On the occasions when I can wrangle my brother away from playing Brawl I have found some time to myself to review this game. For those of you who have been living in the dank cave I refer to as the “Sony Fan Boy Fortress of Death” the Mario Kart series are racing games set in an alternate universe where blue shells are deadlier than lightning bolts. Despite its popularity over the years, the series’ most recent installment Mario Kart Wii picked a rather bad time to be released due to more interesting games like Super Smash Brothers Brawl and Grand Theft Auto IV being released in the same time constraints. I myself didn’t even know it was coming out until a month before its release. However, for this installment Nintendo has made the Mario Kart magic strike in a rather unique way, creating a game that deviates from the others in the series in the same manner that I deviate from behavior considered polite by my mother. Bearing all of this in mind, I’d like to take time out of my busy schedule to rant a little on the nuts and bolts of Mario Kart Wii to help indecisive folk who require professional assistance from published reviewers like me to decide if they like the game. Now that that’s over with, start your engines and prepare to be force-fed turtle shell!

Does This Kart Make My Butt Look Big?

Perhaps the most gradual change in the Mario Kart series of late is the inclusion of different karts and, while not wishing to be pessimistic to those of you that love more karts, this aspect of the games has really made it difficult to care about the characters anymore. Gone are the days when folk would fight over characters with a ferocity rivaling the way that George Bush denies reality, and in are the days that one can simply pick whatever car you want without any quarrel whatsoever. To an extent, Nintendo has allotted a decent amount of karts with varying degrees of speed, traction, and wall-bumping action, but the biggest addition to this Mario Kart is the brand-spanking-new motorcycles that one can now have one’s character prance about in. I must admit, I ride a motorcycle in this game, and there’s nothing quite as funny as watching Bowser balance on what looks like a little girl’s tricycle.

But there is a serious problem that I would like to address in this game that does have something to do with the characters, and that is that quite a few of them appear to defy the laws of mass and density. For example, our fat little hero/plumber Mario is classified as a Medium character while the petite Rosalina from recent foray into space Super Mario Galaxy is a Heavy. This does not make sense to me, and really makes me wonder what kind of message the Japanese are sending our children. Will it make blondes starve themselves so they won’t have to ride Wario’s multicolored Bike of Fatness? Probably not, but the fact remains that despite a pretty hefty ignorance of logic in the Mario Kart universe, such details really shouldn’t go unnoticed (and unpunished).

Oh, and thanks Nintendo for making up ridiculous ways to unlock characters, like burning through Time Trials. Thanks to this little heap of fun, and the fact that I can’t beat the Time Trials, I shall never play with the sole reason I purchased this game: Funky Kong.

NASCAR on Crack

First off, I don’t condone drugs. Drugs are bad, as they impair your judgment and cause you to do things you wouldn’t normally do, like get married in Vegas. But sometimes people try to simulate what it’s like to do drugs, like the beer goggles everyone has to go through in some high school health class. Having said that, the track design in Mario Kart Wii is more or less exactly like someone took a bunch of cocaine to the design team and injected it right into the femoral artery of each team member. Level design is crazy, out of control, and completely insane. And that’s a good thing, because no one buys a Mario Kart game without some good places to kill their buddies.

But this insanity comes at a price–namely that all the praise I heaped at the game’s track design earlier is immediately taken away because of some sort of magnet system attached to each track’s sides that is dead-set on pulling your vehicle, whether you want it to or not, in the direction of the nearest wall or pit of death. But I suppose this can be blamed on the fact that I am not Speed Racer, and driving comes as easily to me as cognitive processes come to the mentally idiotic. Part of the blame rests on the handling of the karts, which will be detailed and brutally savaged later in this review. But this is a game other reviewers are downgrading for having such wide track design they feel lonely, while I personally think they could do with some more horizontal stretching, especially in the Retro Cups.

Oh, and whoever made the Koopa Cape level can die a cold, watery death, as it exemplifies my next rant about bad level design: the ramps. New to Mario Kart Wii is the ability to race up ramps or half pipes freshly ripped from the Tony Hawk games for an extra boost of speed depending on how well you perform a stylish jump by tilting the Wii Wheel. This is good in theory, but the sad fact is that these ramps can often send you hurtling in the general direction of the pits of death. And other times they are obscene, like in the Koopa Cape level. In this track there is a certain point where you go into a pipe near the end of each lap. Okay. I went up the half pipes on one side and suddenly found myself dizzyingly hurtling between one side’s half pipe and the other like a confused dog dashing back and forth between two points. I tried braking, but the game stubbornly refused to register this fact until I was all the way in last place on the final lap. Thank you Mario Kart Wii. Now I have to cover the newly-created but strangely Wii Wheel-shaped hole in my wall with a cat poster.

Deep Blue’s Done Himself Proud

One of the marvels of artificial intelligence, or AI, came when Deep Blue, a computer designed to play chess, managed to beat a world chess champion on its own. Humans were astounded that we had created a machine that beat one of our own. In this respect, Mario Kart Wii outdoes itself. The AI is brutal, and has more sniping prowess than US Army Special Forces. In fact, Mario Kart Wii’s AI is so good it could take down Navy SEALs wearing camouflage from ninety miles. In the dark. It’s so accurate it’s not even fair sometimes. I’ll be wandering down the track, minding my own business, when suddenly a banana will be launched from behind with accuracy rivaling Rob Furlong.

