Mario Kart Wii Review

Introduction

What happens when you create kart-racing game and add Mario to the mix? You get Mario Kart! Mario Kart is one of the few Nintendo IP’s out there that differentiates itself from conventional racing games, sells well on both consoles and handhelds, and is favored by non-Mario fans alike. Though it has gained such fame and praise in the past decade, Mario Kart has been around since the early days of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. From then on, its successors continued as one game per system – and two games on the console and handheld respectively, with the recent installment being that of Mario Kart Wii.

Coming out for the Nintendo Wii back in 2008, it featured motion controls and casual gameplay to appeal to said audience (as with other games at the time such as Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Metroid Prime 3: Corruption). Ironically enough, this was another game that I got shortly after its initial release. I played Mario Kart Wii thrice in my life: once when it came out, another time two years ago, and the most recent being January of this year (oh no, I broke the fifth wall again and this basically defeated the whole purpose of this paragraph…whatever.)

When I played it as a tween, I first found it be an extremely good game (as it was my first and only racing game at the time); when I went back playing it over two years ago, I actually became quite disappointed after playing better racing games such as Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing, Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit (iOS), and Excite Truck. But for now, who knows how I feel – let’s find out by reviewing the game.

Controls

As Mario Kart Wii heavily focuses on the Wii Wheel (actually the Wii Remote in a plastic wheel), I will be explaining the control scheme of the Wiimote. Pressing the 2 button accelerates the vehicle and pressing the 1 button stops and/or reverses it. The B button is used for drifting; the A button is for the rear camera angle; and pressing the corresponding directions on the d-pad lets you use items and/or send them to certain directions. Of course, it’s held horizontally and steering is achieved by tilting the controller left or right. If you prefer, you can use other controllers such as the Wii Remote & Nunchuk combination, Classic Controller (Pro), or even the Nintendo Game-Cube Controller instead.

Though it may seem awkward for Mario Kart to have motion controls, they were actually implemented pretty well. As said before, steering is done by tilting the Wii Remote, and attaching it to the Wii Wheel makes it look and feel more realistic (but makes it harder to drive). Tricks and wheelies are two new gimmicks as well – shaking the Wii Wheel while the racer is in the air makes your racer perform an aerial trick to gain extra boost upon landing. Shaking it while your riding a bike (which I’ll get to later) makes them perform a wheelie for a momentary boost which can surprisingly help you recover from collisions and off-road areas (so long that you don’t crash…).

Despite there being so much motion gimmicks added to the controls, they aren’t that bad as it seems. They don’t require a lot of precision as simple, natural shaking and tilting can easily command your racer to steer, and the responsiveness is excellent thanks to the consistent high frame-rate. As this is a racing game, the controls match the gameplay well; using the other more traditional controllers enhance the precision, sensitivity, and accuracy as nothing can surpass the analogue stick (except for the mouse – #PCMasterRace).

They overcome what the motion controls fail to deliver: pulling off expert techniques such as snaking and fire-hopping with ease; drifting and steering sharper (as the Wiimote’s accelerometer can only do so much without the aid of a gyroscope); and pulling off tricks and wheelies with the press of a button in less than a second as opposed to several. I personally prefer the Wii Wheel as well as the Nunchuk combo, but players who despise motion controls should resort to the other options. The Classic Controller Pro is certainly recommended for the hardcore, but those that played Double Dash should feel right at home with the Game-Cube option.

Gameplay

Just like with Super Smash Bros., Mario Kart Wii is completely different from other racing franchises. Players race in go-karts and the main mechanic is drifting/boosting – without mastering them, you can never win. Along the way, there are items that you can pick up in the form of boxes that randomly summon an item for you to use, which can help you slow other racers down or allow you to catch up. The tracks themselves are usually inspired from past and current Mario games, with many obstacles, short-cuts, boosters, and ramps. As a result, being the fastest doesn’t always get you in first place.

Vehicles in Mario Kart each have their own stats that make them each unique from one another. Go-karts haven’t really changed much besides aesthetics, as well as having improved handling than past installments (will be talked about much later in this review). Bikes are introduced and are superior to go-karts because they have better acceleration and handling; their small size allows them to go in tight spaces; and they are able to do wheelies. However, due to their small size and weight, it’s rather easy to get pushed around by heavier racers and karts – and being more prone to falling in bottomless pits and getting hit by track hazards.

