Monday, May 19, 2008

Burning Rubber with Mario Kart Wii

It’s recently come to my attention that I never formally reviewed Mario Kart Wii despite owning it for several weeks now. I guess that between playing it ad-nauseum, spending far too many hours tooling around Liberty City in Grand Theft Auto IV and working like a madman on freelance projects I just haven’t had the chance to write about it. Well, here’s my informal take.


If you aren’t familiar with Mario Kart, you’re a loser and your friends have been keeping a secret from you all these years. I kid, of course. But anyone that’s lived in a college dorm or befriended a gamer in the past decade or so has been exposed to this madcap racing series in some way, shape or form. It’s Nintendo characters, it’s kart racing and it’s one of the most fun/frustrating games you’ll ever experience. I’ll elaborate.

You see, Mario Kart Wii—like its predecessors—is horribly, horribly even. Why is this a bad thing? Try going from 1st to 12th place at the finish line after three consecutive turtle shells get rammed up your tailpipe. Yep. It happens. While it makes for a frustrating single-player experience, the balanced, anything-can-happen gameplay makes Mario Kart Wii ideal for casual or non-gamers. They’re pretty much on the same playing field as the vets.

What makes this game even more noob-friendly is the introduction of the Wii Wheel, a controller attachments that enables you to steer your kart as you would a car. It’s a fun innovation, but try to avoid the Wii Wheel in single-player modes. Once you get up to the 150cc Grand Prix races, you’ll be cursing all to yourself…which is a totally new level of sadness for someone clutching a tiny plastic steering wheel in their sweaty hands.

I can safely say that online play in Mario Kart Wii is a tremendous step up from the wonky Wi-Fi play in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Here, it’s relatively easy to play with your friends and total strangers from all over the world. That said, I still hate the Friend Code system, and I hope Nintendo either does away with it completely or streamlines the process.

Does Mario Kart Wii reinvent the wheel (ha)? Not necessarily. The game makes some fairly intuitive use of the Wii Remote’s motion sensing capabilities, but it’s not all that different from previous entries in the series.

Kick the tires, check the oil, grab the banana peels and go for a joy ride.