This week's edition of the regular Critical Reception column
examines online reaction to Mario Kart Wii
, Nintendo's racing series sequel that is "not perfect, but is still a must-buy game," according to reviews.
The 1992 Super Nintendo Entertainment System release of Super Mario Kart
popularized the character-based kart racing subgenre, and numerous clones and imitators followed in its wake.
Though few of its competitors managed to make a lasting impact, Nintendo's Super Mario Kart
follow-ups have met with continued success and critical acclaim, with each new sequel achieving top sales for its platform of release.
The release of Mario Kart: Double Dash!!
in 2003 caused worry in series fans, however. Many criticized the title's team-based gameplay and over-reliance on items, claiming that these changes diluted the series' previously strong racing aspects. Some critics express similar concerns over Mario Kart Wii
, which currently averages a series-low score of 83 out of 100
GameSpy's Bryn Williams finds that Mario Kart Wii
marks a return to form for the series, awarding it 4.5 out of 5 stars
in his review. "Mario Kart Wii
plays it relatively safe," he says. "Gone are the experimental nuances seen in the GameCube's MK: Double Dash
; this latest incarnation mimicks everything that was good and wholesome from the superb Mario Kart DS
"The core gameplay still hasn't changed all that much from the heady days of the original Super Mario Kart
," Williams continues. "Whether offline or on, players choose a character, a vehicle and a few courses and try to beat down the opposition through skillful driving and the judicious use of those classic power-ups."
Mario Kart Wii
's online play in particular is described as a defining feature. "It's actually the Nintendo WFC online mode that makes Mario Kart Wii
such a standout experience," Williams praises. "Getting online and finding a match is beautifully painless, and when connected, the gameplay is flawless. There were very few occasions where any noticeable lag or disconnects interrupted our online racing, something which Nintendo has failed to achieve until now."
Williams warns that Mario Kart Wii
's beginner-friendly tilt may frustrate series veterans, however. "MKW
is an extremely newbie-friendly game," he writes. "The vast choice of power-ups make the races interesting, but sometimes it can feel as though things are left to chance a little too much."
Williams cites an example: "Leading the race in pole position for two laps of a three-lap race really isn't any guarantee of victory as one evil homing blue shell can wreck your dreams in a matter of seconds."
"While this element of randomness can be frustrating at times, there's usually ample opportunity to turn things around," Williams assures. "Red shells will fly, turbo boosts will pop and you'll have a lot of fun ruling the roads of Mushroom Kingdom."
Robert Workman at GameDaily scores Mario Kart Wii
at 8 out of 10
. "Mario Kart Wii
fits right in with the other entries in the series," he begins, "and brings with it some fine additions that make it worth your time and money, despite the return of a few all-too-familiar problems."
Workman praises the addition of motorcycles and stunts to Mario Kart
's traditional gameplay. "[The motorcycles] handle differently than the four-wheel vehicles, allowing players to pop wheelies for quick turbo boosts," he explains. "The big drawback with these new rides is that they come to a near-sudden halt when colliding with another vehicle.
"You'll also have several advantages on the track. Pull off in-air tricks by flicking your Wii controller at the top of a ramp," he continues. "Reap the rewards once you land, as pulling off a trick gives you a quick turbo boost."
Some additions work against the game overall, however. Workman cites Mario Kart Wii
's new items and power-ups as being particularly bothersome. "Computer-controlled drivers use these power-ups with reckless abandon, which makes the game feel slightly unbalanced," he says. "Take the lead during a race and you might find your ride bombarded with attacks and knocked back to last place almost instantly.
"Case in point – as we were nearing the finish line on Wario's mine track, we got hit with a homing purple turtle shell. Then, while getting back up, we got hit with a devastating Bob-omb, followed by a POW block and an ink bomb, getting knocked off track and falling into last place."
Many of Mario Kart Wii
's courses are described as having a lot to offer, however. "Several new courses in the game look fantastic, particularly the roller coaster-like mine shaft track and the romp through the local mall, in which you run into your Miis in the parking lot," Workman describes. "The rest of the courses aren't really anything new – they're mostly taken from Mario's universe and lack innovation. They're still lots of fun, however, and the inclusion of several old-school favorites from previous Mario games will excite fans of the series."
Mario Kart Wii
's online play and community aspects are also praised, and are described as one of the experience's strongest points. "Mario Kart Wii
's not perfect, but is still a must-buy game, if only for the online component," Workman concludes. "This Kart
is still a mean machine that gamers of all ages will enjoy."
Wired's Chris Kohler is more critical of Mario Kart Wii
's shortcomings in his review, scored at 6 out of 10
. "Mario Kart Wii
looks great at first blush, adding motion controls and online multiplayer to the non-stop frantic racing action of the classic games," he writes. "I can understand that the gameplay has been dumbed down a bit for the Wii audience, but in the process, they arbitrarily yanked out the series' best feature."
"I am referring, here, to 'Battle Mode,'" Kohler continues. "For my friends and I, the Mario Kart
series has never been about racing around a track. Ever since the series' first installment, 1992's Super Mario Kart
, the games have featured a fantastic gameplay mode that drops players into an open arena, then challenges them to defeat each other in mortal kart combat."
Kohler explains that Mario Kart Wii
's Battle Mode is a different experience than what series fans have come to expect. "It's no longer a last-man-standing contest: Matches now last three minutes each, and if your kart takes too much damage, don't worry! You'll just respawn," he describes. "Even worse, all battles are now played in teams of two. So while you can still have four human players, they can't all face off against each other -- and what's the point of that?"
"It's really too bad, as this is in all other respects a decent addition to the series," Kohler admits. "Mario Kart Wii
ditches the two-riders-per-kart mechanic that didn't quite work in Double Dash on GameCube and adds more vehicles. Now, there are tons of different karts and, in a new twist, motorbikes that players can ride, adding a decent amount of depth to the proceedings."
Kohler also expresses disappointment over the frequent appearance of gameplay-unbalancing items, though he maintains that much of the title remains fun thanks to its online modes and additions to the series' core gameplay.
"With all these improvements, it's just too damn bad they had to have the best part of the Mario Kart
series taken out back and shot," he laments. "This is a game-killing issue for me, as it's just taken the potential fun that I will have with Mario Kart Wii
from 'months' to 'hours.'"
According to critics, Mario Kart Wii
's additions and tweaks have offered mixed results. Though many feel that its improvements make for an enjoyable and accessible experience, others argue that these features make for frustrating and limited gameplay. Reviews largely recommend Mario Kart Wii
to most audiences, though longtime series fans could find their expectations unmet.