Mario Kart Wii (Wii) Review

By Jorge Ba-oh 23.04.2008

Review for Mario Kart Wii on Wii

The porky plumber and friends take a break from exploring other planets, doing battle through subspace and playing board-games by hopping into a kart or onto a bike and hitting the racing circuit once more. Cue insane boosts, frantic items and a white piece of plastic with a cool blue fascia: it's the return of Mario Kart. Aiming to merge classic karting antics with bikes, stunts and online play does this latest outing make first place or struggle to keep up with the pack?

Mario Kart marks the age-old tradition of an outing on each of the company's major console releases since its outing on the SNES in 1992. We've seen the Mushroom Kingdom folk evolve from ickle sprites to sharing a kart with a fellow racer and even made appearances in the world of portables, but the formula still remains the same: Hop on your vehicle, rev your engine and make a mad dash for the finish line taking out fellow racers using an array of wacky items along the way.

And that's about it. In the Wii edition the core mechanic still remains the same, with a few changes and replacements in place to spice things up, and tone things down. Unlike the more recent outings, gone is the need to waggle your stick from left to right to gain a speed boost, but instead you hold down the slide trigger and after a short time sparks fly out and off you go. It's odd at first, but does seem to prevent over-use and snaking antics. For even more speed-up comes a risky stunt system. It's been done in countless extreme sports, but would it work in Mario Kart? What we've got is a series of small jumps and curved walls where if timed right with a press of the d-pad (GameCube controller) or flick of the wrist (Wii-Remote and wheel), sends your racer into a quick spin or flip with a cheesy pose for a small boost once back on land. Much like the revamped sliding, performing these stunts takes a little while to get used to, even disrupting the natural flow of the race, however eventually become second nature.

One of the bigger additions is the use of bikes. Bikes, in a karting game? We first got a taster of Mario folk on bikes in Mario Party 8. One of the extra games saw the entire cast donning ickle mopeds, and my did it crash 'n' burn. Fortunately the two wheelers don't slide too far from the track and seem to fit comfortably in a world dominated entirely by four wheeled beasts. They come with the advantage of being able to sneak past a majority of traps and have some tight drifting, but do lack an additional second boost when taking corners. To get around this, players can perform a small wheelie on straight sections for a short jolt of speed.

Screenshot for Mario Kart Wii on Wii

Taking forward multiple karts with balanced stats from the DS version we've got a fair few to choose form, distributed by weight. For example, a kart or bike designed for Bowser in mind is also available for fellow heavyweight, Donkey Kong. Each have its drawbacks and advantages in weight, and feel balanced. No vehicle seems truly better than another, but some do feel better for certain courses and situations than others. The characters and models themselves are nicely rendered - nothing astonishing, but with some clean, robust texture work and good use of vivid lighting to give some fleshness to the cartoony folk. The line-up is perhaps the most balanced in a Mario Kart game yet, with plenty to choose from. There are a few disappointing forgotten faces, but overall a healthy balance between the light-weight and the nearing-obese gives plenty to choose from. Even Miis can be selected, allowing for some amusing you'd-never-ever-see-in-Mario-Kart characters to make an appearance. Fancy racing as a penis-head, well, you can!

Aside from bikes, the gimmick this time round is the Wii Wheel. Making its retail debut with Mario Kart, the wheel is exactly what you'd expect: a small circular piece of white plastic with a slot for your Wii remote. Surprisingly though, it's well made with firm handles, durable plastic and, despite being not clamped onto anything weighted, does work. Using it does come naturally, offering an accessible alternative for those not used to analogue sticks and controllers. The GameCube controller has been the main mode of choice for many, second to the Wii-remote and nunchuck option. Those wanting a wireless means can choose to use the Classic controller as an alternative - each of these bringing a flexible way of getting into the game, the only minor drawback being not able to customize the button setup.

With the control schemes in place, the next most important aspect has to be the tracks to zip, slide and jump around on: and there are a fair few to choose from. Following on from the DS outing and Super Circuit is a 50/50 split: half the courses being new, and the other, remodelled classics. On the whole, the latest additions to the Mario Kart library are well thought out and fairly lengthy stretches of mud and tarmac. The key difference is that a majority are longer and wider than previous equivalents and span multiple paths, and whilst it could put off fans of previous more contained tracks, there's still room for solid racing lines and times. The Coconut mall houses gorgeous indoor scenery and even a host of Miis. Bowser's Castle dons a gaping huge statue throwing fireballs whilst players perform tricks and Wario's Gold Mine sends players hurtling down a gorgeous canyon: there are certainly a lot of original ideas the theme department. The classic courses also come with some improvements and graphical notches, sticking true to the original designs - we've got fan favourites like Bowser's Castle from Mario Kart 64, Koopa Beach from Super Mario Kart, and Bowser's Castle 3 from the GBA outing. The tracks in general are well suited to racing and have a balanced difficult level throughout: none are too hard to tackle, and with the right kart are a joy to play. The selection is comfortable on the eye - nothing out of the ordinary or breathtaking, but smooth, clean and constantly fluid.

Screenshot for Mario Kart Wii on Wii

For the lone wolf in you, the single player mode offers a fair few options, but perhaps could have been taken further. To unlock a whole host of goodies and make good practice on the track, there are a series of eight different cups each broken into the standard four courses. At the end points are tallied, awards dished out, along with a grade on how well you've performed. The idea couldn't be simpler - players select a cup, race and try to hit the top sport to earn a shiny gold medal, and for those who love to show off their feats a license card dons all the trophies players have picked up along the way, a nifty addition!

