Wii at Five: Veneration Meets Innovation

The best online racer on any system this generation?

By Lewis Hampson. Posted 11/23/2011 15:00 Comment on this     ShareThis

On November 19, 2006, the Nintendo Wii was released, simultaneously disrupting the traditional evolutionary flow of the industry and launching a new era of gaming defined by more players and less controls. While many, from pundits to gamers, are still debating the merits of such a development, and while the system hasn’t provided the breadth and depth of hardcore gaming experiences that were made available on every previous Nintendo console, there are still a number of magical, must-play titles that have dotted the machine’s library like jewels in a crown.

To commemorate the Wii’s fifth birthday– its last before Nintendo ushers in its sixth(!) system– Nintendojo looks back on the best of these best releases. Five authors, five games, and five years, all in five days.

Let’s a-go!

Game: Mario Kart Wii
Release date: April 27, 2008

Ah, Mario Kart.

Ever since the first time I set eyes on this venerable series, I knew it was something special. Split-screen multiplayer on the SNES, followed by enhanced and refined four-player matches on the N64 and GameCube, respectively, has provided me with some of the best– and some of the most downright competitive– gaming experiences I have ever had. Each iteration released for each of Nintendo’s consoles offered something new and improved, in one way or another. And Mario Kart Wii, of course, is no exception.

The game actually is not one of my top picks from this generation due simply to its pedigree or heritage. Far from it, in fact. Forget what the esteemed series has done for previous Nintendo systems; the legacy of the Wii’s foray into kart racing stands on its own two feet, maybe even making it the most permanable yet, all thanks to the simple introduction of online gaming. You would, actually, be hard-pressed to find a more addicting, consistent, and well-realized online experience for the motion-driven console, especially one developed by Nintendo themselves. Indeed, by applying themselves to that strange-but-compelling world of online multiplayer, the big N gives us a game that builds off the roaring success of Mario Kart DS, casts off the shackles from the Wii’s offline wrists, and even (hopefully!) provides a glimpse into the future with the Wii U.

Revisiting past courses online was a sight to behold

Mario Kari Wii is a seamless experience the likes of which we always knew Nintendo was capable of producing. Finally, we had leader boards, downloadable ghost data, and a netcode which could support it all with relative ease at our fingertips, expanding the game to brand-new horizons (for Nintendo, at least). There was a period of time when I played the hell out of the title, plowing my way through the scoreboards match after match, each race becoming more meaningful than the last in my quest for those elusive points. The phrase “just one more game” would ultimately result in the rising sun peeking through my window and saying hello. This was a real online game, one of the first and certainly the best on the system. Hell, I’ll just go ahead and say it– it’s easily the best online racer this generation, on any console, period.

Before the game came out, the series had been criticized for not taking any meaningful leap forward in terms of gameplay or playstyles. And while similar accusations could indeed be leveled at MKW, they pale in comparison to the sheer amount of fun and polish the title contains– so much fun and polish, in fact, that it can support extended playthroughs of up to (in my case) hundreds of thousands of hours, both on- and offline. A good for-instance: I had waited so long to see classic SNES tracks make the leap to 3D, and I wasn’t disappointed. Mario Circuit 3 turned out to be one of my favorite courses in the whole game, and even the up-to-date interpretations of the epic N64 Boswer’s Castle and DK Mountain stages were nothing short of spectacular. Mixed in with the plethora of new courses, it made for a heady array of content.

New tracks could more than hold their own against the iconic classics

Another example: Nintendo’s ability to somehow produce a formidable online experience while still maintaining that feeling of being huddled around a small television screen with your buddies. Forget being in the same room; you don’t even have to be in the same country to play against friends on these iconic courses. Yet any doubts Nintendo fanboys may have had about online multiplayer somehow diluting the whole experience, making it sterile or clinical, were completely unfounded. In fact, it’s more fun that it ever was before, and Nintendo ended up establishing and then raising the bar for what we expect from online gaming on their systems in one fell swoop.

If Nintendo can build more experiences of this caliber going forward, they will surely dominate the increasingly important online domain, the same way they have with hardware sales this generation. Mario Kart Wii is a title which (especially nowadays) can be easily overlooked in favor of “core” simulation titles, but neglecting it would do a huge disservice to your gaming lore.

Don’t think so? 28 million other gamers happen to agree with me, and for many of us, this racer has no equal.

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