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Wii Wheel
Type: Game Enhancer, Gear
From: Nintendo
Usage: Hardware, Wii
Wii Wheel
For those keeping score, here's how Nintendo Wii-paraphernalia is stacking up these days: Wii Remote, remarkably innovative. Wii Fit Balance Board, genuinely useful. Wii Wheel, crap.
Posted April 25, 2008
Though you currently can't buy Mario Kart Wii without the bundled Wii Wheel (at no extra cost), you can buy another Wii Wheel separately. But if you're thinking about picking up a second Wii Wheel for anticipated two-player shenanigans after you buy the actual game, don't. It's simply not that big a deal; it's the proverbial gum in the bubblegum cards, which you buy for the cards, not the gum.

Plainly, the Wii Wheel gracefully clutches the Wii Remote, which snuggles in across the full Wheel span horizontally. Meanwhile, a button extender on the back gives ergonomic access to the otherwise-recessed B-trigger, and there's a little hole on the left side to accommodate the Remote's forward pointing IR beam, which means you hold the whole thing like a saucer full of marbles when you need to actually point at menus and such.

However, though a Wii Wheel rig clearly looks like a steering wheel, or is instantly recognizable as a cheap plastic replication of such, it doesn't actually behave like one, not acceptably anyway. Here's the thing: When using the Wii Wheel, Mario Kart Wii (and who knows what other forthcoming games) requires use of both thumbs, one on or ready at the left d-pad (for weapon launches), the other on the 2 button for gas (1 and 2 for drifts), so you're actually holding the thing face back and with a clawed rigor mortis grip, hands pretty much glued to the "9 and 3" position, thumbs ever-cocked. Real steering wheels or even most other steering wheel game controllers allow you to keep your thumbs relaxed, pointing naturally upward or inward or slightly wrapped around, often with button controls placed ergonomically nearby. But no such naturalistic tendencies are allowed nor even available with the Wii Wheel.

This marketing image of hands on a Wii Wheel is deceptive. Those hands are tiny, a child's most likely... besides, who drives with both thumbs permanently ready at the horn? For that matter, who drives with their hands above their head?
What's more, Mario Kart Wii specifically is hardly a driving simulation, it's an overtly cartoonish flight of the imagination -- think motorized baby buggy races through mile-wide shopping malls -- that plays fast and loose with the very concept of "driving," which is fine, because therein lies all of the game's charm. Just know too that the motion-sensitive function of the Wii Remote is overrated in the first place, it's sluggish and inexact, good for shaking and wanking and swatting, not so hot with the precision steering. Sure, you "get used to it," but there's little point in doing so. You're better off using a controller with an analog thumbstick.

That said, your Grandma will love it, and young kids who have no concept of driving in real life seem to enjoy using the Wii Wheel, rudimentary motor skill intensive that is it, but only as an abstract, just-like-daddy game interface; don't expect them to learn any real-world driving skills with it. Do expect them to toss it around like a Frisbee when you're not looking.
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1.75 (out of 5)