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Mario Kart


It all started back on the SNES. Mario and friends hopped into their karts and took to the tracks for what turned out to be a landmark experience. Mario Kart was born and ever since every Nintendo system has offered some iteration of the series. From the N64 right down to the Nintendo DS there hasn't been a console or handheld with Mario Kart so why should the Wii be any different?

Fans rejoiced when the title was announced for Nintendo's newest sensation. The motion sensitive controls undoubtedly offered a world of possibilities at the finger tips of kart drivers everywhere. Unfortunately the reality is much dimmer than the hype surrounding the title could keep up with. This latest Mario Kart isn't quite as progressive as one would hope for and if you have played any other incarnation of the series you'll feel like something is missing from this one.

Gameplay


For years I have gone out of my way to play Mario Kart whenever possible. Each release is guaranteed to be just a fun little slice of racing and with that in mind the Wii's version isn't much different. If you get a group of friends together you're going to have a blast with this title and it will last you for quite some time. New additions such as the bike, tricks, fresh tracks, and power ups will keep veterans and newcomers enthralled for hours but something is amiss.

It used to be that in order to be successful at Mario Kart you had to have a certain skill set on the race track. Knowing when to power slide, when to use an item, and how to navigate a course were things that came with practice. It's safe to say that a seasoned player had a good chance of winning against a novice or the computer. With the Wii's version that isn't necessarily the case. You can know a course like the back of your hand, take ample use of power slides, do tricks for extra boost, and make liberal use of items at your disposal and you'll still find yourself beaten by rubber band AI and frustrating components.

No matter how much distance you put between yourself and the CPU they are going to catch up to you and pass you. It's kind of annoying when you're in the lead one minute and then in last place the next but a lot of that is attributed to the available power ups. A plethora of weapons will find their way into the hands of other racers and every single one of them will be targeted at you. From POW blocks and lightning to squid ink and the dread blue shell, you're going to be bombarded at every turn. This is how you'll go from first to last in the blink of an eye and no amount of skill will keep it from happening. This fact turns Mario Kart from a game of dedication to an exercise in luck. Now, with that being said the game is still a lot of fun; it just means you'll be cursing your opponents more often than you'd like.

The addition of bikes improves the variety of racers in Mario Kart and at the beginning there are six different rides to choose from. More vehicles will open up as you progress through the single player and it's safe to say that everyone will be able to pick their favorites after just a few races. Do you want better maneuverability or speed? Is acceleration important to you? Taking each of these things into consideration is a big factor prior to the start of the race but in all honesty once the green light hits most every ride is adequate enough.

Not only are the bikes new but there are several new tracks as well. All told there are 32 courses available for Mario Kart Wii with 16 of them being pulled from prior incarnations of the series and the rest being new. Some of the new tracks really stick out as creative and fun with shortcuts and opportunities to take risks for big rewards. With that being said some of the older tracks could have been better utilized. Why pull so many tracks that are virtually identical? Nintendo could have done better by sprucing up some of the more unique tracks and spicing up the release a bit. As it stands many of these courses get redundant after a while due to the fact that they are similar to each other.

If you can't tell already there are areas of this game that are kind of boring and frustrating. It's worth noting that these low points mostly come from the single player's grand prix mode where you play through to unlock tracks, vehicles, and characters. The real heart and soul of this game comes once you get together with a friend or even go online. Like other Nintendo games such as Mario Party, Kart will entertain for hours and it's largely thanks to this that the game is a success. Going through a few races with a buddy or even jumping online to race across the 32 tracks extends this game quite a bit. Add the Battle Mode into the mix and you've got a recipe for an all-nighter that will leave each of you with bruised thumbs.

Now, I'm sure you're wondering about the differences with controls between the Wii version and previous ones. Well, first and foremost the Wii version comes with a steering wheel attachment for the Wiimote. By unplugging the nunchuk and connecting the Wiimote to the wheel you're able to kind of, sort of simulate driving. The sensitivity of the wheel takes a lot of getting used to and in all honesty it's more of a handicap or novelty than actual option for control. You're much better off with the regular control scheme or a GameCube controller; especially if you don't want to constantly crash into walls and drive off the track.

All around Mario Kart Wii is another solid title for the system. As a fan of the other games in the franchise I feel that this release is lacking in some areas but newcomers may not care as much. I suppose Nintendo did this on purpose to make the title more accessible to non-gamers and family members who just want to have fun. However you approach this title there is plenty to enjoy but if you've cut your teeth on Mario Kart before be prepared for some letdowns. The multiplayer component is still wildly fun but the power-ups and AI are too erratic to offer a fair challenge.

Graphics


With the revamped look of other Nintendo franchise such as Mario Galaxy, Zelda, Metroid, and Super Smash Brothers I suppose I was expecting more out of Mario Kart. As it stands this title looks no better than the GameCube version and the recycled tracks are only marginally improved upon. Character models lack the detail and sheen that the console is capable of and many courses wind up being bland in the end. The animation is fine and all around you can expect an acceptable looking game but it's nothing that pushes the Wii or makes you say "wow". Thankfully the game runs pretty smooth and the frame rate never dips for a second.

Sound


Like the graphics, the sound direction in Mario Kart isn't as solid as it could have been. Forgettable music and repetitive sound clips permeate this title. During the course of a single race you can expect to hear the same utterances from characters over and over again. A nice touch with the audio is the inclusion of sound from the Wiimote's speakers which warns you have incoming dangers.

Conclusion


There's a lot to love about the Mario Kart franchise and the Wii version embodies just about every one of those ideals. It's a straightforward and fun racer that's easily accessible to many people, the power ups are crazy and add an insane element to the fight, and it features some of Nintendo's most beloved characters duking it out on a race track. Unfortunately the franchise is starting to show signs of aging with dialed down control mechanics and playfield leveling items. If you're a MK junkie then you're going to want to pick this up for the multiplayer and online components. All around this is a good release but it's not quite as strong as it could have been. Nintendo needs to take some chances with Mario Kart if they want it to keep from getting stale. This game gets a high recommendation for the multiplayer aspect but if you're in a position where you're going to be exploring single player consider this merely recommended.