A Mario Kart game on a Nintendo console is about as unexpected as Peach being kidnapped by Bowser, but that doesn't make the arrival of Mario Kart Wii any less exciting. Anyone old enough to remember the SEGA vs Nintendo War will likely have fond memories of at least one Mario Kart game, even if the GameCube's Double Dash didn't really live up to the series' strong heritage. With more than a little to prove, Nintendo has really gone to town with its Wii entry in the series, with features that will please hardcore gamers and newcomers alike. But has this resulted in a halfway house of a racing game or arcade racing perfection?
What's immediately obvious is how accessible the game is. Mario Kart has never been a deep game in the traditional gaming sense, but Mario Kart Wii's inclusion of the Wii Wheel peripheral is a masterstroke. Although little more than a shell for your Wii Remote, being able to turn a wheel instead of using an analogue stick (or even tilting a controller) is immeasurably better for a novice gamer. The key is that it actually works. Motion control in racing games has been patchy at best, even in previous Wii titles, but here it's brilliant.
It's not brilliant to the extent that hardcore gamers should choose to use it over Wii Remote and Nunchuck controls though. The game places a big emphasis on power sliding, and although this is perfectly possible on the Wii Wheel, it's far from ideal. Using the Nunchuck's analogue stick to steer your kart is simply a lot easier, especially if you've been playing games that way for years. In a similar system to the power slides from the Nintendo 64 game, a held power slide will give you a mini turbo boost, effectively letting you turbo out of every corner. Hold the slide even longer and you'll get a Super mini-turbo, which boosts your vehicle for even longer.
Turbo boosts come from other sources too. By flicking the Wii Remote (or wheel) up, down, left or right just as you jump off a ramp your character will perform a stunt, which gives you a boost on landing. Tail another racer and you'll gain speed by being in their slipstream. It's fair to say that the best lap times on the Time Trial mode are clearly going to come from players who make most use of the boost system. Although the game offers an auto power slide option, which is great for newcomers, it removes your ability to jump and therefore prevents you from power slide boosting.
Also new to the Wii game is the ability to race bikes. Far from being just a superficial addition to the series, bikes handle significantly differently to karts. They're far more nimble around the tracks, able to corner sharply, especially when activating a power slide which results in a turn so sharp you'll likely go flying into the road-side obstacles unless you're careful. You're limited to mini turbos while on a bike but this is countered by being able to perform wheelies at any time, which make you travel faster than normal. While performing a wheelie your steeling is severely limited and you're vulnerable to barges from other vehicles, but it's worth the risk.
If anything it's a shame that the core Grand Prix mode found in Mario Kart Wii isn't as hardcore as many gamers would like. Once again, weapons play a big part in each race's outcome, and the usefulness of these pick-ups depends on your position in a race. If you're near the back of the pack you're quite likely to be given one of the most disruptive weapons, such as the lightning strike, auto-pilot-like battering ram Bullet Bill and POW Block, which spins any vehicles travelling in front of you. If you're at the front you'll be lucky to get even a red homing shell. It is of course designed to keep the pack close together, but unless you rethink your racing strategy (perhaps hanging back until the last few corners) you'll repeatedly be hit by shells and other nasty weapons.