I don’t understand why it is that video game companies allow cheating computer opponents into big games like this. Sure, computers are handicapped because they don’t have a human brain, but who needs that when they have super powerful abilities? I’m fairly certain that’s how the Matrix movies happened and, if that’s the case, then I foresee a mass amount of blue shells being flung at us in the future.

Oh, and there’s always a guaranteed part when every CPU and their electronic grandmothers team up to hunt you down and ruin your race. It almost always happens on the final lap, and it’s often near the finish line. Just expect it to come with blue shells, lightning bolts, red shells, the flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz…you name it, it’ll turn up if you’re in first place with less then half the track left to go.

Mommy, Can I Drive?

The short answer is “No, and shut up.” I am a seasoned veteran of the Mario Kart series, feared in many places for my driving prowess. Yet, when I got a hold of the Wii Wheel for the first time, I couldn’t help but feel like I had taken a court-mandated plop into the driver’s seat of a drunk-driving simulator. While the Wii Wheel is designed to give a “realistic” take on driving to the Mario Kart franchise, it feels more like a cow piloting a unicycle. It’s slow, clunky, and will occasionally ignore its user altogether if you fail to twist it the right way. In retrospect, the Wii Wheel actually reminds me more of a cat than a cow, as it seems to claw your eyes out any time you fail to pet it the right way.

In older Mario Kart games, I always felt a sense of tightness and responsiveness in the controller I was given, despite the uncomfortable positioning of the N64 analog stick. But with Mario Kart Wii, all this tight and responsive game play seemed to jump ship like Michael Jackson’s nose flying right off a stage. There’s just no way to avoid the endless precession of wall-bumping, pit-of-death-falling action that seems to present itself in every race I enter. Unless you use a Gamecube controller, which is for weaklings.

But, to be fair, that’s just my personal take on the Wii Wheel. Others probably like it. Others also like to do weird things, like ask people if they’d jump off a cliff to conform with the rest of their ‘others’.

Hu-Mans Are Worse

On reflection of this game, I can recall few instances when I wasn’t violently cursing at the CPU racers as they hurled weaponry at me like an army of memory-lapsing Ronald Reagans pandering to Iranians, but what was probably worse than getting so much shell tossed at me by computers was when it was done to me by mystical creatures calling themselves Hu-Mans. Yes, Nintendo has finally gotten serious about online gaming and, to their credit, have done a really good job with it. Races are easy to get into, loading times are good, and, what might be the best idea ever, the implementation of a worldwide scoreboard to forever hook players in and doom them to lives living in their parents’ basements, unless you live in Texas like me, where there are no basements. It’s very addictive. I would however like to note a significant decrease in the pixel quality on the online, probably to keep lagging to a minimum. Well, whatever the care was it seemed to work, as I haven’t seen a missed frame yet online (Your experience may differ).

Did I Forget Anything? (Quick Tidbits of Stuff I Didn’t Care About)

Like any good game, some sections of Mario Kart Wii clearly are not for everybody. For me, personally, it was Battle Mode, which had been downgraded to some sort of team-frenzy mad dash to either get coins or pop balloons. And Nintendo made this poor, crumbling function worse by removing free-for-alls, meaning that you must play with other people against your will and work together to either collect coins, which takes on the form of some mad dash to gain giant gold circles larger than your car, or the traditional balloon fight, which has had its soul removed by introducing a score system and respawning drivers with fresh sets of balloons for the vehicular-challenged.

The second useless section is the Time Trials, which plays like a gigantic middle finger courtesy of Nintendo. In each race, you must beat Nintendo’s top driver to prove your worth and unlock characters, like my aforementioned white whale Funky Kong. In it, you are given three turbo-inducing Mushrooms per run and must race a ‘ghost’ of the track. The only reason I tried this feature was out of sheer mindlessness and a deep desire to bash it here.

Next we have Grand Prix mode, the closest thing to a single player campaign as you’ll get. Sadly, it is somewhat ruined for not having the co-op functions introduced in Double Dash, the previous installment of the series, and it made me feel a bit lonely being viciously assaulted by the CPU’s attacks with no hope of assistance. I mean, for a company with such a big emphasis on cooperative play, Nintendo really should have kept the feature. Again and again it feels like Nintendo wanted to smash players with its cheapest shots and see who was man enough to take it.

Oh, and there’s Versus mode too, but chances are you figured that one out. You race against other humans you’ve brought over. Simple as that.

In Closing (The Fifth Grade Analogy)

I have heaped a great amount of criticism on this game, most of which it deserves, and some of which to satisfy my spite. While the game looks happy and gleeful, do not be deceived by its colorful demeanor. This thing is brutal, evil, and if it were a bully would steal your lunch money and kick you in the shins just to see the tear form in your eyelid, which is why I chose to compare it to the fifth grade. Remember how terrible that year was? How difficult?

Actually, since this is the eighth game in the series it should be the eighth grade, which wasn’t that great of a year either. Here’s hoping the series sharpens up a bit before it’s shipped off to high school in the inevitable next installment.