Any game with a heritage as revered as Mario Kart will have some branding a sequel ‘not as good as the original’ and others who will adore it no matter what.
Despite this no-win situation, Mario Kart Wii does its best to appeal to both groups by fusing the new with familiar gameplay, characters and courses from its SNES, N64, GBA and GameCube incarnations.
Four wheels good, two wheels good too
One of the most obvious additions to Mario Kart Wii is in the vehicles department, and more specifically the addition of motorbikes to the garage.
As you’d expect, they handle differently to the karts, buggies and cars also on offer, and even between types of bike (road and off-road). The nimble two-wheelers excel in the tight and twisty courses, often leaving karts eating banana skin.
Speed boosts have always played a large part in the Mario Kart franchise, but never so large as in this incarnation.
Not only can you achieve a boost from the plentiful pads and the occasional mushroom, but also through powersliding, jumping off the lip of a halfpipe and, with a deft flick of the control, by performing or stunts off jumps and wheelies on bikes.
Power-ups also help to level up the competition and, while there’s an element of luck about when get a banana skin, you’ll soon find their distribution isn’t completely random.
Particularly in the higher competition classes, time in pole position is often short-lived, as the ‘good’ power-ups dry up and you are swiftly pummelled into near last place by a wave of blue shells.
Baby, you can drive my kart
The Wii wheel is included with the game, and after a little practice you’ll find it works surprisingly well. Sure, it adds a degree of difficulty not present when using the nunchuk, but where’s the fun in that?
While you can race as an individual, the versus events – Battle Mode and Coin Runner – can only be played as teams. No more high-tension head-to-heads – you rely on your up to five team-mates to help you bring home the win.
This is especially frustrating when playing splitscreen with a friend, as the chances are you may only bump into your sofa-dwelling opponent once or twice in the course of a match.
Online play is light-hearted and enjoyable, and tailored with the usual Wii family friendly eye, to be a very non-threatening experience. Races are put together swiftly, with players voting for their track of choice, and a random selection made from that.
The Mario Kart Wii channel is also a great addition, with players able to compare best times with friends and others from across the world. Even better than that is the option to download ghosts of other players’ best laps to race against.
Overall, it’s a credit to the Mario Kart back-catalogue and a game that no self-respecting Wii owner should be without.