How many of you were a bit nervous when Nintendo announced that Mario Kart Wii would be released so soon? How many of you started thinking it might be a 'rush job' to fill a gap in the Wii release schedule? How many saw the bikes and thought "oh no, they've ruined Mario Kart"? We'll admit it: deep down, we were worried about all of the above. It turns out we should have known better.
Long story short: it's Mario Kart. It's not some warped, twisted monster that used to be Mario Kart and has now mutated into some horrible kart/bike shambles that's lost its magic. That familiar, addictive Mario Kart gameplay is still there, only now it's even better.
Don't Go Breaking My Kart
There are 12 playable characters when you first start the game, with a whole host to unlock. We won't spoil them just now but, needless to say, a couple of the hidden characters are surprise inclusions who haven't been in a Mario Kart game before. The usual weight classes are back in force, with characters split into light, medium and heavy classes. At first, each weight class has a choice of three different karts and three different bikes, but more are unlockable as you progress.
There are 32 tracks in total, consisting of 16 new tracks and 16 retro ones. Although a couple of the new tracks are curiously similar to ones in older Mario Kart games (Luigi Circuit and Moo Moo Meadows have more than a slight ring of Double Dash!! and Mario Kart 64 to them), the majority of them are fantastic new additions to the series and have some great little quirks in them. For example, Koopa Cape has a downhill stream going through the middle of the track, so it's worth trying to time your powerslides so you go through the stream and get extra speed.
The retro tracks have been given a bit of polish, so even the SNES tracks look nice and 3D. Every game in the series is represented (except the arcade ones) with four N64, DS and GameCube tracks and two tracks apiece from the SNES and GBA titles, meaning whatever your favourite Kart game is, there should be something here to keep you more than happy.
The Wheel Deal
There are four big gameplay differences that greatly affect the way the game is played. The first of these is the most obvious: the inclusion of the Wii Wheel. Believe it or not, the wheel actually works tremendously well. Yes, it's just a plastic shell and shouldn't really make a huge difference but it really does add to the atmosphere. What's more, the steering has a larger 'dead zone' than Excite Truck did, meaning there's a reasonable degree of leeway in how you much you can turn the wheel before your kart starts turning. This gives you more control, since turning left and right requires more deliberate turns in that direction, rather than the way it was in Excite Truck where the slightest rotation of the Remote made the truck start to turn, leading to all sorts of slippy-slidey shenanigans as you frantically turned the Remote left and right just to straighten up.
The game also supports numerous other control methods (Remote and Nunchuk, GameCube controller, Classic controller), but even though we had our hearts set on dramatically abandoning the wheel, yelling "viva la old school" and using a GameCube controller, the truth is (whisper it) we actually prefer the Wheel. Much like the Wii Zapper gives an extra sense of fun to shooting games, the Wii Wheel simply feels more like you're playing a driving game.
Snakey Breaky Kart
The second big difference is the removal of snaking. Ever since the N64 game, practically every Mario Kart game has included the ability to get a speed boost by waggling the controls left and right as you powerslide. This has finally been scrapped, and now your speed boost is determined by how long you can hold the slide. So all you do is the usual 'hop and slide', then as you turn the corner a blue spark appears. You can either let go there and get a speed boost, or keep sliding until you get a red spark which gives you a better boost. Since it takes a while before the blue boost activates, this pretty much eliminates snaking, as it's now a lot more hassle than it's worth.