You've got to hand it to Nintendo, the company has a lock on both frivolous family whimsy and devout gamer seriousness. Take, for example, Wii Sports, which comes freely bundled with the Wii console
and is probably most played by everyone in the house -- and all the guests that come visit, too --, thanks to frightfully easy controls, minimalistic game design, mostly-automated actions, and genuine, trans-generational appeal because of it. On the other hand, there's the likes of Super Smash Bros. Brawl
, a mash-up of marquee Nintendo characters (and some former rivals) going at it in a hopelessly hectic battle royale
, and which has sold a gazillion copies to fans that know each and every character by their mother's maiden name, build shrines to Aryll (look it up) in their closet but otherwise leave non-Nintendo fans and the rest of the trans-generational masses scratching their heads and wondering what all the hectic hubbub is about, because Brawl is pretty unremarkable otherwise.
So it follows that Mario Kart Wii plays to those two Nintendo strengths at the same time; it's an easy and accessible bundle of chuckles for all, plus a nifty, tenacious racer chock full of marquee characters and their related gobs of iconic bonus content, all in one chortling fathead package.
Though overshadowed by the fact that Mario Kart Wii comes bundled with a Wii (Steering) Wheel
-- basically just a circular housing for your Wii Remote (sold separately) -- the game itself plays just as well using just the Wii-mote or, better still, the Wii Remote with Nunchuck or Classic Controller attachment, or an old GameCube controller. That is to say, also, Wii-wheel aside, there's nothing particularly "new" let alone "revolutionary" about Mario Kart Wii. At its core, it plays basically the same as all Mario Kart games before it, right back to the first (Super) version on the SNES in 1992, put pedal to metal, steer (basically). That's not necessarily a bad thing; Mario Kart verily invented the pip-squeak go-cart racing genre in the first place and continues to define it to this day.
Still, though Mario Kart Wii does offer a handsome selection of chuckleheaded drivers and wacky vehicles (karts and now motorbikes and scooters too, for the first time) and a goodly selection of whack-themed race tracks -- better described as circumnavigable obstacle courses, plus some goofy derby/shooter style stuff in "Battle" mode -- gameplay seems to play, as always, to the lowest common denominator. Bikes handle almost exactly like karts, for example (though they can pop wheelies and pull cooler tricks) and all vehicles have only slight variations -- sturdy bulk but slower, light and zippy but skittery --, and everyone has access to the
same turbo boosts that give every and all the same, temporary super-max speed.
Random power-up weapons, i.e. temporary invincibility, projectiles, banana slicks and like, also level the playing field substantially and even the most skilled player -- skill is essential if you want to excel rather than just have fun -- will lose a few seconds off the clock when slapped by an aimless clap of Pow thrown down by, say, a novice player. That's the price of "accessibility," and casual gamers won't complain while serious gamers might relish the arbitrary challenge. Still, Gran Turismo
or Forza Motorsport
this is not -- nor is it trying to be, so devoted is it to Nintendo's tried and true "whoopee!" formula of gazillion-seller games.
Visually, it looks no better than a last-generation GameCube game, but again, Nintendo clearly isn't going for "high level shader architecture " or "photorealism" in their Wii games anyway, and consumers don't seem be complaining, so graphics get a pass. They're certainly adequate for getting the "Wiieeeeeee!" point across.
Also, Mario Kart Wii offers online play for up to 12 racers at once, and online is where the serious M'Karters are going for find longevity (racing into the Wii hours and showing off their unlocked Aero Glider, no doubt) while less serious kart fans can be sure to find people of similar skill thanks to a vaguely-reliable ranking systems (wins net you more accumulated Rating Points, losses knock them down).
However, the fact the two people can play off one console and join 10 others online (there's also a 4-player mode for offline home users) doesn't make up for the fact that there's a palpable disconnect online; the game does not support voice or text chat. As such, the socially sharable communal enthusiasm found in most other online games is sorely lacking. But oh well, that's what internet forums and Mii-post leaderboards are for, and Kart is all about the chortling pip-squeak racing anyway, isn't it?
TIP: The trick to getting that ever-precious boost off the starting line in Mario Kart Wii is to hit and hold down the gas button just after the count of "2." If you just lean on the gas for the whole count, you'll just sit still and spin your wheels at "go!"