13 June 2008

Video Game Response: "Mario Kart Wii"

Mario Kart Wii with Wii Wheel 
Date of Release: 27 April 2008
List Price: $44.99

Simply put, Mario Kart Wii is the most addictive game not named Tetris.  Like previous installments in the series, there are a handful of racing options, from Grand Prix to Time Trials, by yourself or with friends, etc.  This time, though, they've added a Wi-Fi experience, allowing gamers to race folks from around the globe.  This is especially nice, because the most infuriating part about the game is the brutality of the CPU characters and their often ridiculously unfair employment of the over-powered items.

A note on that last point: It is not uncommon for three CPU characters to blitz you while driving.  You might be POW'ed so you spin out, zapped by lightning and then have Blooper ink your windshield all at once; in fact, this is a pretty common combo of attacks.  Not only is it unfair, because you can do nothing about any of those things, but they tend to hit you at the worst possible time; say, when going into a ramped jump over lava, or approaching the finish line at the end of the third lap.  If you get hit by things that don't affect everyone else (for instance, if you are targeted by a few turtle shells all at once), you can expect that at least four karts or bikes will go screaming by you and your place in the standings will drop dramatically in the time it takes you to recover.

The good news is that, except for being blitzed going into the finish line at the end of the cup, you can generally recover.  It requires a certain level of calmness and a combination of skill and good fortune, but it can be done.  There are plenty of unlockable characters, karts and bikes, and they require that you complete various tasks in order to unlock all of them.  For instance, by simply playing eight Time Trial courses, you will unlock the Magikruiser.  If you want to unlock Baby Daisy, you must earn at least one star for each of the four cups that comprise the 50cc Grand Prix.  If you want to use your Mii as a racing character (which, by the way, rocks), you must unlock him or her by winning the 100cc Special Cup for Outfit A or unlock all 32 Time Trial expert staff ghosts for Outfit B.

So it's unfair and there's a lot to unlock: what about the gameplay itself?  Simply put, this is why Mario Kart Wii is addictive.  You have several options for gameplay.  Obviously, the method Nintendo is pushing is for you to plug your Wii Remote into the Wii Wheel, and that method is fun.  I personally found this preferrable to controllers, but then, I'm a horrible video gamer, especially when it comes to driving.  For those who prefer to kick it old school, you can race using the Classic Controller (or even a Gamecube controller).  Personally, I found the Wii Remote with Nunchuck combination the easiest and most comfortable, because each hand then has something to do.  How much easier?  I actually enjoy Rainbow Road with that set-up.  Whatever your preferred style, you have the choice.  Kudos to Nintendo for giving us so many options.

Yes, it gets me hopping mad.  And yet, I can't seem to put down the Nunchuck.  In fact, it's so addictive, I'm still only on chapter 5 of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" in Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures.  The only feature of the last console installment in the Mario Kart series (Mario Kart: Double Dash!!) that Nintendo should have carried over that they didn't is the ability to race the Grand Prix and unlock content with more than one driver.  My wife and I used to delight in racing one another while earning characters and karts, but with Mario Kart Wii, we're forced to trade off racing by ourselves to unlock things.  On the plus side, we tend to each be stronger at different courses, so we team up.  A note for those partnerships looking to do the same: you need to agree on which of your control set-ups you all prefer beforehand, because it won't let you switch from one course to the next.  If you start with the Wii Wheel, you're gonna have to race the entire cup with it.

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