Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The King of Rubberband A.I. is Back.... The Mario Kart Wii Review

Nintendo's tradition of rehashing games every generation continues with the latest entry in the famed Mario Kart series, unoriginally titled Mario Kart Wii. From the get go, the case of deja vu sets in as it is the same old game maintaining the core gameplay of Mario characters racing each other while using shells, bananas, and other items for victory with some twists. It has the has the same flaws the series has suffered through recently of insane rubberband A.I. and some new ones with this release on the Wii with missing modes. The trade-off is exceptional online play and perhaps the best online Nintendo themselves has done on the Wii. New additions like the bikes and the introduction of a new peripheral, the Wii Wheel, make this entry worthy of the series. Mario Kart Wii is still fun to play especially with multiple people and online, but the core gameplay not receiving a significant overhaul makes it another Nintendo rehash for the latest console.

Mario Kart Wii's single player is mostly unchanged in terms of structure. The Grand Prix mode is still consisted of 50 cc, 100 cc, 150 cc, and the unlockable Mirror modes for players to race alone, but the twist this time is that 50 cc is only for karts, 100 cc is only for bikes, and 150 cc is allowed for both vehicles. The character depth of Double Dash is gone when choosing a team matters because of special items, so picking a character in this Wii version does not really matter since special items are just in the normal rotation now and weight is the only factor to consider. The obvious roster of Mario characters is here along with some obscure ones, specifically the hidden characters along with Mii support I won't spoil and lots more babies this time. The only other significant single-player mode is time trial, where you can race staff ghosts for more unlockables other than putting a fast time and bragging about it online. Standard races and battles are also playable alone in case for practice against the opposition.

The amount of tracks in this new Mario Kart is a staggering 32, where 16 of them are original ones for the Wii while the other 16 are retro tracks from previous games. The selection of the retro tracks are pretty good with personal favorites Sherbet Land and Bowser's Castle from Mario Kart 64 as well as two others from the SNES original. While some retro tracks did not receive any major graphical changes, specifically the ones from Double Dash, the SNES and N64 are updated significantly with the current engine along with the GBA and DS tracks. Most of the new tracks are designed for the new tricks system in mind with more jumps and obstacles to avoid. Usually, the new tracks do not really shine until the Star Cup and Special Cups, but the courses in the Mushroom and Flower Cups provide a good warmup for what is come and a good ramp up in difficulty.

The core gameplay is unchanged from what is seen in Mario Kart DS since Double Dash is a big departure from the traditional Kart action which the fans were not pleased with. The return to form was the right decision in the end, but the same flaws are still here and very noticeable. The obvious flaw is that the insane rubberband A.I. makes the single-player Grand Prix very frustrating especially in the 150 cc and Mirror modes where luck plays a huge role. These races are filled with dirty comebacks and the agony of defeat, specifically getting blasted by a spike shell in the end of a race being in first and then finishing like fifth. Their balance of getting the power items when at the back of the pack and getting defensive items like bananas and fake item blocks is still here and well, which gives the A.I. opponents a chance to catch up to even up the playing field. The increased count of racers from eight to twelve make the action more chaotic and increase the chances for disappointing finishes if a barrage of lightning bolts, opponents with stars or Bullet Bills, and red shells comes your way. New items like the POW block and the lightning cloud, where you have to bump it to someone to give it away otherwise you turn small like a lightning bolt, are okay additions to the assortment of items at your disposal. Karts and bikes play similarly, but my personal preference is bikes because you can wheelie for more speed in a limited one. The trick system is a new gameplay addition and another reason to boost after jumps.

There are plenty of control options at your choice in Mario Kart Wii. The choice for new comers is obviously the Wii Wheel being packaged with the game. The setback to using the wheel is there is a learning curve to get good with it, which means oversteering will likely happen. Power slides still matter when turning, which is changed significantly to prevent snaking as seen in the DS game as the longer the slide will get you a boost. You have to shake the wheel to do tricks during a jump, but another drawback to the wheel is items being mapped to up on the d-pad on default. The highly recommended choice for control is the Nunchuk and Wiimote combo where analog control is perfect and everything else is mapped pretty well on default settings while still shaking the Wiimote to do tricks. There is also support for Gamecube and Classic controllers, but the only setback is tricks being mapped to up on the d-pad. If you ever want to perform consistently well and compete online, the Nunchuk and Wiimote is the controller of choice, while the Wii Wheel offers a learning curve, but came be mastered.

