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9  |  Boost Your Way To The Finish In Mario Kart Wii
Dezoris , 8/20/2008 1:52:06 PM

I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying Mario Kart games since the SNES premiere, to my memorable all night four player N64 battles across Skyscraper. But, in each title, I’ve been left wanting at some point. The original obviously lacked the maturity and evolution of following titles, and even the latest Double Dash version seemed woefully short and not nearly as satisfying to play for hours on end. Finally, Mario Kart Wii solves all these problems and is, dare I say, the pinnacle of what the Mario Kart should be.

Gameplay: 9/10
If you’re never played Mario Kart, you have not lived (at least as a lonely, basement dwelling nerd living with your parents). And if that applies to your scenario, I envy you. The entire goal is to race around beautifully designed, yet challengingly wacky courses from various Mario games in the hopes of crossing the finish line before your competitors. But Mario Kart goes far beyond a traditional racing game with its fun and fast action sequences where winning isn’t only dependant upon speed, but survival of your opponents arsenals. Along the way you’ll be dodging shells, getting struck by lightning, and going for a swim in rapidly rising waters. And much of that occurs in only one of your three laps around the track!
If you’re not the racing type, Mario Kart Wii, like all previous games in the series, also offers a pair of distinctive battle modes that pit you against a team of opponents. One mode is suggestive of a standard deathmatch in which you attempt to steal the most balloons from the opposing team before the clock runs out. The other lets you collect coins strewn across the map as well as knock them out of the pockets of the other team. Both modes are incredibly fun and have nearly infinite replay value due to the worldwide connectivity offered by the system.
Other mechanics follow suite with previous Mario Kart titles. You still rush to grab ‘?’ blocks that provide you with an item such as a Koopa Shell, Speed Mushroom, or banana peel. And you still use these either defensively or offensively to gain the upper hand against your opponents, particularly whomever is the unfortunate racer in 1st place. This is perhaps the only point that I was slightly (and ONLY slightly), disappointed with Mario Kart Wii. The Gamecube’s Double Dash added special items based on the characters you chose. Although this was a bit off-balanced, I really liked the idea of character-specific special items. I can understand wanting to maintain a level playing field, but it would have at least been nice to include some of these items in the Wii version, even if they became available to all players regardless of their character choice. But, at the same time, we’ve gained some new and more powerful items in Mario Kart Wii. And let’s be honest…who hasn’t started a race purposely slow so you can immediately grab a bullet bill power-up and force your way to the front of the pack?
Beyond the familiar, Mario Kart Wii also boasts plenty of new content. An exciting addition to this series is the placement of jump ramps and trick boosts. By shaking the Wii Remote at the edge of a ramp will make your driver perform a fun little mid-air trick which, if landed successfully, will result in a small speed boost similar to a power slide. This might not sound too exciting, but I assure you it is indescribably fun and useful because the hang time in this version of Mario Kart is a lot more than previous titles. In fact, so many of the new tracks have bumps, hills, and even half-pipes that you’ll find yourself trying to pull off tricks as often as you’ll be fighting for space on the track. It’s a fantastic addition that makes the gameplay that much more competitive.
And what some may tell you is the coolest new headlining feature of Mario Kart Wii is the choice to ride motorbikes instead of karts. Every style from crotch-rockets, to American Hogs is represented in a way that only Nintendo can. Ride mechanics provide several differences between karts and bikes, the primary being that you can perform a wheelie at any time to get a small speed boost. This is counter-balanced by a considerable lose of maneuvering during a wheelie. It also renders you more vulnerable to spin-outs from coming into contact with other racers. In addition, bikes are only able to attain one level of sparks (blue) during a power slide. These might seem like a lot of downsides for choosing bikes, but they are in fact quite well-balanced to their kart counterparts. And they add a lot of fun and variety to the gameplay.
So, keeping all these wonder Wii additions in mind, we need someplace to unleash them.How about on a series of 16 brand new tracks? Oh, that’s not impressive enough? Ok, let’s throw in 16 retro tracks that hail from every previous Mario Kart game in the series! Now that’s room to ride. Some old favorites and some new tracks that will no doubt become favorites all await you and your burning rubber. The new tracks are all fantastic and unique in their own rights, many of which boast changing terrain, on-track enemies, and DK cannons that can shoot you from one side of the course to the other. There’s too much detail to express in a review that has already grown beyond a manageable size, but let me assure you that there is a track for every type of fan.
 
