The more we see of this, the less it seems like it should be limited to the Kart name. Perhaps a better title would be 'Mario Racers' or something like that, as the many vehicles available for each character will also include motorbikes.
Flat-out speed seems to be the big advantage to using a bike, with a turbo boost function that hoists the front wheel off the floor and cuts through traffic at a blindingly fast rate. Bikes can still use the normal weapon set available to the cars, karts and home-made soapbox vehicles in the game, so the trade-off would have to be in terms of stability around corners.
Mario Kart Wii definitely looks quicker than the GameCube and N64 versions all round, no matter which two- or four-wheeled vehicle you're controlling. Blasting around chicanes and hopping across corners, it seems to be the ideal response to everyone who ever complained that the pace of the games can be a little sedate. Now it's as nippy as can be.
With a selection of courses taken from previous versions, as well as a set of brand new efforts that will take full advantage of the new steering technique on Wii, there's something for everyone. We're particularly looking forward to the downhill luge track, which combines slippy-slidey ice with a steep incline and wide half-pipe corners.
The half-pipes are for getting SSX-style air and popping a few stunts while soaring up to the item boxes that float a few metres above the rim. Once you're airborne, you can do freestyle tricks by flipping and twisting the vehicle. It seems a strange thing to have in Mario Kart, but it looks like a purely optional piece of bonus fun - there doesn't appear to be any speed boost or freebie item awarded for doing a flashy stunt.
Perhaps it's a way to evade homing shells, in which case it's most welcome - we could use some means of escaping those unavoidable blue devils. Whether the drivers wipe out if they don't land correctly remains to be seen.
Unlike the earlier games, which had a maximum of eight drivers, Mario Kart Wii has a 12-car field - and that goes for the online mode as well. It's going to be the best kind of chaos. The online lobby will be set up to ensure the competitors are as evenly matched as possible, and promises to offer fast connections - and it'll have to, since it's coping with 12 players.
Links to the past
As in Mario Super Circuit on GBA, a selection of classic tracks will be making a comeback. Courses from every previous game, including the 2D-ish GBA and SNES ones, have been brought out of semi-retirement and retooled to fit Nintendo's policy of retro love, best exemplified by Super Paper Mario. The jagged hills and colourful block barriers from the very first Mario Kart look striking alongside the shiny 3D characters.
As well as taking courses from other Mario Karts, the best weapons from the series will be making a return. Aside from the obvious selection of shells, bananas, stars and turbo mushrooms, it looks like there's going to be some means of shrinking individual characters (one screen shows a small Yoshi among what appear to be multiple full-size racers). Could this be a localised thunderbolt effect or the revival of the poison mushroom from the original?
Bundled with a free steering wheel, the game probably won't arrive in the UK until around Easter. If it wasn't for the present lure of Mario Galaxy and the promise of Smash Bros, we'd quite like to go into hibernation to escape the pain of having to wait so long. Sweet torture!