If you get used to something you can instantly tell when it has been tampered with. Like the time somebody broke into my house and put cloves in my Coco Pops. Those that have been playing Mario Kart since it was half a screen high were feeling a bit dismayed when Nintendo wheeled out Double Dash!! – a game which required more luck than skill. Mario Kart DS put things back on track, while it’s more than evident that Mario Kart Wii has had a lot of love and attention applied. Which is good seeing that historically Nintendo only releases one iteration of Mario Kart per hardware cycle. Unless you happen to own an arcade; in which case you would have got Mario Kart Arcade GP 1 and 2. And a load of chavs hanging around your front door.
An unsteady mixture of 16 new and 16 recycled retro tracks is what Nintendo has decided to dish up. The best of the new ones include a Super Mario Galaxy themed Rainbow Road, an amber-hued jaunt through a tranquil forest, the chance to bounce around on some giant fungi and a snowy course with a half-pipe. The retro tracks on the other hand are a mixed bag. The flat-as-a-squished-Goomba revamped Game Boy Advance tracks are dull and lifeless whereas the beautified Mario Raceway and DK’s Jungle Parkway – taken from Mario Kart 64 – are more than welcome. It’s the first Mario Kart to feature motorbikes and stunts too, and if you weren’t aware it also comes with a free Wii Wheel. Personally I prefer using the nunchuk and Wii Remote instead. Only the A button is used on the Wii Remote leaving the nunchuk for the rest. It’s a comfortable setup as you don’t actually have to point at the screen at any time.
After a rocky start with Mario Strikers Charged, Nintendo has managed to get the online aspects of Mario Kart Wii bang on. Starting off with a total of 5000 points, you can play against up to 11 friends or random gamers either from your continent or all over the world. Win a race and more points are added, lose and some get deducted. It’s a simple system that perfectly manages to display your karting credentials. You can’t play through entire cups but courses can be voted for and you never have to go back to the menus between races; if somebody drops out then in the next race somebody else will simply take their place. You can’t change karts and drivers between races either, although this has probably been done to stop dilly-dallying. Before a race there’s a little parade of Miis (which show what countries your rivals are from) which is a nice touch, while a Mario Kart channel can be downloaded to the Wii Menu to track rankings and such.
As there are now 12 racers on the track it can be more of a challenge to get hold of a power-up, and as there are more heavyweights than before there are a lot of vicious shunts to avoid. Annoyingly, the unstoppable blue shell – which heads straight for the racer in first place – has been left in. There’s nothing worse than feeling the wrath of one of these mere moments from the finishing line. The new storm cloud power-up is fun though – if you don’t pass it on to a rival in good time you’ll end up getting fried.
The challenge-free 50cc mode should really be called ‘baby mode’ – if you can’t get gold on all eight cups on your first (or at least second) play through then you’re doing something wrong. Maybe holding the remote upside down. To start off the bikes can only be used in 100cc and 150cc (along with karts) but you can unlock 50cc motor biking later. Another fun unlockable is the ability to play as your Mii with others including new characters and novelty karts and bikes. The bikes themselves are well adapted to drifting and if you flick the Wii Remote up you can perform a wheelie that’ll give you a short burst of speed. As with the karts, you can perform tricks when going over ramps by shaking the remote in whatever motion you fancy.
The Mario Kart games have never been full of options but there’s one that really could have been done with here – the ability to turn off the AI opponents in the battle modes. Another niggle is suddenly how annoying the sound effects have become, particularly those emitted from Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong. Wario sounds all wrong as well… and how can both Mario and Baby Mario co-exist in the same game? Hmm!