I loved Mario Kart 64. It was one of my top five Nintendo 64 games and probably my favorite racing game of all time (I should mention I am not a huge fan of racing games and don’t play them very often). Mario Kart 64 required the perfect combination of skill and luck, and it had some great multiplayer game modes. I have played this game with my younger siblings, my friends, my co-workers, and my parents.
Since that game, my expectations for the future of the series were very high. I gave the original game, Super Mario Kart a shot, but quickly found it did not live up to the N64 version. This, however, was not very surprising due to the technological advancements seen in consoles between the SNES and the N64. It was a fun game, but did not have the gripping entertainment seen in its younger Nintendo brother.
While the SNES had an excuse, the Gamecube did not. I bought Double Dash on its release date as I was very intrigued with what changes in gameplay would be implimented when you had two characters per kart instead of one. What I found out is it did not add much for the better, but it did add a terrible co-op driving mode which made winning a race nearly impossible. This game was terribly disappointing. There were only two or three new memorable courses, and the one new feature worth speaking of was each racer having their own individualized weapon to attack others during races. This was a nifty feature that made it worth switching what character I used, something I never did in the other versions.
I was not going to give up on Mario Kart yet, however; next up was Mario Kart DS. This really added no new features. In fact, if anything, it eliminated some of the new additions in the series. The real draw of this game for me was online play. Multiplayer was very fun in Mario Kart 64 and I thought there would be no better way to play Mario Kart than online with some friends. The problem was that this was the lamest Mario Kart game in the series. Less characters, eliminated features, less karts, and boring tracks meant that multiplayer had to really hold up. It didn’t. Online play was dumbed down and laggy. I played a few races, but with poor matchmaking and no rankings, I was winning every race with ease and was quickly bored.
I gave this series one more chance. I still craved the feeling Mario Kart 64 gave me. I turned to the Wii. This game featured all the normal additions such as more characters, tracks, karts, and improved graphics. But where was the improved gameplay?
I worried that they would rely on the wiimote being the new gameplay. This did not appeal to me. It’s fantastic that technology allows me to move my controller to turn my kart, but the novelty wears off. I did try the wiimote and I really sucked. Because the wiimote is so light, and my car is not, I did not feel like I was driving. I felt out of control and frustrated. Luckily I was able to plug in my Gamecube controller and truly enjoy this game.
Mario Kart Wii is the best game since the N64. It is not as good as the N64 version. They stripped out every feature the gamecube added (including, unfortunately, the personalized attacks) and added more interesting gameplay mechanics. One such mechanic is the ability to stick close to your fellow races and ride their coattails for a speed boost. This can drastically change a race. It leads to many mini games of cat and mouse throughout the course. They balanced the game so new players could more easily take turns, but players who are more experienced and choose to do the extra work of powersliding for themselves get speed boosts. This balances the playing field while still giving the better players an advantage if they take on the extra challenge. There are many new and memorable courses and many of these courses take advantage of another new mechanic, which involves shooting up curved walls (think of shooting up a half-pipe on a snowboard) to avoid obstacles and then boosting when you land on the way back down. They also have 16 old Mario Kart courses that they make slight changes to. It does just enough to reinvigorate interest in tracks I have played dozens of times. Of course, this game also adds the flash of being able to do tricks while you’re in the air off a jump and if you land them you get a speed boost. There are so many new mechanics that add to gameplay rather than take away or are a waste of time, it blows my mind.
This game is not without problems. If you don’t jump out to a quick lead, you often get stuck in the middle or back of the pack. Rare items seem to be less of a rarity in this game. You quickly will be spammed with the strongest items when stuck in a large group of racers making it very difficult to ever catch up. I’ve even lost a couple races I was leading all the way through because I was hit with three or four quick powerful and rare items without chance to recover. These attacks would suddenly shoot me back to third or fourth place.
The online multiplayer still disappoints. This is becoming less and less of a surprise from Nintendo. When are they going to step up and try to compete with Microsoft and Sony with online multiplayer? Mario Kart and Smash Brothers could double sales with successful multiplayer options.
But local multiplayer is still there, and it is what it always was. One problem, battle mode is ruined. Battle mode involved players each having three balloons, and rather than racing, the goal was to hit opponents with items. When hit with an item you lost a balloon and the last person with at least one balloon left was the winner. Well in this game they turn it into a team battle, but your teammates are computers. Every balloon you destroy gets you a point, most points at the end of 2 minutes wins. My issue is that, far too often, the computers determined the outcome. In one game, I had destroyed three more balloons than my sister, but my sisters computer partners had done nearly 7 points better than my computer partners so she was declared the winner. I felt cheated and realized that this was a new take on battle mode that absolutely broke a game mode I had loved.
While Mario Kart Wii is not without it’s flaws, and is not as good as the N64 version, I would say it’s worth a purchase if you have friends to play with locally and some Gamecube or Wii classic controllers. This has potential to be a really fun party or family game night game, which is really what the Wii is all about for most people who own the system. But if you’re playing by yourself, go Ebay yourself a copy of the N64 version, that’s where the real fun lives.