Product Type: Nintendo Wii games
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Mario Kart (Wii)
Member Name: Puggers
Mario Kart (Wii)
Advantages: Perfect controls with the wheel, a nice blend of old and new, great fun with friends.
Disadvantages: A little too much luck involved at times.
If the Wii was born for one game, surely this is it.
Unless I'm missing some notable hiccups, the Mario series seems to be one of the few franchises - the Zelda games as well, maybe - that have been consistently impressive. In their evolution from NES to next-gen consoles, the games have adapted to the growing technology, expanding to fit every new innovation, and in this latest incarnation of the racing spin-off, Nintendo have well and truly hit perfect.
There's a lot to say about how good the game itself is - and I'll come to that - but the biggest and greatest development here is the use of the Wii wheel, a gimmick that transforms the gameplay.
You could play without the wheel - tilting the Wii remote to steer - but so essential is the wheel add-on that the game comes bundled with it. It's actually nothing complicated; just a plastic shell into which the remote slots, but it makes such a difference, and is incomparable to old-school versions of Mario Kart that utilised the joypad.
The sensitivity is spot-on; you feel like you've got full control of your character's vehicle, but you don't have to worry about sending yourself flying accidentally into a pit every time you turn. It feels pretty realistic, and it's entirely immersive. With the remote snapped into the middle of the wheel, all the other controls are carried out with the buttons; you accelerate and break with 1 and 2, and use power-ups with Z. Practically, this works perfectly, and you're never performing finger-contortions to bend your racer to your will.
Game-wise, Mario Kart Wii follows a number of successful franchise reboots in being both a nostalgic tribute to its origins and a thoroughly modern game in its own right. The format of the game - with single and multi-player races, time trials and the like - is the same as previous editions, while the tracks featured in the game are largely a selection of the best circuits from the game's history (NES, SNES, Gamecube, Gameboy and N64 versions are all represented), with a handful of new tracks.
The older circuits are well reproduced and updated, and while some of the original ones are a little dull, there are some great settings brought back too - the ice-and-penguins perils of the N64 game amongst them. The more recent tracks are gorgeously-rendered, and enormously fun and quirky to play - Grumble Volcano, Maple Treeway and Koopa Cape all look great and reward gamers who make the effort to get to grips with the nooks and crannies of the track.
All the usual characters are represented, with the full cast list unlockable once certain goals have been reached (winning cups, breaking records and whatnot). There isn't a world of difference between one heavy character and another, but the variety of characters and vehicle types will keep you going a fair while. There is substantial longevity in the game - these unlockables aren't all easy to get, and some are a real challenge for competent players. With sixteen tracks to master in a variety of modes, the single-player campaign alone has enough for hours and hours of play.
Naturally, though, this type of game is at its best in multiplayer; what's fun when you're taking on the computer becomes ten times as entertaining when you're up against real people, either in person or online. The online mode enables you to race against gamers from across the world, and is a great feature, but for me, Mario Kart's at its best when played with a group of friends around one TV.
If there's a slight, slight weakness to the game, it's in the power-up system. This is undeniably fun, and makes for some great duels on the track, but it's possibly a bit too influential; you can be a brilliant player, but if you're at the front of the pack, you'll get pounded with all sorts of weapons while only picking up bananas yourself. In turn, those at the pack will get absurdly beneficial power-ups which will have them jump nearly half the course in one go. It's fun, sure - but it means there's perhaps not the perfect balance between skill and luck in the racing. On the upside, this means games with friends are more competitive, even if some players are better than others, so this imbalance isn't all bad.
Overall, you won't play a better game of this genre. It looks great, it's enormously intuitive and fun to pick up and play, and yet there's so much depth to it all that you're more than squeeze your money's worth out. Some games arguably define a console - and this belongs firmly in that category. If you've got a Wii, you really should have this.
Summary: The Wii was born for this.
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