Nearly two decades after the original Super Mario Kart for the SNES, with Mario Kart Wii it seems that the venerable kart racer showing its age. It doesn't help that its console predecessor, Mario Kart: Double Dash for the Gamecube was just about perfect. So what can Mario Kart Wii do to improve upon that? The easiest way is to use the Wii's technology. The Wiimote is used for steering, by holding the Wiimote horizontally. It's reasonably effective, but feels a little off-balance without the steering wheel accessories. It doesn't add much to the gameplay, and it's not quite as easy to pick up and play as perhaps Nintendo had hoped, as a few tests with non-gamers have shown.
Unfortunately, that's about the only place where Mario Kart Wii improves upon its predecessors in terms of the gameplay. Double Dash felt like a deeper game in virtually every fashion, from the pre-race character selection which had significant impact on in-race items, to a varied range of tracks to pick from. It even had a random track selector, something Mario Kart Wii is sorely lacking in single-player - Mario Kart Wii offers half new tracks and half old tracks, and it's something of a surprise to see how much more fun the older tracks feel, particularly those taken from Mario Kart DS and Double Dash (although Baby Park is sorely lacking).
Also severely lacking is a multi-player Grand Prix mode, an option which gave Double Dash some of its most memorable moments. Even worse, not only is the single-player mode is less fun than its predecessors, it also happens to take much more time and energy to unlock all characters and vehicles. In fact, the whole game has a somewhat stripped-down feeling, starting with its opening movie – it's like Nintendo felt compelled to release a Mario Kart for the Wii, so they did.
Where Mario Kart Wii shines is its multiplayer mode in with the Nintendo Wireless Connection. Finding matches is fast, easy, and fun, although it's a fairly shallow string of individual races with no Grand Prix mode or any long-term effects except for a consistently changing player's rating. Team races or Grand Prix's would have been a welcome addition. The multiplayer mode does pretty clearly demonstrate flaws with the single-player racing, as differences in skill levels are much more apparent, while the random chaos that makes Mario Kart so fun still occurs.
The underlying fast, easy, fun mechanics of the series keeps Mario Kart Wii eminently playable, but its shallow gameplay and apparent lack of ideas make it look like it may no longer be the king of the kart racers for much longer.
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