Although it’s easy to be excited about a new Mario Kart, the Wii version is a by-the-numbers sequel that feels safe.
There have been several entries in the Mario Kart series for both home consoles and portable systems and each of those games has brought something new to the formula. Although it’s easy to be excited about Mario Kart Wii, this is a by-the-numbers sequel that feels safe and despite making use of motion controls and mixing both classic and new tracks, this is essentially, the racing game you’ve been playing for years.
The first innovation comes in the form of motion controls. Basically, you use the Wiimote controller sideways and you steer left or right to simulate the wheel of a real kart. There were definitely moments where I was making turns and the game wasn’t reading them, but for the most part, the controls feel responsive and intuitive in a way that I wasn’t anticipating. If you don’t like motion controls, you can always use the Wiimote with a Nunchuck, but I found using just the Wiimote my preferred way of playing the game and the most comfortable.
That’s how you control the game, but what about the content itself? As it’s usually the case with Mario Kart, you have access to two main modes. In the single-player, you can play the Grand Prix which gives you access to a series of races with classic and new courses. There are sixteen new tracks and they are a great addition to the series and it’s great to replay sixteen tracks from the DS, N64, GameCube and SNES eras in 480p. As you get trophies, you unlock more cups, karts, racers and motorcycles and you can compete in 50, 100 and 150cc, which is essentially the difficulty levels. The difference this time around is that 50cc features karts only, 100cc bikes only and 150 cc combines the two types of vehicles.
So for the first time in the series you can drive bikes. They differ from karts in the way that they are more nimble, mobile and they don’t have as much heft to them, but other than that, the controls are the same. It’ll take you some time to get used to riding bikes, but before you know it, you’ll barely notice the difference between bikes and karts.
There also some new items, such as the mega mushroom which momentarily transforms you into a giant version of the character you’re controlling and you can use this to cover more ground and run over opponents. Staple items, such as Starman, banana peels and Koopa shells are still here. I must admit I found some specific items (such as Blue Shells) incredibly punishing and annoying, but alas, there’s simply no way to ban them in custom races which would have been a welcome addition for players who like more control over specific races. Avoiding some items is almost impossible and it can be extremely frustrating to be in the first place, get hit by a blue shell and arrive to the finish line in 8th place at the last second.
Apart from Grand-Prix, single player offers Time Trials where you race against the clock, custom races where you race on your own or as part as a team and Battle allows you to participate in Balloon and Coin minigames. Then there’s the multiplayer and this is where people will spend most of their time with this game. Luckily, up to four players can compete in split-screen, but it’s worth pointing out that online multiplayer (via the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection) which allowed you to play against people from all over the wold and the Mario Kart Channel where you could watch replays are no longer available, so you only have access to the single-player and local multiplayer modes.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that, like previous Mario Kart titles, this is an extremely charming game. Everything from the colorful visuals, unrealistic physics, ludicrous items, vivacious racers and the fact that you can go from last place to first in a heartbeat makes Mario Kart and accessible racing game that anyone can enjoy. Just take into account that on the hardest difficulty the AI can be brutal, so unlocking some of the latter cups and characters can take some time.
The intuitive controls, large selection of tracks, the inclusion of bikes for the first time in the series, the incredibly entertaining multiplayer and the colorful presentation make Mario Kart Wii a terrific Mario Kart. But then again, there’s nothing particularly fresh about it and if you’ve been following the series for a while, you’ve seen this before. In other words, unless you haven’t played a Mario Kart for a while, it’s hard to get excited about the Wii version of this classic Nintendo series.