Friday, May 2, 2008

First Impressions:
Mario Kart Wii

I've been playing Mario Kart Wii for a couple weeks now. I've finished all of the 50cc and 100cc races and I'm starting to whittle down the always infamous 150cc. I've played a pretty good amount of online races and time trials. I haven't done too many Vs. battles yet, though. So without going into the whole history of Mario Kart, I would say that, overall, this latest installment is a solid one. It makes a good first impression with a solid single player, some fun and interesting new tracks and some touched up classic ones and (by far) the best online experience the Wii has to offer so far (sorry, but you have to agree with me on this one brawlers!). Although, as we dig deeper, it seems we've always had to take the good with the bad on this long running franchise.


» Adding Friends: Nintendo is finally starting to get their act together. Friend codes are easier to get because you can send an invite to your buddy as long as you have exchanged Wii console codes. Hopefully they continue this trend in future titles.

» Controls: In the same vein as Smash Bros., you can use four (technically five) different control schemes. I've been playing mainly with the Wii Remote by itself (yes, the elusive fifth method -- the Wii Wheel did nothing for me) but I've been meaning to try the Classic and Nunchuck attachment variations.

» No "Snaking": I'm sure people will find a way around this, but for now let's enjoy it.

» Online Play: Opponents can be regional or worldwide and are found almost instantly. All the single player modes are included. You can even catch (in real time) the last minute of the previous race before you join in the action. After voting for a track the race begins in no time. Makes you wonder if they learned their lesson from what happened with Smash Bros.

» Unlockables: 14 additional characters and 19 more karts and bikes become available in a pretty good series of progression. Including Miis is a nice touch for added customization.

» Graphics: Although not too much better than it's GameCube predecessor, everything is bright, crisp and clean. Seeing all your Miis while driving through Coconut Mall is fun and distracting!


» Overabundance of Powerful Items: It seems with every new Mario Kart they increase the frequency of killer items like squid ink, lightning bolts and blue shells. It's pretty ridiculous the amount of these that CPUs get during even just one lap. The game sometimes ends up requiring more luck than it does skill.

» Controls: It seems we have a double edged sword here. Tilt control is tight and works great until you hit something, then things sometimes go a little wacky and unresponsive. Doing wheelies with the bike will drive you into walls if you don't snap straight back. Power slides are hard to do without the over sized B button of the bulky Wii Wheel.

» "Rubberbanding": It seems no matter how far you get ahead of the CPUs, one hit with a shell with send them whizzing by you before you can get back up to speed. It keeps the game very challenging and very frustrating!

» Graphics: The game looks great at 60 FPS, but if you're playing with a 3 or 4 player split-screen it gets downgraded to 30 FPS. Boo.

So should any of these cons deter you from purchasing this latest installment? Of course not! Mario Kart is a beloved title we expect to see in every generation of Nintendo's consoles. With so much to do it'll keep long time fans busy and introduce newcomers to blue shell madness! It's almost a no brainer for the Big N to cash in on one of their oldest and best selling franchises. It's sure come a long way and I'm sure we'll see another one in a few years time. Whether it's portable or not, we'll have to wait and see. While the obvious choice for the next racer would be F-Zero, I think we have quite a ways to go before seeing it hit shelves. To nail down those ultra high speed precision turns is going to take a while to perfect with tilt control. And I'm willing to wait for that. So until then, throw back a red shell or two and enjoy the chaos that can only be found in Mario Kart!