Keeping in line with past options are three different speed classes to select: 50, 100 and 150cc, each getting progressively harder to work your way through with the increased speed and computer ruthlessness. 50cc offers a calming introduction to the game as players can whiz about in their karts and try to reach top spot, 100 starts to jazz things up with the introduction of bikes-only racing as a variant to standard karts, and finally 150cc: the killer. The fastest mode has always been a true test of skill, and here a whole bucket load is needed, along with a sprinkle of luck, to make the passing grade. Computer difficulty at the higher end can be hair-ripping at times with a slew of weapons thrown at you when taking the lead, but after some persistence getting through the single player element is possible. That said does become harder and can seem downright impossible at times with some of the later cups, but the core part of the game still remains: the multiplayer. Once completing the single player element and calming down after the later frustrations, the real fun begins..

Much like the DS version, there are two paths to take: a world of snacks, fast food, drinks and a healthy set of games with friends in the same room or going at it online. Fortunately the multiplayer element is worth writing home about. Offline play sees a fair few improvements and some must-haves toned down or taken out complete, but it's fortunately still as enjoyable as ever. Up to 32 tracks can be selected to make up a customized Grand Prix, going at it one by one, in order or random each time. Scores are totalled and the winner eventually crowned king, or queen, of the Mushroom Kingdom karting experience. It's fluid when played with another person, but adding several players to the mix does take some time to get used to, especially with CPU-controlled foes turned on. There's a noticeable frame-rate drop here, and unfortunately it's not as nice to the eyes as it could be, but still workable and very much enjoyable!

Balloon Battle mode makes a welcome return to the series, and although offers up some well-designed stages and key classics, is let down slightly by only being able to go at it in teams. There's a wealth of different stages to play through, including Battle Course 4 from the SNES, the popular N64 beast, Skyscraper, and the eerie DS Twilight House - all recreated close to their original glory. The newer arenas take level design up a notch with some gorgeous obstacles and trick patterns - from the remade Block Plaza, tricks-ahoy with Funky's Stadium to an all-out frenzy in the Chain Chomp Roulette, each glossed over with typical Nintendo paint. The levels have their charm, and are better to play with the full roster of 12 players. Due to their larger scale this time round though, the experience becomes difficult when going up half that amount or less, as a majority of the time will be spent will be looking for someone to fire at. A more user-friendly point deduction system comes into play where the team loses a point if you run out of balloons and respawn. It does show fairness towards those not as ruthless or new to battle, but detracts slightly from the sense of tension and competition. A coin-grabbing variant sees players scouting for pieces o' gold whilst fending off others. Team play isn't bad, and does shave off some pressure to perform as scores are combined but solo battle and coin collection would have made the difference. Those who like to spice up their games by tweaking rules and options are in for a treat - item frequency and intensity can be adjusted, computer players turned on or off amongst some track selection. All in all, there's a whole lot more flexibility at the expense of toning down some features like battle - a solid, local multiplayer experience. LAN play could have made the deal even sweater, but as it is, there's not much to complain about multiplayer wise.

Screenshot for Mario Kart Wii on Wii

Turning on the 'net and heading out into the wide world of racing brings a surprising wealth of options compared to Nintendo's past online Wii titles. The limited connectivity of Smash Bros Brawl and Mario Strikers has been improved on with a dedicated friends service where you can view what your friends are up to, and even join the next round of their games. Visual and sound indicators also give a neat warning that there are available rooms to join. Unfortunately the addition of friend options and basic chat comes with a slight drawback: the ability to only have 30 names registered at one time, which for the Internet can be filled very, very quickly. That said, online play is impressive - perhaps the most refined and accessible system to date on the Wii. There are the same four modes of play to select: solo GP, team GP, team battle and coin runners. Whether it be playing with friends or a random selection the result is the same: a fluid, little-to-no-lag experience that mirrors offline play. Fortunately names and Mii faces are displayed to reduce the anonymity: finally the ability to go against real people, in real-time with minimal disruption. Both battles and races run at a smooth 60-frames per second, however slow ever so slightly in battle. To flaunt your skills in the randomer matches is a rank that varies depending on where you're placed at the end of each set of races: the top half earn, whilst the others burn. The experience is varied, having its fair share of frustrating and sometimes unfair moments, however offers a strong compliment to playing offline. Allowing for keyboard/headset support and rules in friend matches online would have made the experience even more enjoyable though.

After racing and battling friends, players can unleash their true racing skills by accessing the Mario Kart Wii channel. The nifty feature brings a whole host of online goodies, including the ability to view and compete against top ghost times for each of the different courses. Fancy seeing the top ten racers in the world? You can. Want to race against them? Sure can. Friend records and times can be shipped off to others for the show-off in you! These features certainly take Mario Kart's accessibility, fun and replay value up a notch. With the constant ability to view what's going on, it definitely keeps the action fun and fresh.

The whole package is well presented. It feels like a racing game, and has the same core design values as the Wii branded-software: large, accessible menus, clean backgrounds and a very polished look. The game's visuals and design is perhaps not the most impressive on the console, yet it does stand as one of the better looking games to own. Characters and courses have a nicely-rendered refreshing look, and combined with some fine attention to background detail gives a light-hearted and enjoyable vibe to the experience.

Screenshot for Mario Kart Wii on Wii

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

Mario Kart Wii is definitely up there with the other installments. A fairly limited single player appeal is enhanced by a comprehensive online service and a slightly toned-down but throughly enjoyable and flexible offline multiplayer mode. A solid battle mode and single player additions/refinement would have bumped up the score a notch, but that said Mario Kart Wii should definitely be one for the pocket money.









C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10 (50 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   


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