I have to admit that I had mixed emotions about Mario Kart Wii before I got it. I had seen screenshots of the game in magazines and online and they didn’t look that great. The game looked kind of drab and boring and I felt like it was just going to be Mario Kart Double Dash!! without the two characters per vehicle. In some ways Mario Kart Wii is a lot like Mario Kart Double Dash!! and all previous Mario Kart games because it is a Mario Kart game, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun and entertaining. My 4-year old son really likes racing games and Mario Kart for GameCube and Nintendo DS have been some of his favorite video games for awhile now, but I think Mario Kart Wii may have topped them or it is at least at the same level as them. I have to admit that I have been enjoying Mario Kart Wii also and my son and I have beaten all the 50cc and 100cc classes and some of the 150cc class races so far. We have also tried the Mario Kart Wii multiplayer modes and online modes which are also fun, but the game is not perfect.
As mentioned above, Mario Kart Wii’s graphics are not as good as some of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 games. It cannot hold a candle to Gran Turismo 5 Prologue for PlayStation 3 or Forza Motorsports 2 for Xbox 360 when you are talking about detail level and I think Viva Pinata Party Animals for Xbox 360 also looks a lot more polished and colorful graphically in the racing levels of that game, but I don’t entirely think the graphics problems are Mario Kart Wii’s fault. The less polygons and less detailed graphics just come with the territory on the Wii. Granted, I think Super Mario Galaxy looks better than Mario Kart Wii, but I don’t think they could’ve made Mario Kart Wii look any better with everything going on in the races and 12 racers on the track at the same time. The graphics have some blockiness but they also fit within that Mario style that has become the way Mario games look. The evergreen trees look like cones on top of each other and everything is not as smooth and round as other next generation games on other systems. Maybe I am being too hard on the game by comparing it to the PS3 and Xbox 360 games, but I have to admit that after playing the game and getting into the racing you totally forget that the game doesn’t look as highly polished as the latest PS3 or 360 games. It is also fun to see yours and your friend’s Miis throughout some of the levels as you race by and you can play as your Mii after you unlock this option, which is fun. All-in-all, Mario Kart Wii has an animated style that matches other recent Mario games and works well within the graphics detail level that the Wii can pump out at 480p resolution.
Another thing Mario Kart Wii pumps out is the tunes. The music in Mario Kart Wii is the classic instrumental Nintendo music that everyone is familiar with and you have probably heard some of it in other Mario Kart games. All the music is upbeat and light-hearted and enjoyable to listen to throughout the intense 12 player races on and offline. The sound effects are also as expected with the familiar spinning slot machine sound when you pick up an item box and the characters cheering when they take someone out with their special item. The go karts and motorcycles also have expected engine noises and I don’t have any complaints about the music or sound effects in the game. If you like Mario Kart and other Mario games’ music and sound effects then you should enjoy what Mario Kart Wii has to offer.
Mario Kart Wii also offers a lot of different options for controlling your racers in the game. You can race with the include steering wheel attachment and tilt it side-to-side to steer and shake it to perform tricks off of jumps or to pop a wheelie on the motorcycles to get a speed boost. The steering wheel works really well and the game controls a lot better than Excite Truck did with this control scheme. The wheel is not as precise as the control stick, but does work really well and I find myself enjoying playing the game with it just as much or even more than any of the other control schemes. Another control scheme available is the Wii Remote and Nunchuk combo, which I think works the best. This control scheme allows you to have the precision of the control stick, but the ease of pulling off tricks and wheelies by just shaking the Wii Remote. The other two control schemes involve you either using the Wii Classic Controller or the Nintendo GameCube Controller. Both of these work well and make the game feel a lot like Mario Kart Double Dash!!. The GameCube Controller is the controller of choice for my son, since he is used to using it in Mario Kart Double Dash!! The only problem with using the Classic Controller or GameCube controller is that you have to press the control pad to perform tricks or pop wheelies and this is a little harder on these controllers than just shaking the Wii Remote. All the control schemes work really well and I have switched back and forth between all of them and enjoyed the game’s different modes no matter which one I was using.