Mario Kart Wii's multiplayer is surprisingly executed well with online play up to twelve players while the local multiplayer is a pure disappointment. Locally, a maximum of four players can face other in various races and battles. The races this time on multiplayer are structured like the single-player Grand Prix mode where eight other A.I. opponents will also compete if four players are playing. It would have been nice if the exhibition option seen in single-player is available on multiplayer, but it is not there as well as only having the human players racing each other rather than worrying about the other A.I. opponents. The lack of two player grand prix like previous games is disappointing to fans of the series if they want to unlock more vehicles and characters with another player. A bigger disappointment is the battle mode, which is only team-based with different modes. Relying on A.I. teammates is the not the best thing to consider now with battles, but at least it is a little better online. Speaking of online, Nintendo has finally pulled off satisfying online play on the Wii with minimal lag, leaderboards, and a scoring system. It still uses a specific friend code if you want to face off with friends, but worldwide and regional play is surprisingly fun when stealing wins pulling off the dirty comeback with barely no lag at all. The lesser amount of players in an online match does not make it as competitive as it should have, but the more in one match equals more fun. Courses are randomly chosen by the player choices, which makes the flow go smoothly. The Mario Kart Channel is there but in-game and downloadable for use in the Wii menus.

Mario Kart Wii is not a huge improvement graphically over Double Dash to a point they nearly look the same. The only difference is there is more chaos and lighting in the Wii version compared to the previous iteration on Gamecube. The 32 courses made that sense of variety ranging from volcanoes, jungles, snow summits, and the tradition of a Bowser's Castle and Rainbow Road, which is perhaps the best Rainbow Road since Mario Kart 64. The retro courses other than the ones from Double Dash look way better now especially the SNES tracks going from Mode 7 graphics to this current engine. The characters also look nearly the same from Double Dash except for the new ones that debut in this game. Performance-wise, it runs great on single-player at a solid 60 frames per second and online as well. The framerate, however, takes a huge dip when playing local multiplayer with three or more people dropping to 30 frames per second. That flaw is a total distraction from the overall look, but it is disappointing for a Nintendo game since their games always have a consistent framerate.

The sound in Mario Kart Wii is expected for series standards with catchy tunes from the later courses like Rainbow Road's theme that reminds you of Super Mario Galaxy as well as the retro tracks for nostalgic reasons. The voice acting on the other hand can be annoying at times, with annoying voices from the babies and every effect having a vocal reaction. Even the Wii speaker on the Wiimote can be annoying at times if it is loud, but it helps out if a power item like a red shell or a star is coming behind you. Playing this game will give the speaker a total workout when nailing tricks and bumping other opponents.

Mario Kart Wii is basically Nintendo checking off another title to put out on Wii at least once. The core gameplay is still fun of throwing shells, getting shrunk by lightning, despite feeling like deja vu if you played the previous games like Double Dash and Mario Kart DS to death. This is still the king of rubberband A.I. as if it was ramped up a notch with more spike shells and lightning bolts. Sometimes, it is better to pull off the dirty comeback with a star, golden mushroom, or a bullet bill rather than staying in first place praying to not get hit by a spike shell. Multiplayer locally is a big disappointment with missing modes and bad decisions, but online is surprisingly executed well like an online game on 360 and PS3 despite still using friend codes. The graphics are marginally improved since Double Dash while the sound is what to expect from the series with the occasional annoyance of various characters. The Wii wheel bundled with the game offers a different take to the game along with a learning curve while the Nunchuk / Wiimote combo is the best way to play this game. Fans of the series should buy this in a heartbeat for the awesome online play, but those who wanted a big overhaul, you are not going to find it in this one.

Score = 8/10

1 comment:

Sasukedevil said...

Nice review. Still don't have any money to drop for this game tho.