Control: 9/10
The controls for Mario Kart should feel very familiar to veterans, but they also lend themselves to the first time driver by being simple, intuitive, and immediately rewarding. Add to that basic control scheme the option of using the new Wii Wheel (why wasn’t this called a Wiil? Come on people, this is free marketing strategy…) and the controls become even more straightforward. I personally love the wheel peripheral because it immerses the player that much deeper into the crazy antics of a race or battle. Unfortunately, and it may just be a personal handicap, I still can’t achieve the same competitive level with the wheel as I can with the standard control scheme. Nevertheless, it’s a fantastic and fun addition to the game, and bravo Nintendo for including it in the price of a new game disc. Major bonus points.
Beyond how you choose to control your kart, players are also given the choice between manual and automatic mode. However, this handles differently than your average racer. Instead of controlling your transmission shifts, it refers to how you handle those characteristically insane Mario Kart turns. Manual allows you to rock the joystick back and forth while power sliding to accumulate energy and get a slight speed boost when letting go of the brake. Automatic handles complex turning for you, but as a result, doesn’t provide you with any speed boost. It’s a great option for beginners or people that just want to use the wheel and have a fun couple of laps around their favorite track.
I haven’t been able to find any faults with the control schemes thus far. The only hitch is that the wheel feels a tiny bit sluggish when I want to pull off very complicated S-turns online, but even that is probably just my lack of personal skill. Some games really implement wheel controls poorly, and Mario Kart Wii more than excels at using it successfully.

Graphics: 9/10
No, it’s not an Xbox360 or PS3, but you know what? I don’t care. The graphics in Mario Kart Wii are beautiful and life-like considering that rather playful nature of the Mario universe. And what impresses me the most is the lightning fast framerates, even while playing online, that rarely dip below 60 fps. This gives you a great opportunity to see every bit of detail in the terrain and background as you fly by. In fact, the addition of Mii art to posters, decals, and even statues is such a magical touch that really helps you become personally integrated into the game. Its things like that that really showcase the power and creativity of game development.
 
Replay Value: 10/10
At long last a Mario Kart I can play at any time day or night. With the ability to connect online, you’ll always find races ready and revving at the gate. Even if I come in last place for several consecutive races, I can barely put down the Wii Remote. The fun and anticipation of the next race is more than enough motivation to keep me adding value to my sofa. And since players constantly join and leave a group, the matches never stay predictable for long.
Right out of the box you can join up with friends and foes online as I described above, but another fantastic addition to this version of Mario Kart is the expansive unlockable goodies you can earn by winning each cup. Everything from extra tracks, to new karts, characters, and bikes. And unlocking everything is no quick or simple task. This is the kind of challenge players like me beg for in a single player mode, and Mario Kart Wii fully satisfies. Unlike it’s predecessor Double Dash, which only had a fraction of the unlockable (and useful) content. Not to mention once all of those things were achieved, I saw no reason to continue playing the game. In order to have friends join the fun, I need to host or be invited to a local LAN party. Crutch. But thanks to Mario Kart Wii, you won’t ever have to race solo again!


Music: 8/10
The soundtrack for Mario Kart Wii is just as wacky as ever, but I think it’s implemented a little bit better than previous titles. It’s got a few funny sound effects that might seem off-beat to older players, but I enjoy them nonetheless. A lot of the music comes from previous Mario Kart tracks that are recycled in this version. It would have been nice for these songs to be remixed rather than directly ported because it makes them feel a touch out of date. I was also disappointed in the trademark Rainbow Road music being considerably underwhelming compared to the Double Dash and N64 versions. But I supposed that’s more of an opinion than a critique. All said, you probably won’t be singing along with many scores in Mario Kart Wii, but they sure will keep your pulse racing in the kart next to you.

Sound: 8/10
Sound effects are fun and edgy for the most part throughout your rallies in Mario Kart Wii. I could spend a lot of time critiquing various bleeps and blips, but I think overall the sounds fit in well with the gameplay, but aren’t too overpowering and silly as to get in the way.

Conclusion: 9/10
I can’t stress enough that this is what Mario Kart has always meant to be. It has reached near full potential in terms of content, creativity and gameplay. The only way this could be topped is by adding even more tracks, options for multiplayer modes and continuing to find new ways of incorporating the player into the overall experience. If you own a Wii, you must purchase this game. If you don’t own a Wii, you
 

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