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Mario Kart (Wii)

Mario Kart (Wii)


It was some time coming, but the long standing Nintendo racing institution has finally made it to the Wii. With several less than inspiring versions throughout the years, it will be reassuring for Mario Kart fans to hear that the latest incarnation has recaptured the magic that made this one of the most successful franchises ever made.

A lot of this is thanks to the excellent work from the development team. This time around MK focuses on the driving and tactics, something sadly lacking from the series of late.

Bundled with the game is the new Nintendo wheel, a classic design of understatement which works considerably better than I thought it would when I first saw it during the development phase many months ago. It takes a while to get used to and lacks a little bit of responsiveness when compared to the other control options, however it is well made and will certain prove popular with the younger audience. I must hold my hand up however and state that I did bin it for the gamecube controller in the end as I found it more intuitive and easier to control. You can also control the game with the Wiimote/nunchuck combo or classic controller if you so desire.

The single player racing is a good place to start and initially there are only 50% of the tracks available, if you want to unlock the plethora of multiplayer and online modes you will need to battle through four Wii specific and retro cups. There are a surprising wealth of game aspects to unlock and uncover, with tracks, racers and vehicles all in the mix. Once something is unlocked it becomes available during online play. This, as expected keeps you wanting to play for a very long time especially when you appreciate that a lot of these unlockable features actually enhance the game in various ways.

As always, the game modes are split over engine configurations with 50cc, 100cc and 150cc available, however this time there are karts and bikes to choose from. The single player mode is a great way to learn and improve your tactics and skill set as you progress, especially as the game introduces various game mechanics during progression (it is also a great way to learn the tracks for multiplayer). The AI is considerably improved on the last Mario Kart I played, sure at times it still seems unfair, however the "WTF just happened there!?" moments when someone overtakes you right before the finish line thankfully occur less often.

The meat and bones of Mario Kart should be the driving and this time Nintendo have got the balance just right, this game is tightly coded and ranks right up there with the original game for adrenaline fuelled racing. There is an improvement on the tactical side with a wealth of possibilities at your disposal. A lot of talk has been made of the simplified drift mechanic and certainly it is now not a pro feature however Nintendo have added a lot of trick options some of which offer speed boosts when used off jumps. This brings an edge to the game as you are always looking for ramps and jumps to improve your race position, in prior games these were usually more of a hindrance than a boost.

As mentioned, bikes are now available in the game on specific levels and they are not just a useless added extra, they accelerate faster, have tighter cornering abilities and can wheelie for boosts. Obviously the downsides are that in mixed racing the karts can shove them all over the tracks with ease, a necessary balancing trade off. Karts also have two drift boost levels, not one.

Another strong point of the Mario games are the power ups and those familiar with Mario Kart DS will already be aware of many of the new ones, such as Bullet Bills and Golden Dash Mushrooms. Credit has to go to Nintendo for including even more, my favourite would be the Mega Mushroom (doubles character size and weight), and the POW block which makes all the characters spin at the same time when used (unless you are airborne). The thundercloud powerup also deserves special mention, this is a very cool speed increase, however if you don’t bump into someone before the timer runs out then you become the victim of lightning bolt shrinkage. To keep things exciting, the people at the back are awarded the better powerups so a good tactic is to stay in 3 or 4th position until near the end to avoid being the recipient of everyone’s wrath. Of course there are still times when the game seems very unfair, but considering that Mario Kart was never a racing simulation this was always to be expected. It really is a hell of a fun game to play even if you lose.

The tracks are more creative than before and personifies the wonderful ability of the development team behind this game, there is a much higher level of interactivity now with collapsing tracks, water rapids and bridges adding to the variety. I don’t think there is a single dull track in the game and it is a visual feast. Classic Retro tracks are a fantastic addition to the game, with levels such as DS Peach Gardens and the N64’s Jungle Parkway making an appearance – these really will appeal to old school fanatics of the franchise.

All in all, all the game modes excel, however I need to address the battle mode. I don’t think Nintendo have yet to reach the heights of Battle Mode on the SNES and the present rendition unfortunately still pales in comparison. Coin Runners matches and Balloon Battle play quite poorly in multiplayer mode, it is hard to put my finger on exactly why, but I just didn’t enjoy them like I used to. The decision by Nintendo to also populate the huge 12 player arenas with AI bots rather than design smaller 2-4 player specific courses seems more of an afterthought than a legitimate design decision. This is the only game mode I felt was sadly lacking in development time and it certain required more play testing.

Thankfully this is redeemed somewhat by the excellent online multiplayer experience, thanks in part to the excellent lag free servers. The population of these servers is also very high with full 12 player matches available literally in seconds to anyone who appears. The community spirit also seems surprisingly positive and I don’t think I had one unpleasant experience during the several days of play testing. A clever facet of online play is the scoring system, you are awarded points for race position as well as the total number of opponents you beat. This is wonderfully addictive and the sense of achievement of rising up the ranking ladder with a few successful races is second to none. I don’t even think I had as much enjoyment playing PGR3 on the Xbox 360!

The team battle modes also deserve a mention, as the players within these teams who perform the best get awarded extra points, this results in some crazy team battles, with players stealing power ups from team mates as well as many underhanded tactics to get the upper hand. It all results in a maniac and bizarrely fun online experience which I have not felt in many years. I can safely state that this is Nintendo’s finest and most accomplished online game to date and reassures me that they are slowly catching up on the Microsoft online empire.

Mario Kart on the Wii is a resounding success on every level possible. It has a wealth of options to satisfy every gamer and is an extremely strong single player game. The multiplayer side of the game is wonderful with no lag and a huge array of people online to play against, this adds greatly to the longevity and enjoyment of one of the finest racing games to ever hit a console. Last year I was unsure of the future of Nintendo’s Wii, but with titles like this available, the long term success is guaranteed. Miss this game at your peril.

Gameplay
92/100

An instant classic which is fiendishly addictive.

Graphics
89/100

The game is brimming with life from the characters to the track design.

Sound
85/100

Excellent spot effects and brimming with memorable little Nintendo ditties.

Value
92/100
Excellent single player and multiplayer options give months of play time.
Overall
(not an average)
95/100

Absolutely brilliant and one not to miss. 2008 is the year of Nintendo.

About Author

Stuart Davidson

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