Created by Nintendo / Rated E / 1-4 Players / Wii Wheel + Nunchuk + Gamecube Controller / MSRP $50 + Wii Wheel
Review written by Ray

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Mario and his friends are back for their eighth kart-racing competition since 1992, and the core gameplay still remains intact after all of this time. Although Gamecube’s Double Dash!! aimed high with two characters per kart and character-specific power-ups, the Wii installment scales everything back by operating as the follow-up to the portable DS title.

That isn’t to say this version doesn’t have any significant changes. The classic control scheme of earning extra boosts by drifting around turns still exists, but has been modified to keep players from using an unintended technique called ‘snaking.’ No longer are you required to earn boost by tilting the control stick side to side. Instead, the boost is automatically earned as long as you turn with the drift.

Nintendo knows not all Wii owners are serious gamers with spare Gamecube controllers to master drifting with, so they’ve also included a plastic steering-wheel to place your Wii Remote in. Using the Wii Wheel is not as accurate as a control stick, but it is certainly much more fun. In addition, players can also choose to drive ‘automatic,’ in which drifting comes automatically without pressing any buttons, but is not rewarded with a boost.

These manual and automatic settings help to even the playing field between hardcore and casual gamers, but it also seriously destroys the same field between hardcore players. Simply put, driving automatic is both easier and faster, and if a hardcore player is behind that wheel then they become unstoppable. The only way you’ll beat them is if you’re an absolute freak with manual mode or they get seriously unlucky with items.

It’s no secret that the items handed out are not completely random, but are instead distributed depending on how well each racer is doing. The Mario Kart series has always been known for the unbelievable amount of chaos created by items, but this game unknowingly multiplies this problem by increasing the total number of drivers on the track from eight to twelve. For a driver in first place, their chances of being hit by an item unprotected is raised significantly. Blue shells, POW blocks, and lightning strikes are all unavoidable attacks, and since you lose your items on impact, it leaves you even more vulnerable to attacks that could have been blocked. It’s a very frustrating experience. Unless, of course, you’re the one that benefits from it…

Other new additions include the ability to choose between driving a kart or a bike. I’m still not certain the two are balanced, since bikes allow you to pop wheelies for added speed on straight parts of the track, but perhaps the balance simply isn’t obvious enough to me.

Mario Kart Wii is no longer kept to the number of friends you have in the room with you, as this title takes advantage of Nintendo’s free Wi-Fi network. This has instantly become the best structured online game Nintendo has ever made, and a beacon of hope for future Wii games. Nintendo is still being stubborn with friend codes, but they’ve finally allowed players to "accept" friend requests without needing to enter in the code themselves. On top of that, you can exchange pre-set messages with friends before and after a match. It’s a much smoother experience than that of previous Nintendo WFC titles such as Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and all we can do is hope it only gets better from here.

Speaking of Brawl, it was incredibly difficult to follow up such a detailed game with this crusty polygon-fest. The characters lack detail, some of their voices are bizarre and unusual to the character, and the lighting adds a shiny polish to characters that don’t need it. I’m sorry, but Donkey Kong’s fur should not be shiny unless he rolled in glitter before the race. These graphics are hardly a step above the five-year old Double Dash!! before it, yet the frame rate drops to 30fps as soon as you try playing a three-player game, or simply going online with one friend beside you.

In addition, racing a Grand Prix with two players has been removed, so if you’re looking to unlock any of the hidden tracks or characters with a friend, you’re out of luck. It’s nice to see tracks from previous Mario Kart games being included, but some of their choices were a little strange. I mean, were three different Bowser Castle levels really necessary? What’s even stranger is the online battle mode. What used to be a free-for-all death match is now a team battle under a time limit, and if you lose all three balloons on your kart you simply respawn somewhere else on the map. How does that even make sense?

It’s clear there are some significant balance issues within items, driving mechanics, vehicles, and… well, graphics, but the online mode is so fantastic for a Nintendo game that your focus will shift away from the negatives over time, and somehow end up enjoying the chaos of a twelve-person online race. When we look back on this game, however, I don’t think it will stand the test of time very well.

Verdict: A great online mode saves this title from being an average Mario Kart game.

8.0/10
Reviewer’s Completion: 1 Star Rank / 1st Place Trophies for all Grand Prix races / All Characters Unlocked / All Karts Unlocked / All Bikes Unlocked / All Fast Staff Ghosts Unlocked

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