With the introduction of online gameplay in Mario Kart DS, Mario Kart Wii expands upon it by having more game modes and features that any of it predecessors – including the former and Mario Kart: Double Dash!! They’re divided into four different categories: Single Player, Multi-Player, Online, and the Mario Kart Cahnnel. Within each category, there’s Grand Prix, Time Trials, Racing, and Battle for Single Player; VS Racing and VS Battle for Multi-Player; Racing and VS Battle for Online; and Ghosts, Friends, Tournaments, and Leaderboards for the Mario Kart Channel.

Grand Prix lets you race against up to 11 other racers this time around (totaling up to 12 racers instead of the traditional 8) to compete in a set of four different tracks called cups. Time Trials lets you race against…time or a staff ghost to see how fast you can complete a race track. Racing and Battle is exactly what they suggest, except that the rules are customizable and half of the tracks are new and the other are retro (coming from past Mario Kart titles). Battle also has a new mode called Coin Battle which lets you collect and steal as much coins as possible than the opposing team (which is another topic that will be reviewed later) – overall, nothing really changed.

This is where things start to get better or worse, as multi-player is a big disappointment to long time Mario fans. Grand Prix is no longer a multi-player game mode as only the first player can play it now. Battle Mode may have better stage variety and now two sub game modes to choose from, but you’re forced to always play in one of two teams, Red and Blue, instead of playing it with just another computer opponent or with your friends. When the game is being played split-screen, the frame-rate drops from 60 FPS to 30-35 frames per second, which not even Double Dash!! would do as the 60 FPS was always consistent no matter what the game-mode.

Then there’s the online, which according to gaming standards is crap but is actually considered to be the best on the Nintendo Wii. Now, since the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection service was long discontinued back in May of 2014 (for both the Nintendo DS and Wii), I can’t really say much seeing that I mostly used the online for the Mario Kart Channel. But I have to admit, that surprisingly, there is absolutely no lag or slowdowns during the matches (though disconnections can occur); the 60 FPS is consistent and never drops to 30 despite playing with 11 other opponents; and the loading times are extremely fast. There is no online communication whatsoever, but at least it’s exactly like the offline counterparts.

Mario Kart Channel ironically is where most of the online is prevalent and where you will get the most out of it. You can either access the channel in-game or download it to the Wii Menu (though accessing certain features requires the disc inserted into the console). Friends allows you to view your friends’ profiles, add new ones, and invite them to online matches or lobby rooms; Ghosts allows you to download, upload, and race against online ghosts (created by other players) and staff ghosts at your skill level; Ranking is basically a leader-board for Time Trials and tournaments; and Tournament is this game’s mission mode (where a new mission is held monthly).

Returning from Mario Kart: Double Dash!! is a large character roster, this time with 26 to choose from. You start off with 12: Mario, Luigi, Yoshi, Peach, Baby Mario, Baby Peach, Toad, Koopa Troopa, Wario, WaLuigi, Donkey Kong, and Bowser. Eventually, you unlock the remaining 14: Daisy, Birdo, Diddy Kong, Bowser JR, Baby Luigi, Baby Daisy, Toadette, Dry Bones, Funky Kong, Dry Bowser, King Boo, Rosalina, Mii (Outfit A), and Mii (Outfit B). Most of them you can unlock just by completing cups or Time Trials, but some are harder to do, such as getting a star rank for all retro cups in hard difficulty or beating all staff ghosts and unlocking expert staff ghosts.

To be honest, the roster isn’t that significant or special. Many of the characters are either clones or different incarnations of the same people (although fans don’t notice and/or don’t mind). Even though critics and the game itself state that vehicles determine the stats and not the racers, each character still does as the official website says otherwise. Some characters like Rosalina, Funky Kong, Dry Bowser, King Boo, Daisy, Yoshi, Bowser JR, Mario, Baby Luigi, Baby Daisy, Toadette, and Dry Bones are great to use; but others especially Donkey Kong, Bowser, WaLuigi, Peach, and Toad should be avoided.

From this point on, I’ll be mostly ranting about this game because of what I’m reviewing. The tracks are extremely mediocre – most of them are boring, uninspiring, lacking of track gimmicks, and have no sense or speed nor challenge. If it weren’t for the abundant amount of racers, I wouldn’t even choose those tracks. Like, they all feel like they’re obstacle courses from a driving school test, except with Mario-themed objects, textures, and environments to make it more Marioesque.

