Mario Kart Wii

by Laura Wilson on May 30, 2008 11:00 AM EST

(K)items and (K)multiplayer

Some people determine the caliber of a Mario Kart title by how seamless the item use is. With Mario Kart Wii, one can expect more of the same in regards to weapons of racing, with a few exceptions. Red, green, and blue shells have the same function, but when you get a three pack, they can circle around the base of the kart (a nice return to the older Kart design; the Double Dash triple shell tossing was an annoying aberration) and even be thrown backwards. I found it disheartening that the massive banana peel and Bowser shell from the GameCube Kart have been removed, but I'm also still reeling from the loss of Super Mario Kart's feather. Some seemingly new items are actually carried over from certain older episodes, such as the squid ink from Mario Kart DS (this squirts black goop that blocks the view of all players in front of you temporarily -- not so difficult for humans but a real interference for computer AI for some reason). The Pow-Block is quite possibly the most infuriating new item, it's tricky to find the timing to wave the remote like a madman and avoid getting wiped out. Why couldn't they leave that out and favor the ghost instead?

Stupid squid ink

The battle mode of Mario Kart Wii comes up a bit short compared to predecessors. There are two options, balloon battle and coin collecting, but that's where the choices end. If you want to play battle mode with only two people, too bad. Want to play with four? Too bad! Your only option is to be on one of two teams and play with twelve players; other spots are filled with computer or online competitors. Also, the coin-collection battle is one of the more laborious elements of the game. The outcome is almost entirely random and based only on how good the computer AI on your team happens to decide to be for any given match.

Along the same lines, if for some reason you wanted to sign up for a whole Grand Prix cup with another in-house player, you'll have to pull out an old manifestation because this one doesn't offer such antics. Instead, you have to pick each course from whichever cup one at a time until four races are finished, then the total tells you who the winner is… including computer players rounding things off to a crowded twelve.

Wiping out with the pow block

Likely the most anticipated element of the new Kart is the online play. The ability to race friends and strangers around the world is a continuation of the Mario Kart DS concept, but it's a little cleaner now. Logging on and getting into a match only takes a few minutes (most of the time) and gives you a window into the rest of the world's racing abilities and how they stack up against yours. You can even enjoy battle mode, though I use the word "enjoy" facetiously. Perhaps I simply haven't been on the right mind-altering substance for that setting to be enjoyable thus far. Online tournaments have already started, humbling me with my apparently pathetic skills. I'm not sure what winners receive, but the bragging rights could be epic.

There is some flexibility for online play to allow for play with only two (or any number) of players when playing in rooms, but this means for those who really want one on one racing you need two Wii systems and two televisions. Gamers can join their friends who are already playing in normal online matches either worldwide or in their region. The pitfall here is that you can't tell if your friends are online while you are playing -- in fact you can't know if they've joined you unless you pay attention to the names of the racers every round.

Additionally, communicating is incredibly clunky and not intuitive when trying to play with friends. There are a couple dozen pages of prewritten messages (you can't type your own messages as we must think of the children), and it was only by accident that we discovered that you need to click on your friend's Miis in order to actually do something like race.

Supposedly when playing online Nintendo will match people up based on skill level, but we see a huge spread of points in races leading to some frustrating results. We often end up in races with many players who have half the points we do. Winning easily garners us single digit points per race while slipping up or getting hammered with items and losing will set us back hundreds.

I like that the banana peel can be held behind the player again as insurance against red shells. However, the claw grip required to do this is sometimes uncomfortable.

The last complaint is a large one - race type and course selection is unnecessarily and ridiculously limited for no reason. In online matches we can select random courses but not in local multiplayer races. In online matches we cannot actually select the race type (engine type 50cc, 100cc, 150cc, or mirrored races). As if this weren't bad enough, the game doesn't just remove the option but changes type randomly with no way for the gamer to choose.

While we see a trend of Nintendo making sacrifices that favor the casual gamer over the traditional long time gamer, some of these issues make the game less fun for everyone. It can be difficult for some new gamers who want to play online to race with 150cc karts or in mirrored races. I know at a minimum I'd love to see the ability to exclude mirrored courses as some beginners may really dislike randomly ending up playing different types of races.

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  • Aloonatic - Saturday, August 9, 2008 - link

    The problem that Nintendo have always had with Mario Kart is that they got it right first time. Like that bolognaise you make when you realise you have no bought in sauce, which ends up being the best you have ever tasted you know that it is doomed never to be repeated.

    On the SNES it was mostly about the racing, the control of your kart at high speeds, with the occasional item that may help you out, may not.

    Now, it seems that the the racing has been completely replaced by random chance and all at a snail's pace, even in the 150cc cups.

    You can be finishing 1st, 1st, 1st, then 12th???? in a cup. Why? because of constant attacks that are so unlikely and random as to be frankly mind boggling.

    The blue shell, seriously, what's the point?

    The wii wheel? OK, until you get an itch and then you are buggered, there's no chance of a quick scratch without you finding your self well off the track.

    Such a great disappointment.

