“Mario Kart” titles are the racing games for people who don’t like racing games. And for those who do like them, these are the ones they play when no one else is watching. “Mario Kart Wii” leans more heavily toward the former group, ratcheting down the skill level to entice those unfamiliar with drift-induced turbo boosts and other franchise idiosyncrasies. Still, there are more than enough lovingly crafted racetracks, along with the best use yet of the Wii’s online multiplayer capabilities, to create a smooth and adorable concoction that will go down smoothly with every type of gamer.
The tracks in “Mario Kart Wii” are a mix of old favorites with new designs. A busy shopping mall and psychedelic space level show off the power and color of the Wii, but classic tracks from earlier systems like the Gameboy Advance and Nintendo 64 are an amusing reminder of the relentless right angles and flat terrain of the olden days. It doesn’t take long to perform the necessary tasks to unlock all the tracks, though it does take some effort to get every additional character and vehicle. Time trials are available for perfectionists, and they offer a no-pressure way to practice on the different tracks.
When it comes to the mechanics of racing, “Mario Kart Wii” is friendly almost to a fault. The earlier “Mario Karts” had gimmicks such as combo moves or turbo slides that gave the more practiced players an edge, but in this game, luck sits in the driver’s seat while skill rides shotgun. The cars (and new motorcycles) are easy to handle, and the various power-ups are just subversive enough to tip the balance from time to time. Turbo boosts, which were often tough to activate in past “Kart” games, are as idiot-proof as can be. The tracks are mostly wide and generous, with plenty of entertaining detail and charm.
The Wii’s motion-sensing abilities aren’t really used to good effect beyond the little speakers in the controller warning the player of an incoming attack. Using the Wiimote’s motion control, with or without Nintendo’s Wii Wheel accessory, feels awfully gimmicky, and it sacrifices a certain degree of control. But like the recent “Super Smash Brothers Brawl,” this game takes numerous controllers. Those from the last-gen GameCube actually control the “Mario Kart Wii” cars best.
Though the controls don’t offer much improvement, “Mario Kart Wii” easily laps Nintendo’s other games with its multiplayer support. In addition to the four-player splitscreen, this is the first Wii game with truly great online support. Here at last is a ranking system, as well as easy integration with pre-existing Wii lists instead of typing in numerical codes for friends, a dedicated “Mario Kart” Channel for news and tournaments and even the ability for two players to go online and play splitscreen against the rest of the world. With “Super Smash Brothers Brawl’s” fumbled multiplayer still crippled, “Mario Kart Wii” is a reassuring sign Nintendo can actually get online functionality right.