Lovers of red shells, gather 'round. Masters of the mushroom, take your places. Drunken partygoers looking for something more exciting than yet another Friday night of cow tipping, put down your car keys and pick up a controller. It's go time.
Mario Kart Wii has finally arrived. And for those of us whose sole purpose in shelling out a large sum of money to purchase Nintendo's latest console was in anticipation of this game, it has been a long wait, (though, to be fair, Mario Galaxy helped the time pass). But does it measure up? Was it worth the longsuffering? That's what we're here to find out.
The commercials have talked a good talk. If we are to believe the hype, no self-respecting gamer should be without this title. But for the record, referring to "Mario Kart Wii" as "Mario Kart 'wee!'" is an insult to my intelligence, and it's about as clever as spelling everything Kart related with a K.
Most Karters are familiar with the basic setup of this racing game, but for those less versed the major elements are vehicles, controls, drivers, and tracks, all with the fun element of item use. Let's begin with the karts.
At first glance, the cars are similar in this installment to its predecessors. There are several different styles and looks, and there are qualities displayed to the left to give the player an idea of how the kart will maneuver on a course. It's a helpful way to personalize your driving experience. However, we've already arrived at our first major Mario Kart alteration: you can now choose from motorcycles, too. But don't get too thrilled, bikes aren't allowed on the lowest level of Grand Prix racing (50cc) until you commit to some unlocking. And then, once you've trained with and gotten used to a certain kart for the easy races, you'll be forced to ditch it for two wheels in the next level of difficulty (100cc), since only motorcycles are initially allowed in those races. Yay! Being punished for building skills and getting used to the game is fun.
Automatic Driving (No Flame or Mini-Turbo)
An immediately noticeable change in this episode of Mario Kart is the player's option to choose manual or automatic driving. The terms "manual" and "automatic" are seriously misleading here, as they have nothing to do with the transmission or shifting gears. Rather this is a setting pertaining to drifting. Drifting was first provided to Karters in Mario Kart 64, but mastering it required some practice. When going around turns, holding the jump button while turning in and out would trigger different colored smoke to pour from the tires and give a burst of speed when the jump button was released. Drift racing has become more and more popular and is basically the practice of making the back end of the vehicle slide around a turn. With the unveiling of the GameCube version, it seemed the programmers wanted to make drifting more accessible to every player, as it was significantly more intuitive in its physics.
Manual Driving (Awesome Blue Flame)
As for the current game, drifting has taken a new application. There is little control in pushing the drift; it seems to respond to the amount of turning the player has done. In earlier manifestations one could rock the analog stick back and forth to bring up the level of boost. This is not possible in Mario Kart Wii, causing a bit of change in driving technique for those who have already established theirs on any or all of the five to seven former Kart titles. However, should anyone desire to not bother with the issue of drift at all, he or she can simply choose "automatic" in the setup stage. Those players will miss out on the slight boost drifting gives to those willing to adapt to its quirkiness. We should also note that on a motorcycle the drift only goes to one level and results in a smaller speed boost than the two levels of what the game calls "mini-turbo" reserved for the karts.
The types of choices a player has in choosing a kart or bike determines the style of the driving. Categories are Speed, Weight, Acceleration, Handling, Drift, Off-Road, and Mini-Turbo. Most of these are self-explanatory. Handling and Drift will determine with how much ease (or how sharply) the kart or bike turns, Drift indicates how hard the car slides while drifting, Off-Road shows how well it will perform outside of the track, and Mini-Turbo details how substantial the speed boost from manual drifting will be. The driver's size also has some impact on the experience, as heavier characters and their large karts have lower accelerations and higher top speeds than the small ones.
Unfortunately, there seems to be no high accelerating, high-speed, excellent off-road, high-mini-turbo and low drift (my personal preference) karts or bikes, so adjusting to the driving experience can take a considerable amount of time. Also, some of the fun of the motorcycles and karts will require patience, as unlocking them all might take a little time. Hey, if it were easy, what fun would it be?