Mario Kart Wii Review – Nintendo Wii

Image Source: Wikipedia

Mario Kart Wii

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Genre: Racing
Series: Mario Kart
Released: April 10 2008 (Japan), April 11 2008 (UK) and April 27 2008 (US)
Certificate: 3+
Console: Wii

Although Mario Kart had long been one of Nintendo‘s most popular titles across numerous consoles, it was arguably on the Nintendo Wii when Mario Kart became a truly crucial series for Nintendo, in that the Mario Kart name carried as much weight as any other series for the developer – perhaps more than any other game involving the red-and-blue-clad plumber. No doubt, this is because of the innovative use of the Wii-mote which, when combined with the Wii Wheel, created an incredible home gaming experience for Mario Kart. The Arcade GP version of MK had required players to turn steering wheels to initiate driving, but this had never been possible for home consoles until Mario Kart Wii. However, this neat (optional) control scheme was just the beginning of what Mario Kart Wii offered.


As well as the usual plethora of stunning tracks and colourful characters, MK Wii took the series to another level on many fronts. For instance, online play via Nintendo Wi-Fi was properly implemented after minor online options in Double Dash, and with more competitors per race than ever before (12, which I’ll cover more later on), the novelty of an online race against 11 close friends (or even 11 complete strangers) held massive appeal. As well as each race having more players, there were also more tracks; in fact, there were twice as many tracks as Double Dash, with 50% of these being classic tracks from past MK titles. That’s not to ignore the new venues which were the most advanced yet for scenery, unique features, props, hazards and everything else that we have come to expect from Mario Kart. I won’t go into every track, but I will say that Coconut Mall is a real thrill-ride, and Maple Treeway is one of the most visually incredible races in series history. Quite a few other tracks have their quirks which make this the best game yet for over-the-top paths (like Koopa Cape). Mind you, the retro tracks also shine in this game, with the likes of Bowser’s Castle from the N64 and DK’s Jungle Parkway from Double Dash reminding longtime fans as to why previous MK games were so wonderfully entertaining.

Battle Mode is back and is as competitive as one would imagine, with the Wii-mote and Wii Wheel creating more chaos than ever before. A new Tournament mode replaced Mission Mode (seen in Mario Kart DS) and was also linked to online activity. That’s not to discount the usual single-player Grand Prix options, though, and with more tracks this time around, this means a then-series high of eight different Cups. Throw in three difficulty levels besides the in-reverse Mirror mode, and there’s plenty to keep you busy, rounded off by the chance to equal or surpass Time Trial records set by ghost data files, which were actually achieved by genuine Nintendo staff members, apparently. There are a few new weapons, which I will discuss in more detail shortly. Since the Wii was not a high-definition console, the graphics aren’t quite as impressive as one may expect; they’re definitely better than those in Double Dash on the GameCube, but not massively so. Mario Kart looks the best that it ever had up until that point in this game, but fans would have to wait until the arrival of the Wii U before Mario, and Mario Kart, went HD.

For those who weren’t so keen on the Wii-mote and Wii Wheel, or couldn’t get to grips with those control methods, one could still use a traditional, classic-style controller for their racing needs (including the GameCube controller, which was a nice touch). Players could now perform tricks in certain situations, whilst drifting and snaking became useful methods to gain a slight edge over the opposition. Bikes made their series debut here, and they not only looked cool, but they added a new element to the high-octane racing action. Although the game automatically saves data on the Wii hard drive, up to four Wii profiles (in the form of Mii characters) could be linked to the game, meaning that you, the experienced MK player, may have a completely different set of records and unlockables to your relative or friend. Speaking of which, there’s plenty of vehicles and characters to unlock here, and amongst the newcomers to the series are Baby Peach, Baby Daisy, Toadette, Dry Bones, Funky Kong, Dry Bowser, Rosalina and a Mii character with two different attires. There’s also the usual mix of Easter Eggs, shortcuts and secret tactics which act as the icing on the cake for the Mario Kart package, along with the ridiculous elements that could only work in MK (like the whistle after you complete each race, the bizarre cast of characters cheering you on during certain races, and Blooper dousing your screen with ink in a fashion which is so absurd that it’s endearing, even though it essentially blinds you for a few seconds).