The game modes available in Mario Kart Wii are as follows: Grand Prix, Time Trial, VS, and Battle. VS and Battle are available for multiple players online and offline. If you have played other Mario Kart games then you should be very familiar with these modes. If you have never played a Mario Kart game then here is a breakdown of what each mode includes. Grand Prix is the regular single-player mode that has you competing on 32 different tracks as you try to win eight different circuits (Cups) of four races each. Win each Cup and you unlock others you can race. Time Trial has you competing against a ghost time to see if you can set the new record for each track. VS mode is basically the same as the Grand Prix mode, but you can play against your friends or others online in all 32 races. Battle mode is the last mode option and lets you drive around trying to hit people with special items to make them lose their balloons or coins. The more coins you collect or balloons you make the competitors lose the better. All of these modes are fun to play by yourself and the multiplayer modes are enjoyable with up to three other people at your house or with eleven other people online.
Online gaming in Mario Kart Wii is decent for a Wii game, but leaves a lot to be desired if you have played any Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 game online. Don’t expect to chat with any of your friends via text or voice in Mario Kart Wii, since the only communication available is between friends only and is limited to preselected text messages. I don’t understand why Nintendo isn’t adding at least text messaging into their Wii online games for friends to use to chat. I understand that they don’t have a headset peripheral yet for the Wii (I hope they are working on one???), but they could at least give us the ability of chatting via regular or virtual keyboard in the lobby with our friends. Nintendo allows you to compete against other people from all around the world online, but with no way to communicate with them you can’t really make new friends. Everyone you play online feels a lot like the computer controlled players since you can’t communicate with them.
If you want to add your friends to your friends list easier than having to give each of them your Mario Kart Wii friend code manually you can wait until you see the message that says “Invite Wii Friends?” at the bottom of the Mario Kart Channel section to send them a message to their Wii Message Board. This way they don’t have to type in your friend code manually and you don’t have to type theirs in if they reply to your message. This is a little better than having to manually type all the friend codes in for each of your friends, but I am not sure why this option is not available directly under the Friends section. Plus, this method still isn’t anywhere near as good as Xbox Live or PlayStation Network for hooking up with friends.
The online races and battles in Mario Kart Wii are fun, but as I said above, without any real interaction they don’t feel much different than playing against the computer. I played multiple races and battles and enjoyed them and was able to connect with people from the United States, Japan, Norway, Australia, and other places around the world. The races were smooth and I didn’t notice any lag, but I did get disconnected from the games a few times.
Another online activity that Mario Kart Wii provides is the ability to download ghost races and compete in tournaments from time-to-time. These should extend the online gaming mode of the game and having the ability to see your ranking against your friends, others in your region, and around the world is interesting. All-in-all, the online modes of Mario Kart Wii are fun, but without the ability to communicate with the people you are playing with they feel a little out-of-date and last generation. Heck, even Sega Dreamcast on dial-up had the option to text chat with people in the online games. I know Nintendo is trying to keep the online gaming part of the Wii games safe for everyone and by not allowing chat via text or voice does avoid all the swearing and other things that you run across on Xbox Live, but by not offering any real communication it makes you feel disconnected from all the people you are playing against online.
The last thing I wanted to mention about Mario Kart Wii, is the Mario Kart Channel that comes with the game and allows you to install it on your Wii Menu. This channel allows you to see your ranking, the latest ghosts for download and tournaments and which of your friends are online without you having to have the Mario Kart Wii game disc in your system. This is a cool little add-on for this game that I would like to see other Wii games do in the future if possible.
Mario Kart Wii is a hard game to score for me because my son and I have been enjoying it a lot, so I want to give it a 9 or 9.5 out of 10, but because of the lacking multiplayer options and not as polished graphics as other current systems on the market it is hard to give it that high of score. Also, you get 16 new tracks, but the other 16 are remakes of tracks from previous Mario Kart games. The classic tracks are cool, but they give you a little bit of a been there, done that feeling. Mario Kart Wii is a fun game and surprisingly the steering wheel peripheral works really well with it. If you own a Wii and are a Mario Kart or racing game fan, then I recommend getting the game, but I have to give it a little lower score because of some of the things mentioned above that are holding it back.
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