Don’t get me wrong as some of them are actually pretty amazing and were even nominated as retro tracks in Mario Kart 7 and Mario Kart 8; specifically, Mushroom Gorge, Coconut Mall, Koopa Cape, and Maple Treeway for the 3DS installment, and Grumble Volcano for the current Mario Kart. But most of them are just poorly designed as it’s not only the design process that’s flawed, but also the layout and aesthetics. Almost all of the new tracks have simple, generic layouts that consist of linear pathways and loose turns, and half of these inferior tracks are ugly, dull, and lacking of bright colors and cheery atmosphere (whereas the better tracks are the opposite.)

These tracks are categorized into eight cups: half of them new and the latter are retro, with a total of 32 courses. They consist of Mushroom, Flower, Star, and Special Cup for the newer ones, and Shell, Banana, Leaf, and Lightning Cup for the older tracks. Bikes change things up a bit as 50 CC (easy difficulty) is kart-exclusive while 100 CC (medium difficulty) is bike-exclusive. As I kept mentioning multiple times, bikes are one of the latest additions alongside motion controls, online gameplay, tricks/wheelies, and multiple controller options.

The only downside is that you can’t super-drift and its light weight works against you with heavier vehicles/racers. Besides that, bikes are superior to karts in every other way…until in Mario Kart 8 where they became nerfed since they were way too OP (I broke the fifth wall again – at this point, I don’t think anybody gives a shit so I’ll stop making these kind of jokes in the future to stop boring readers). With karts though, they didn’t really change that much except that now there are no individual karts for each character. Just like in the previous console title, characters are divided into weight class again. Except this time, they’re all restricted to their own weight unlike before where you could get two characters of two different weight classes to ride one kart. Any vehicle customization from Mario Kart DS and Double Dash!! is gone too.

Though vehicles lack customization, many vehicles from different weight classes share the same stats (not just the default karts and bikes), so there are even clones when it comes to the vehicles too. Designs for the karts are much better and more diverse than past kart designs, and I heard drifting has been improved exponentially, as you no longer have to constantly tilt the control stick like it’s tug-a-war (simply drifting in one direction without steering is enough). Similar to Mario Kart DS, the items have been randomized to make racing less predictable and requiring more luck than ever to win. Overpowered items such as the Blue/Spiny Shell, Starman, Red Shell, and Lightning are now even more powerful than before, making races more unfair from items alone. Except in Mario Kart Wii, imagine that but going Super Saiyan.

What makes matters worse is that only racers in the last few positions get the more aggressive items, while racers within the top three get weaker items (and middle racers getting neutral items). I know I’m whining too much, but the items are so broken due to the RNG – Random Number Generator. Only dumb luck or being a pro gamer can help you overcome this problem. It only takes one bad hit for you to lose your current position, fall way behind, get bombarded with even more items until you’re in dead last.

Anyways, to prevent me from ranting any further, I’ll stop and simply review what the items are. Returning from past titles are Bananas, Green Shells, Red Shells, Bob-Omb, Blue/Spiny Shell, Fake Item Box, Mushrooms, Blooper, Lightning, and the Star-Man. New to the series is the Golden Mushroom granting the racer infinite boosts for a limited time; Bullet Bill that transforms into said enemy to automatically catch up to other racers (and become temporarily invincible to everything … even the Star-Man and the next item); Mega Mushroom which increases your size to make you a giant to become faster and squish everything in your way; Lightning Cloud which allows you to get faster to pass the cloud to others (or risk being electrocuted yourself); and the POW Block that causes an earth-quake to spin racers and lose their items.

Finally, last but certainly not least, Mario Kart Wii is so frustrating to beat when playing Grand Prix, Racing, and Multi-Player because of the god-awful items and the rubber-band AI (and partially the collision detection). This game is so luck based that certain game modes will always be more challenging than others, no matter what the speed, difficulty, or item aggression level is set to. Artificial intelligence is not only stupid but also what’s called “rubber-band.” The racers do not increase in intelligence when the difficulty is higher; in fact, they only get better at using and countering items. Even when I was a kid, I managed to constantly trick them to fall for my traps and mind games!

Rubber-banding in this case means racers being able to teleport behind you when you get to first with an OP item that you use (no matter how far it takes you), and then the computer opponents somehow being able to always be equipped with the most OP of overpowered items just to mess with you and nobody else. It’s only now and the DS version that it became so tedious and bullshit. There’s also the bad collision detection that causes you to slow down to a halt after crashing into pretty much anything, though ironically, it does help at times.