So, when you consider all that, this should be the best Mario Kart game ever, right? Yes, it should. Unfortunately, though, the game is not without its flaws. One of them has a massive impact upon one’s enjoyment of the game, and drags it down to the point where the otherwise-excellent title becomes a disappointment.

Personally, I wasn’t too impressed with the soundtracks for the different tracks or the voiceovers, but neither is a major issue. Nor are the slightly underwhelming graphics, or the familiar formula for certain environments (a beach, a winter-themed area, a jungle, Bowser’s Castle etc). No, the biggest issue with Mario Kart Wii is that, even for skilled players with hours of practice, the game is simply unfair and too unpredictable on far too many occasions. Luck plays a far greater role than it should in a game of this magnitude.

Let me explain. The name of the game in Mario Kart is always to win, while using items and aspects of the environment to gain an advantage here and there. Of course, the CPU can retaliate, meaning that you always have to look out for an occasional shell attack or a banana peel – but note that I am using the singular term for “item”. Only in multiplayer situations would you potentially receive more than one attack at a time in past games. Here, however, all semblance of fair play is thrown out of the window, even by Mario Kart standards.

Let’s say that I’m Mario and I’m riding around Bowser’s Castle (a tough course as it is). I’ve managed to get in front, and I’ve got a healthy lead when, suddenly, I see the dreaded blue spiky shell heading towards me. The chances of withstanding this particular weapon attack are so minimal that they’re virtually nonexistent, so I take the hit. Fair enough. But as I’m getting over this, I then get hit by a second shell. Then, as I’m trying to rebound and get back into the race, a few passing cars bump into me with enough force that I’m driven off the track and into lava. Once I’m back on the track, and trying to get back on track, there may be a POW attack (which can be alleviated by pressing the Up arrow on the D-pad as the third POW icon spins, but even this only reduces the impact) or a bolt of lightning which not only slows me down again, but also removes any weapons I had saved which might have helped me get back into the race. Imagine how frustrating this is when it happens all of the time; not once, not even once per race, but all of the time, especially when you’re in front and inches away from winning. Now consider that you have not one but ELEVEN opponents, and that the steering of your kart is hit-and-miss regardless of which controller type you use, and you have a recipe for absolute chaos and frustration.

In the past, even when the CPU denied you at the last second from winning a race due to a well-timed weapon strike, there was a slight smile to be had. Here, though, when it’s relentless and largely irreversible punishment (in Double Dash, only the blue shell and lightning were completely unstoppable, whereas this game has at least five such items), it just results in complete anger. Mario Kart is supposed to be fun, but all too often, the fun factor is taken away from the nonstop barrage of CPU weapon assaults (and I haven’t even mentioned the other obstacles, like the incredibly annoying crabs from the Game Boy Advance retro track for Shy Guy Beach).

All of this wouldn’t be so bad if it were limited to the highest difficulty levels, but this happens on 50CC, the beginner’s level, as well. Therefore, whether you’re a newbie to the series or a veteran from past MK titles, there’s no getting over the fact that you can be propelled from first to last within a second, having made no mistakes whatsoever of your own. Fair enough if you made a crucial error, but we’re talking about incidents that are out of your hands, making this really unfair to the players. So, if this happens all the time on 50 CC, imagine how tricky it becomes to try and win a race on 100CC or 150CC, or in Mirror Mode. It isn’t impossible, but it becomes extremely challenging and not necessarily in a good way. Put simply, when a game makes you want to stop playing altogether rather than thinking “I’ll do this next time”, it’s a bad sign. The one positive is that, should you find yourself 10th or even 12th with a lap to go, certain items (in particular the Bullet Bill) really can give you an excellent chance of regaining the lead within 10-15 seconds, but only if you’re lucky enough to obtain them (and if you’re able to use them before the next, inevitable CPU attack), and due to the tricky control scheme, some (such as the much-loved Star) can have the opposite effect, sending you flying off the track since you have so little time to turn, thus putting you even further behind.

