By MoistKiwi 1 Comments
Super Mario Kart was something of a revelation back on the SNES. The twisting tracks, cute graphics, amusing power-ups and incredibly tight racing made for a genuinely enjoyable and incredibly addictive racer. Throw in a second player, and you were in hog heaven. MK64 was good, but no more than people expected, and as for Double Dash, well, Nintendo couldn't really mess up the MK formula that badly, but the GameCube edition was for many the weakest in the series by far. Now that one of the most enduring franchises has appeared on the Wii, does it take pole position, or limp into the pits?
Perhaps the first disappointment with the game won't be immediately obvious, if that's not too much of an oxymoron. The visuals are very much as you would expect, really colorful and simple, keeping the Mushroom Kingdom intact without going overboard...but if you happen to switch discs and pop Super Mario Galaxy into the blue slot, you would be forgiven for feeling short-changed by Mario Kart Wii. On it's own, it's fine, and there is commendably NO slowdown ever, not even in the most packed races when it's all kicking off - the sense of speed is religiously maintained. But the colors seem really washed-out compared to the sumptuousness of Super Mario Galaxy. It seems churlish of Nintendo to demonstrate what the Wii is capable of and then go back to what amount to GameCube quality graphics for one of their more anticipated games.
Bundled with the game is the much-vaunted Wii Wheel, and it does not disappoint. There is however, a learning curve to using the wheel, and I'd say give it at least half an hour before you decide on it. At the very least, you owe it to yourself to try it out, rather than immediately reach for the classic pad or GameCube controller. Personally, I would agree that the remote/nun chuck combo gives more precision - but it just feels less fun then using the wheel. It reduces Mario Kart to being just another racer. Is this a weakness or a strength? I think using the wheel or not is going to be very much down to the individual. For me, you're missing out by not using it, so take everything I say next with the wheel in mind.
It does feel weird having that disconnected feeling, holding the wheel in mid air, but it's pretty responsive, and the game has obviously been built with it in mind. The steering is spot on, and the trigger to operate the B button really helps. As good as the wheel is, I did have one issue with it - power sliding. It could be that I'm just not very good at the game, or just have lapses, but there are times using the wheel when you'll initiate a power slide the wrong way, even though you'll feel that you're tilting the wheel in the correct direction. It's only happened a few times, and like I say, it could be my fault entirely, but it's incredibly annoying, and can easily lose you a race, but more on losing races later.
The bedrock of Mario Kart, to be sure. Unfortunately, the bedrock has cracked a little this time round.
So you start off with the Grand Prix, after all, you want to fill in those blank spots on your license and unlock some new characters. 50cc? No problem! A couple of hours driving at most, and you'll score those important three-star ratings with some ease; a classic introduction!
100cc? Bikes only! Never fear, it's not that difficult, and the bikes are actually pretty fun to use, and bring new tactical thinking to the races - far from the tacky add-on most people thought them to be. But perhaps you'll feel that you've been hit with one blue shell too many during the 100cc races. Perhaps you'll start to feel that the computer gets more than its fair share of pow blocks, bullet bills, red shells and stars. Perhaps you will begin to be annoyed when you get banana after banana after banana, instead of that mushroom you require, just to seal the victory. Never mind, you are not frightened of a challenge, are you?
Good, because the 150cc races are where the wheels come off the wagon in this game. I've been playing Mario Kart since the SNES days, and the 150cc Grand Prix will test your patience to an unholy degree.
I get Mario Kart. I get that it's about fun, not realistic racing. I get that it's all about the power-ups, and getting smacked around is part and parcel of the experience. But when you regularly get hit with a blue shell, followed up by a POW block, then bashed aside by a fellow racer, then zapped by lightning, all in the space of five seconds, you realize Nintendo are messing with you, forcing you to restart the Grand Prix time and time again, because you can't get a star rating without winning every race. You'll switch characters, change karts, alter weight classes, practice the time trials, race online - only to return to the 150cc races and face the appalling fact; it's all down to luck.
Fair enough, getting star ratings in every level is not the point of the game, but the very least that Nintendo could do is to recognize and reward skill, not punish the player.
The online modes are incredibly robust; entirely without slowdown, easy to organize, quick to connect and a lot of fun to get involved in. I would go as far as to say that if you are not intending, or able, to race online, then you should maybe think twice about purchasing Mario Kart Wii. It represents at least half the game.
As always, Friend codes are employed, but surely we're done complaining about them by now? You can race or battle online, compare time trial times, download ghosts and take part in competitions, although those have yet to start.
I'm not sorry that I bought Mario Kart Wii: far from it. The online modes and rich variety of tracks make it a worthwhile purchase. But why Nintendo had to make some of the races so obviously weighed against the player is a decision that will baffle me every time I attempt those 150cc races. Ah well, back to the Leaf Cup for me - and yet another attempt to destroy the Wii Wheel on my hardwood floor.