium ** ** **
Heavy * *** *

That's what the booklet says anyway.

The character classes are quite obvious, Toad is light.  Mario is medium, Bowser is Heavy.  The character selection screen is set so that the light-weights are at the top and the heavies are at the bottom.  With the medium-class in the middle, respectively.  There's not much else to it, choose your kart (which each have their own specifications) and choose your track and off you go!  There's also the option to choose whether or not to have AI opponents (in multiplayer) etc.  As you progress in the game, you will eventually unlock the mode where you can use the Mii as a racer.  I haven't unlocked that yet, but getting close.

Now, power-ups.  Arguably one of the Mario Kart's most defining features.  Everyone knows the mushroom that speeds you up, many DS power-ups also made the jump.  The golden mushroom, bullet bill etc.  Although Bullet Bill is computer-controlled, so you've got to be on your toes just in case it drops you close to a bend and you forget to turn.  Some interesting ones added this time, like the POW block which "After a small shake and an on-screen warning, the screen will shudder violently and any vehicle in front of you that is travelling on the ground will be lifted into the air and spun around."  You should remember the POW block from the Super Mario Bros series.  Then there's the Mega mushroom that makes the recipient large and you go about owning everyone in your way.  And one of my personal favourites now is the ThunderCloud which follows you, but will strike you with lightning after a while.  Unless, of course, you can hit a opponent and pass on the cloud.  Which makes for some hilarious situations where the person with the cloud tries desperately to hit someone but everyone swerves out of the way to avoid them.  The power-ups all in all are really fun, and level the playing field a lot.

The battle mode in this is fun too.  Well, it is online anyway.  Which seems true for most modes.  Offline battle mode is filled with other AI controlled players (even when you're playing with 4 people) simply because the sizes of the maps are so big.  It would've been nice to have just some smaller 4 - 6 player maps in there somewhere.  Offline singleplayer also gets a bit troublesome since when your first (which you usually are; especially for the 50cc and 100cc) there seems to be an unwavering amount of blue shells and other various power-ups aimed at you.

Control schemes now.  And the thing everyone is talking about: The Wii Wheel.  My input into the matter is that I don't mind it.  In fact, it's the main thing I play with simply because I like to.  Sure it may not be as precise as an analog stick (although it is actually fairly good) it provides a decent experience.  And plus, you get this wheel icon to show that you're playing with it.  And it's always awesome when you own someone with the wheel since it's meant to be one of the worst control schemes.  I have yet to try the Wiimote/Nunchuk combo so I can't say much about that.  I prefer the Classic controller to the Gamecube controller because of the d-pad which is used to pull tricks, but the Z buttons on the classic controller kinda suck.  Oh and while we're talking about tricks, the easiest way to pull tricks is probably with the Wii Wheel since it only takes a flick while the other ones require you to hit the d-pad (the Wiimote/Nunchuk combo is flicking too I think).  There's only one minor flaw with the Wii Wheel, it's about the flicking.  I've found after a few hours of play, my triceps are killing me!  They seriously hurt like hell.  But there's no denying that gold Wii Wheel after playing for a while.

Finally, online.  And I've got to admit, this game is a perfect fit for the online service Nintendo have created.  12 players online is a blessing, and is amazing.  All the tracks are playable, but you can only use characters and vehicles that you've unlocked already which can mean some players who have unlocked better vehicles have an edge in online play.  Which means it pays off to play through the singleplayer Grand Prix's to unlock stuff, it doesn't mean it's easy though.  It'll take some time to unlock all the characters, I think I've got about 6 left to unlock and I've been playing quite a lot since I got it.  Battle mode online is extremely fun as I said before and racing is also fun.  And with the added option of going splitscreen online adds to the fun when you can take a guest online with you, it doesn't affect their record but it's still fun.  Oh and the game allows four people to make licenses and it's pretty easy to see what they've done.  There are records for how far you've virtually travelled, how many times you've placed first etc. which is kinda fun to know actually.  There's also downloadable ghost data, so it's entirely possible to download the best lap in the world to see how you can improve your own driving line, it's a really good idea and you can also see where you stack up on each individual race against other people.  Although there have been outcries of cheating where I've heard that some first place person only does two laps and stops, but I downloaded the fastest recorded time for Luigi Circuit today and it was fine.  Well, better than fine!  It was awesome!  Showed me a lot of things that I could do to improve my time.

There's also the Mario Kart Channel, which you can boot up without the need of putting the game disc in which I find is a great idea.  You can see if any friends are online or just check out your rankings and how your time trial times compare to others around the world.  When you see that your friends are online, you can jump straight in to play with them (but you need to place the game disc in).  There's also the option to send messages to your Wii friends telling you to add them so you can play together.  Which is good.

All in all, the game looks good and plays even better.  Definitely one of the best games on the Wii to play with friends, and probably the best online-equipped game on the Wii currently.  If you buy this game, which I highly recommend you do, get it online.  The 4 different ways to play should give everyone what they want with the Wii Wheel being a really simple and easy ways to get newer players into the game.

Feel free to test my skills online:


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