Rounding off this major problem with the game is the introduction of ratings, which is a neat concept to be fair. Previously, you won the Cups and set time records, and that was that. Here, you’re given a rating based on your performance in each Cup, with only your highest ratings saved. So, a standard Cup win may get you an A or a B. Coming in second or third may earn you a C. A horrendous showing could result in an E. On the high end of the scale, though, are the stars: an impressive Cup win gets you one star, an even stronger performance earns you two stars, and a practically flawless run-around gets you three stars. So far, so good. Only thing is, it’s nigh on impossible to achieve three stars and even, on certain tracks at the top levels, two stars because there’s so many hazards to deal with, so many obstacles which are out of your control, so many factors which leave you thinking “this actually can’t be done”. There’s a difference between a game which is tough but fair, and a game which is tough but unfair, and unfortunately Mario Kart Wii falls into the latter category. Thankfully, you never have to achieve three stars to unlock any content, but for the hardcore gamers and the completests (of which I am one), trying to truly say “I achieved everything that I could in this game” is as tough a task as you will ever have in any videogame. And I’m 31, so imagine a young kid trying to do this; it’s literally unfeasible.

It’s a real shame due to the high standards that this series has set, and because everything else about the game is either superb or at least adequate. This goes to show that even if everything else is firing on all cylinders, the gameplay really is key, because it takes this from being an all-time classic title to a game that’s just very good. It isn’t just me, either: when researching for this review, I found many other people shared my opinion, both at the time of its release and in recent times.

If you don’t care for completing the game and unlocking everything, or you just want to have some fun with your friends, or you simply want to experiment with the Wii Wheel, then Mario Kart Wii is outstanding, and a ton of entertainment just waiting to happen. So much in this game is done well, and there are more innovations, additions and improvements than in any previous Mario Kart game. You probably could have snuck in another home console Mario Kart between this and its predecessor Double Dash, such are the advancements made in every area aside from graphics.

Unfortunately, though, in the area where it matters the most (the gameplay), Mario Kart Wii is above average at best and deeply frustrating at worst. It’s just too chaotic: the development team should either have kept races at eight participants, or the number of relentless weapon attacks should have been reduced (to one or two, preferably), or there should have been a way to withstand every weapon in some way (a fighting game wouldn’t allow for irreversible attacks), even if certain items would remain unstoppable on the highest difficulty levels. I’m not saying that it has to be easy by any means, but it really shouldn’t be this hard. There’s too much going on, too much to think about, too much to try and block or that you can’t block, and it makes the game annoying on far too many occasions.


In summarising this review then, Mario Kart Wii delivers loads of fun, and is a gem to play when you’re able to relax and simply savour the experience. However, the stop-start gameplay swing things mightily in the opposite direction, resulting in a game that isn’t actively bad, but is the worst in the series, at least on home consoles. There’s undoubtedly a lot of enjoyment to be had with this game, and there’s more to do in this game than any other previous MK title, but when the lasting impression of a game is one of frustration and almost dread, rather than the warm nostalgia of Double Dash or the feeling of real achievement when completing Mario Kart 64, it is not good at all. If only the development team had identified these issues beforehand, and tackled them prior to its release, this could – and probably would – have been the best Mario Kart ever, and one of the greatest games in history. As it is, Mario Kart Wii can entertain for hours, but it will enrage in equal measure.


Target Audience: Children Aged 3+
Content: No Content Likely To Offend
Recommendation?: Yes
Overall Rating: 8/10 – Very Good