The latest installment in the famous Mario Kart line of gaming is for their Wii console and it's titled Mario Kart Wii. Let's start off by giving Nintendo some points for originality. They must have some real fucking ALL STARS in the name department out in Saigon or wherever the fuck they're coming up with this stuff. I should probably tell you right off the bat I have some pent up aggression towards the Nintendo corporation; I applied for a job writing instruction manuals for them a couple of years ago and I never heard back.
Now I don't have any credentials whatsoever as it applies to technical writing, but somehow I just know that I would have been totally badass at this job. I'll tell you why, in two words: 3-D glasses. Each of the moves would be described to you in all of its glory, fully re-enacted on the page via the 3-D spectacles that would punch out of the back page of each manual. We have to call them spectacles because if we say "goggles" it's going to seem dorky, and spectacles isn't dorky, it's dignified borderline regal.
Side note: I say we pour some yen or rice or whatever commodity they use in the Far East these days into developing the world's first two-way punch out paper. That way you could conveniently pop the goggles- er…spectacles back into the manual when you were done reading. Having little shit you can lose is a concern for kids playing with toys these days, and "we at Nintendo are definitely very fucking concerned with that kinda shit" is what you say by adding this feature. Not to mention the fact that toys from the Orient essentially equal the bubonic plague these days as far as the media is concerned so really it's a good PR move all around. Oh, I should also mention that some of my aggression with the company is related to the fact that THEY HAVE BEEN SHITTING ALL OVER THE FINEST NAME IN ALL OF GAMING FOR PRETTY MUCH THE LAST DECADE, but more on that later.
Mario Kart Wii is a well done game overall. The controls, graphics, presentation and balance highlight why this entry into the series is going to be a real benchmark moving forward. The track selection is twice as big as it's ever been, with 8 circuits compromising 32 total racing tracks. Half are new and half are old-school, comprising a nice grouping of both technically challenging and nostalgic entries. The character selection is wide as well, with beautifully rendered and voiced characters from the extended Mario universe. The computer AI is reasonably well done with a little bit too much mayhem for me in the formulaic pack that always seems to conglomerate shortly behind the leaders of the race. The continuity of the racing experience can really get sucked out of a race quickly with the AI blasting away with no rhyme or reason like Jihadists on wheels.
Overall, graphically, the game is marginally better than the previous GameCube entry in my opinion. Some might argue that this is a new echelon in Mario-sports style graphical presentation but I'm not buying it.
The controls have been tweaked in a variety of ways starting with, of course, the wheel. I'm going to tell you right off the bat, the wheel plain sucks. I was excited as hell the first time I saw an ad touting a wheel as a peripheral for the game. Unfortunately I imagined a separate peripheral with buttons of its own, not a fucking plastic casing for my fucking Wii-mote. The inconsistency of the steering comes from the plane you hold the tilt of the wheel on, which I found to be too erratic. Maybe it's just me though, because I have friends that I've played with online who use the wheel and are good enough that I actually question whether or not they're telling the truth about it.
Once you fire up your trusty old Wavebird, the startling realization hits you that, control wise, not a lot has changed with the latest Mario Kart. That's not necessarily a bad thing because DoubleDash had excellent controls on GameCube and the Wavebird is a great controller. But if you've gone to the effort of making not only a new game but an entirely new CONSOLE and the old controller is still working better, then something just isn't right in Chinatown. Where the controls do start to shine a little bit are with the bikes; they are definitely the highlight of the game for me. You realize quickly how much faster they are than the karts, and at some point, competitively, it becomes a necessity to be riding one on even the hairiest of tracks.
The online capabilities definitely add another much needed layer to this gaming experience, but once again, I'm going to have to call Nintendo out and say they're about a console late and a controller short. The online experience also doesn't compare to the depth and features of LIVE or PS3net. The game modes are incredibly narrow and leave little room for customization, which is really sad considering the level of complexity of things taking place on LIVE with games like Halo 3 and GTA4. With all that said though, firing up Mario Kart from the luxury of my own home (read: naked) with some of my friends is a fucking blast and I'm glad to have the option for it.
One of the amazing things about Nintendo-produced games has and always will be the balance that each title possesses. As of late this has been most clearly evident in the Mario-sports line of gaming. Games like Super Strikers, Mario Tennis, and Mario Galaxy Golf are both fun for the novice and the expert. They are games you can pick up and play once, or enjoy mastering through repeated trials and enjoy one and the same. That's the central germ of what Mario Kart is all about in the end: fun cartoonish chaos with a cast of characters you've come to know and love. While I will concede that they've accomplished creating this ambiance of casual gaming while still leaving an outlet for those more serious, the thought immediately turns my mind to what Mario Kart Wii really tells us about Nintendo and the gaming industry at large.
Nintendo made a conscious decision that they would embrace the "casual gaming" side of the industry by attempting to make a system that was less expensive and, let's face it, predicated on the novelty of motion controls and a strong line up of original content. They've done a reasonably good job with this thus far, obviously outselling their two other more expensive truly next-gen counterparts and coming out with a decent line of in-house produced games.
But that's just the thing: outside of games made by Nintendo, there really isn't a whole lot going on with the Wii lineup, and this points to the larger problem that comes as a part of the path they chose. Having to take the low road, so to speak, and attempt to service this lower end of the video game spectrum is just a plain old shame for Nintendo. After the initial revelry of the game wore off a bit (and I switched from the wheel to the Wavebird) I began to wonder what Mario Kart would look like in high-definition on a truly next-gen console. I started wondering what a Wavebird 2 might have looked like, how it would have felt in my hands.
The most cherished name in all of gaming is reduced to producing their own small line of trademark titles on a console that is graphically inferior, with a controller that isn't even the best for its own console. It seems the Nintendo magic is strong enough to carry an entire platform through a generation of gaming consoles and outsell its counterparts even while taking the low-road and attempting to balance ease of play with overall quality. Maybe a turtle shell doesn't look that different in 1080i, maybe I'm making too big of a deal out of the controller issue, maybe a next-generation Mario Kart wouldn't be that much more fun than the one I'm playing right now. The thing is, I'd like to know for myself. And maybe I could have told them that if they let me write their fucking instruction manuals.
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