Mario Kart Wii – Wii
Release Date (NA): April 27th, 2008
Rating: 7.5 out of 10
The Mario Kart franchise has remained one of the most popular Mario spin-offs for years, and Mario Kart Wii continues the tradition of updating the series to match current technology. Gameplay is nearly identical to previous incarnations with the Mario-esque weapons setting it apart from other racing games. This is easily the smoothest Mario Kart to date in terms of driving and controlling the vehicles. Of course the graphics are up to par with what one would expect from the Wii, but my main complaint is that Mario Kart Wii does little to advance the series.
Exactly half of the circuits are new and the other half from previous installments retooled to meet the Wii’s visual standards. The entire weapons system functions exactly the same and for the most part all of the same modes of play are offered. There isn’t a ton of middle ground when it comes to difficulty, either the AI player(s) do extremely well or bumble around so much that there is zero challenge. Overall Mario Kart Wii is a fun game, but it just feels like more of the same thing. The large number of courses up the replayability factor when compared to other Mario Kart titles with only a few circuits to choose from. There’s also a number of hidden characters. Some are quite easy to obtain while others can only be unlocked through seemingly impossible feats. While a fun process at first, it soon becomes frustrating enough that seeing a new character in the driver’s seat is no longer enough motivation.
The vehicles themselves are slightly more refined than before with some real thought put into the abilities of each. The characters however, don’t seem to have any impact on the races other than to limit what types of vehicles are available. The most novel feature of Mario Kart Wii is the little plastic steering wheel that the remote can be snapped into. One can hold the remote sideways and tilt like a steering wheel but it’s much more natural feeling to spend the extra few bucks on the actual steering wheels. This element does add a modicum of realism absent from racing games using D-pads and joysticks. However it is easy to sort of “over steer” and become stuck going the wrong way because the wheel has been turned too far too fast. Several precious seconds can be wasted during the process of correctly reorienting the direction of the vehicle with the turning of the steering wheel.
My single greatest complaint about Mario Kart Wii is the computer’s infallible ability to ruin a good lead, especially when the game is set on the highest difficulty (150cc). No matter how great of a lead the human player sustains, the computer will almost always thwart any attempt to finish first by somehow getting extremely “lucky” with those awful powerups aimed specifically at knocking the first place player down a notch. One or two of these hits is a common occurrence in any race, but at 150cc the computer will bombard the human with attack after attack until one is lucky to even finish in 4th place. This seems to be some sort of design flaw since the computer rarely gets that lucky with weapons on any other difficulty setting. When playing any Mario Kart title one must accept some degree of luck, good or bad. Generally however, if one is doing a good job racing, skill will overcome these pitfalls. Why the AI is determined to ruin any chances of a gold trophy at 150cc remains a mystery to me.
Mario Kart Wii is probably my favorite title in the series but I can’t shake the feeling that Nintendo is just churning out Mario Karts with improved graphics instead of striving towards innovations in gameplay. Is Nintendo resting on their laurels? I tend to think so, but perhaps we’ll see some drastic modifications whenever a Mario racing title is released for the Wii U.
Update: After having really dug into several other Mario Kart games and approaching them from a more critical and comparative standpoint, I’ve decided that a 6 out of 10, my original rating for Mario Kart Wii, was far too low. Although the issue of “sameness” is still present, I’ve concluded that the sheer fun factor, accessibility, and fluidity of Mario Kart Wii outweighs any and all previous notions of unoriginality. This iteration definitely belongs at the top of the heap, just under Mario Kart 8.
Reviewed by The Cubist
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