    I guess if I was 12 again I might have the time an inclination to take on this game but I really can't be bothered. What's the point? Your hard work will just be undone by a series of unlikely events.
  • Athlex - Monday, June 2, 2008 - link

    While I agree that the raincloud is a an iffy item, it's worth mentioning that while you have the raincloud, your kart accelerates faster and can drive off-road better which makes for a [slightly] easier handoff.
  • mkfan - Monday, June 2, 2008 - link

    The update to the "review" was a little weak. I get that you didn't figure out where the options were, but it's right there in the manual. Granted, the first time I opened the manual was to make sure it was in there, but the fact remains that if you're writing a review for a reputable site, you should maybe RTFM before slamming your subject for not having something that it does. Also, if you're going to do updates, it might help to mention the update somewhere near the information that's updated. Quite frankly, I expected a little more professionalism out of a review from AnandTech.
  • MrBlastman - Monday, June 2, 2008 - link

    This is very bad news for us Mario Kart purists who enjoyed the ability to hop around at our leisure.

    To not include this is rediculous. I don't know if I'll be buying this version after all. I thought Nintendo learned from the sorry excuse of the gamecube version and the inability to jump.

    You could jump in the original, you could jump in the N64 version. You couldn't jump in the GC version and it failed. Weather it is important to do or not, it detracts from the fun such as shell evasion etc.

    I don't want to have to find a ramp to jump. I want to hop around all day like an idiot if I want to. :)
  • DerekWilson - Tuesday, June 3, 2008 - link

    as noted by one of the other posters, you can jump.

    it's labeled in the article as well -- it's the drift button. drift, as with other mario kart games, is started via a jump.

    also, the ability to jump is labeled in the images in the article as well ... only the author called it "hop" instead of "jump" ...
  • jordanclock - Monday, June 2, 2008 - link

    You can jump. Just quickly raise the controller a bit. And it's probably a shoulder button for the Classic and GC controllers.

    And I believe you meant "whether" instead of "weather."
  • Scalarscience - Monday, June 2, 2008 - link

    As the above poster stated, you can jump with the wheel, but I found that after the initial fun from the novelty factor of the wheel wore off, the nunchuck+wii controller was the best way to drive, at least for me. When you do that the 'Z' button replaces the 'B' button as your item usage button, the 'B' button becomes jump/slide (for the boost) and steering with the analog stick on the nunchuck is FAR easier than the wheel's method, plus doing tricks off of a ramp and pulling wheelies with the bikes is a lot more reliable when you don't have to use the motion sensing to steer.

    It took me a day or two of playing in first player mode to really get all of that sorted out. My wife (I really bought the game because she loves it) wanted to just go online most of the time so it took a bit longer to get the details of gameplay down than it would have if I had gamed solely on my own time. Now that I've got a mode of playing I enjoy the game is definately as fun as the n64 and SuperNES version (my 2 favorites).

    The shells and being repeatedly bombarded by items definately are annoying, I agree, but the game is fun nonetheless. Since the wii downloaded an update for it immediately upon inserting the disc the first time, I do wonder if we'll be getting more updates (not to mention that it would be nice to see additional downloadable content, more tracks!)
  • 9nails - Sunday, June 1, 2008 - link

    One of the downsides to the game, at least for me, is that there isn't an option to restart the race. (Keep all current settings and just go back to the race beginning.) Sometimes we just want to start over, but have to select tracks, characters, and karts all over again.

    In Grand Prix mode, it becomes quite frustrating to try and unlock all the characters and karts with these power-up items mercilessly destroying you. I've been blown-up by Blue (Winged) Shells seconds before the finish line with a near perfect 4-track record too many times now. Sometimes I've been blown-up by Blue Shells, landed in my own Banana's that were flung off of me by the explosion, and then finally spun off the track - going from 1st to last (12th) in one comedic chain-of-events-attack! It takes me at least 1 full lap to get back to 1st place again. These power-up items are really annoying me! I wish there was a mode to turn them off in Grand Prix or at least a defensible action to reverse the effects of all items. I know that a well timed jump can prevent the "Pow" attack or a well placed Banana can prevent Red and Green Shells from hitting me, so some counter-attack is present. But other special attacks offer no means of prevention - which is especially true if you're not carrying an item to counter-effect the attack.

    There also is some "return to track" issues if you go off course. Sometimes I'm placed WELL behind the position where I left the track. Just one bump knocking you off track can cost you 8+ positions before your back up to speed. That's devastating if you're trying to unlock all the items and this happens on the last race. Sometimes the computer returns me a few feet in front of a gap and I have little choice but it fall into the gap as I didn't have enough speed to jump over and clear the gap.
  • jordanclock - Monday, June 2, 2008 - link

    You make a good point of just how ruthless this game can be. I'm bothered that after all these years, all Nintendo can do to make the computer "competitive" is to rubber band them to the extreme. I've been ahead by very large margins before only to have three or four computer players come shooting up at once to overtake me. It's simply ridiculous that they can't simply give the AI the ability to drive properly instead of, essentially, cheat.

    There is almost no margin of error in this game when competing against the AI. And then there are the very common blue shells, to which there are no defense.
  • Rob94hawk - Saturday, May 31, 2008 - link

    My son found a way for me and him to be the same player. That's when you see a graphical glitch. For example when you select Toad and player 1 puts him on a bike and player 2 puts him in a kart toad has his head rammed into the bike. And then sometimes he will have no vehicle at all and is just there alone levitating. Funny stuff.

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