Mario Kart is a strange phenomenon. Especially in Europe, the game is insanely popular, yet most fans have a thing or two to complain about. Mario Kart 64 wasn’t up to scratch, Double Dash wasn’t up to scratch, Mario Kart DS online was spoiled by the people who used snaking to win every match. Personally, I don’t agree with all of this. I really enjoyed Double Dash, to the point where my better half and myself still played the multiplayer every week up until this day. To say I had high hopes for the Wii installment would be an understatement. Was the wait all worth it though, or is this just the same old game with a steering wheel?
Well, yes, this is the same old game with a steering wheel. But I see this as a good thing. Mario Kart was always a fun experience and the steering wheel is enough of a change to ensure you’ll be enjoying yourself all over again.
First things first: the wheel works fine. It is just a plastic wheel that comes with the game where you can click your Wiimote in, but it feels pretty robust. You’ll instantly feel how far you should steer to make a corner and with a little practice you’ll be owning the racetracks with no problem. The GameCube controller still works a bit more accurate, though, which is why I find it all the more baffling that Nintendo gives us the option to use that as well. It will give you faster tracks on time trial and make you better in any multiplayer game, be it online or offline. It’s like the company didn’t have enough balls to come out and say: this is the way we want you to play and it works fine, use it. No, they had to rely on old mechanisms just to be sure.
Yes, online. This is the second Mario Kart that can be taken online and it is a mighty fine improvement of the NDS version. You can add friends through their friend codes, play against them or against random people all over the world, download ghosts from other players and compare time trials. This can all be done in a neat Mario Kart channel so that everything is crystal clear for you. It works great and there is almost no lag if you have a proper internet connection. The only downside, like mentioned before, is that some players use a GameCube controller instead of a steering wheel and win most matches because of it. The game does make note of the people who use the wheel, however, but that makes it all the more mystifying that Nintendo hasn’t included the option to let players choose to only race against others that use the same control.
The single player is a great experience, with 16 new tracks and 16 old ones. There is nothing to complain about the design of the new tracks, other that there are more tracks that rely on gimmicks instead of pure racing, but that’s where the retro tracks are for. It’s a breath of fresh air though as the tracks in Double Dash were anything but diverse. The retro selection is pretty good, although I would have killed for Baby Park. Still, everyone has their own favorites and you can’t complain when there are tracks like DK Mountain and N64’s Bowser’s Castle. Actually, there are a little too much Bowser’s Castles in the game, although some would argue you can’t have too much of them ever.
There are a few new additions to the game as well. You can now stunt when you hit the air with your kart, giving you a boost when you land. Stunting is done by sweeping the wheel a certain way when you hit the air and it works fine. It’s not about the stunts you do, it’s about the boost you get afterwards. Also new are the motorbikes, which are a fine and natural addition to the franchise. They steer more precise but if you get hit you get hit harder. Also, you cannot boost with them in corners, but you can do a wheelie on straight ways to have a permanent boost.
Lastly, you can of course do a local multiplayer with up to three other players. You can’t select a cup anymore to do a tournament but you can choose tracks and the game keeps track of the score over multiple tracks, so it’s no biggie. The battle mode is surprisingly terrible, because the game adds a whole bunch of CPU controlled team members to the human controlled teams. This way, the outcome of battles never really feel like they were decided by you. A big misstep that’s quite frankly baffling. Great however is the fact that you can go online with another human player on the same Wii. My better half loves that.
Honestly, did you expect anything less than a thumb up? Mario Kart has always been fun and there are great additions to be found in the game. Online has come a long way and the bikes are fun. The new way to control the game is fantastic, but it was a big mistake from Nintendo to enable the old GameCube controllers as well. Likewise, adding CPU controlled team members in battle mode is a terrible addition that you cannot shut off. They are small missteps however compared to the beauty of the main game. Essential for Wii owners.