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Mario Kart has always been a tough game to review. Ask any number of Nintendo fanatics what their favourite shell-throwing racer in the series is and youíll receive a multitude of varied answers. Indeed, all five previous versions of Mario Kart (six, if you include the arcade edition) has its own dedicated fan base. This is because Mario Kart is a franchise built on memories. We can all recall that fist-clenching moment when we defeated our best mate at the finish line with a well-timed green shell. But this memory doesnít necessarily come from the same game. Your favourite Mario Kart isnít the one with the best tracks or the best controls, it is the one you and your mates had the most fun with, and that could be any of them. Which is a good thing if youíre Mario Kart Wii, because if it were down to track design, graphics, physics and control, this game might struggle-- a bit.
Visually, Mario Kart Wii looks like it came out of the back end of a Chain Chomp. In split-screen multiplayer, it makes Double Dash look hi-res, thanks to its blurred visuals and jaggies. Itís not a lot better in single player either, with the occasional slow down, and itís not a patch on the stunning Super Mario Galaxy.
But it does have its redeeming features. Thereís a lot happening at the same time for one, with up to 12 racers complete with changing scenery, and itís also nice to see your Miis spectating as you race around. But lets just say this: itís a good thing that the graphics have no bearing on how fun it all is.
The audio in Mario Kart Wii is a somewhat bittersweet affair. Some of the tunes are certainly catchy, some are funny, and the little comments as you overtake your opponent are still present. So all-in-all the audio is a solid affair.
Yet much like the visuals, weíve all been spoilt by the splendour of Super Mario Galaxy. We can all remember the sweeping orchestral sounds that game contained, and Mario Kart Wii fails to come close.
The Mario Kart of old is famed for its poor single player experience. It was frustratingly unfair on 150 CC, with faster opponents and endless blue shells. It also was dull and lifeless on 50 CC. In fact, the only reason to ever bother with the single player was to unlock all the characters and tracks in multiplayer. In Mario Kart Wii, nothing has changed.
There's a lot more going on this time around. Thereís the largely pointless trick system for one, which invites gamers to gain an extra, inconsequential boost after jumps by flicking the Wii remote. Then thereís a confusing array of track obstacles, from mud pits and deep snow to cows and bouncing mushrooms. Finally, the bikes, which, wheelies aside, offer little new. Yet one of the biggest changes is the widened tracks, which are made to fit 12 characters and make up from the slightly clumsy Wii Wheel. This may be ideal for novice gamers, but the tracks are now easier to navigate, and offer nothing to the veteran Mario Kart fan. This is all the more disappointing when you consider that Nintendoís last racer Excite Truck was frigginí ace.
Despite the criticism, Nintendo has presented us with an array of control methods. Although the Wii Wheel (and indeed the Wii Remote on its side) lacks precision, it is still a lot of fun to use, moreso than the other methods. Yet those who use the GameCube controller, Classic Controller or Wii Remote/Nunchuck combo will enjoy far more control. Which is of course very important when you consider that the slipstream (or drafting) is back (Wahoo!), and thereís a tonne of new obstacles and pitfalls to avoid on the tracks.
Indeed, it may not be fun all the time, but with a variety of karts and bikes, 16 re-mixed classic tracks (along with 16 all-new races), the ability to play as your Mii and five different control systems, Mario Kart Wii does offer a lot more than its predecessors.
With a wavering single player, disappointing visuals and unspectacular sound, it may be looking bleak for Nintendoís newest racer. Yet thankfully, courtesy of a superb online mode and more options than ever before, Mario Kart Wiiís multiplayer is absolutely cracking.
The massive amount of track oddities may be an annoyance in single player, but with friends it all adds to the sense of anarchy. The new tracks are hugely enjoyable with four players, with the older tracks in place to give a familiar sense to proceedings. There are also more characters to choose from, a better selection of vehicles, and some new weapons.
The weapons include the earthquake-causing Pow blocks, an electric cloud that will attack if not passed to another racer, and the violent Bullet Bill, successor to Double Dash's Chain Chomp. All of these are great, and nicely complement the familiar bananas, trick boxes and red, green and blue shells.
But it isnít the 4-player multiplayer that drags Mario Kart Wii out of the dirt like a well-placed Lakitu, for the gameís online mode is by far Nintendoís biggest triumph yet. Mario Kart Wiiís online mode is up there with the best on any format. It boasts an approachable lobby system, complete with a map of the world, and you even have your own license which displays your online abilities alongside your Mii.
The decision to include a massive 12 players easily makes up for the fact your mates arenít in the room with you. Itís brilliantly hectic and at times laugh-out-loud funny. And thereís even the chance to work in teams in the Battle mode, which is excellent online (four-player Battle mode in teams is best avoided).
The friend codes are back, of course, but we should all be used to them by now. And they're easily forgiven when you take into account Nintendoís Mario Kart Channel. The channel is available on the Mario Kart Wii disc and can be downloaded to your Wii menu. It is the best game-specific Wii channel out there and sets a great precedent for future games. You can download or upload Ghost Data from the channel, as well as view if friends are racing online, take a look at the worldwide rankings and participate in Nintendo challenges. It is chock-full of features and Nintendo promises to update it further in the future.
Mario Kart Wii is a hard game to review. It may disappoint in many technical areas, and even its untouchable multiplayer occasionally slips on a banana. But, if youíve already scrolled down to the score, then youíll know my complaints have been squashed by a truly stunning online mode. The fact that Nintendo created it shows what they can do if they really want to. Itís as gripping as Halo 3 or Call of Duty 4 can be, only far more accessible to new gamers. Exactly what the Wii was built for.
Mario Kart Wii has many faults. But when itís good, itís very, very good, and as long as you have Wi-Fi, it will keep you occupied for many months to come. Now go create some memories.
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