Graphics

Let me just cut this short, the graphics in this game are freaking terrible! If it weren’t for the higher screen resolution and improved lighting effects, this game would look just as bad as Mario Kart: Double Dash!! Now, I’m not saying that game’s graphics are bad, just that Mario Kart Wii, a game for the Nintendo Wii, looks just as bad as a game for the Nintendo Game-Cube (so I’m stating that a game in 480p looks as bad as a game in 128-bit – pathetic). And not even a good one – even Twilight Princess looks better; and that was supposed to be a Game-Cube exclusive before becoming a Wii port as a launch title! I think the CG illustrations in the trailers and ads managed to trick people about the graphics.

As I just said a little while ago, the game’s screen resolution is at 480p standard definition. That may seem impressive, but Double Dash!! was at the same resolution (when upscaled to progressive scan of course). It also runs at 60 FPS, but multi-player can decrease it to 30 FPS, whereas Double Dash!!  is always consistent, despite being on an older system with weaker hardware. Textures in Mario Kart Wii can range from average to mediocore; tracks, walls, buildings, and background objects look high-rez due to their size and simplicity, but characters, vehicles, and items look extremely blurry, rough, and fake.

Probably one of the worst offenders of this game are the models. Characters, vehicles, and items look like utter shit (mind the profanity). Not only are their respective textures bad, but the models are too – they’re extremely jaggy, pixelated, blurry, blocky, rough, inaccurate, you name it. They look very fake and look straight from a game on the Nintendo 64, and because of the low resolution, it looks almost just as bad as a game for the Super Nintendo (32-bit). These are not even the least accurate and don’t even come close to any CG illustration or artwork of this game (which is false advertising) or any Mario game period…a big shame since the Wii got graphically advanced games before this game such as Super Mario Galaxy and Super Smash Bros. Brawl.

Lighting effects are probably the only good part about the graphics. The high brightness/saturation/contrast make the game look bright, cartoony, and colorful. This makes Mario Kart Wii slightly better than the dark and dull graphics of Double Dash!! (I’m just being honest); it also makes the graphics better in certain day/weather conditions. Shadows are at least accurate and realistic, and as said before, bloom effects are heavily used to enhance or “upscale” the graphics (as well as background blurs) to fool many – including myself – to assuming this game has good graphics.

Music

Before I end it off the review with a verdict, allow me to talk about another crucial flaw: music. The soundtrack is boring and generic, lacking in diversity, and extremely and obviously repetitive. Similar to Brawl, many of the track themes are just different variations of the main theme like Luigi, Mario, and Daisy Circuit, except imagine that but even worse. The lack of genres is so high that the term ‘genres’ does not exist, if it were not for the retro tracks. Even tracks with a different game sometimes are/have variations of other tracks.

Verdict

Though Mario Kart Wii has its flaws, it’s still jam packed with high replay value. Literally every game mode has replayability, especially online and multi-player. Plus, with the huge amount of content and rules to choose from, there are many combinations to try out. Though, some game modes become extremely boring once all content is unlocked for those particular game modes. Nonetheless, Mario Kart Wii has replayability that rivals almost that of Brawl.

There’s not much I like about this game, but I actually like the motion controls since it works like you would expect it to (but hate it at the same time for making it much harder to perform sharp turns and super drifts), and it’s more than just steering and pointing as it involves tricks and wheelies as well. Bikes are also a great addition that I love – it even got rebooted and retconned in Mario Kart 8. I also ironically enjoy the items because they’re just…fun and I also get a Mario vibe off of this game like any Mario game.

I extremely hate the luck-based/aggressive items and AI that this game brings to the franchise. I understand that it’s been a staple of the series, but it’s only this game and the DS installment that it’s been way too overpowered. I also felt Nintendo didn’t try hard enough with this game – no offense, but it feels so empty in quality and content and not finished (that a lot of potential to be wasted).

Mario Kart is overall an okay kart racing game that has both benefits and flaws to balance itself out of it, as well as being ideal for casual and core gamers alike. Even though it has mediocre graphics, music, and content, the controls and gameplay make up for it. That’s not to say it’s bad nor good, as both forces seem to be repelling each other like a strong magnet. What I can claim certain is that Mario Kart Wii is one of the worst games in the franchise. No offense, but actually good as it taught Nintendo to prevent them from repeating history as Mario Kart 7 rebooted the franchise while Mario Kart 8 retconned it…I’ll give it a 7.3 out of 10.

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