Mein Gott! We’ve just returned from visiting the Nintendo HQ in Frankfurt, Germany, and after playing Mario Kart Wii that’s the only possible reaction we could have. Simply put, the game’s AMAZING, and you, my friends, are going to LOVE it.
After the jump is a list of our early impressions, written in no particular order of preference (except the last one, which is about the Wii Wheel). There’s a lot of lovely stuff packed into this game, and we wanted to get it all written down before it was lost in a haze of jetlag and complimentary booze.
If you’re looking for a one-sentence summary, however, then look no further. We’d say that Nintendo had been inspired by freewheeling insanity of Motorstorm on the PS3, but they’ve made a better game in the process. Game is released here in Europe on April 11th, one day after its launch in Japan.
Without further ado:
1) Rest assured, Mario Kart Wii plays just as well as it’s always done. This version features lots of new tracks and new characters, plus the usual quota of classic tracks from yesteryear.
2) You can use your Miis as playable characters. And get this: the physical size of your Mii will determine the race class of your character - light, medium, heavy!
3) Several unlockable hidden characters, including *CENSORED* and *CENSORED*. Long time Nintendo fans will be pleasantly surprised.
4) They’ve slightly tweaked the control scheme for power drifts, and it’s absolute genius. You careen round corners for as long as you can; do it for long enough and you get either a turbo boost or a double turbo boost.
Also, if you’re an absolute beginner, you can choose between “automatic” and “manual” drift, so the computer automatically kicks in with the power drift when you hit a turn.
5) If you launch the cart in the air, shake the Wiimote at the right time and you can do “tricks”, which rewards you with a boost when you land. Nothing on the scale of Tony Hawks, but fun nonetheless. This was our favourite new feature.
6) The designs of the each racecourse are INSANE. Lots of winding tracks and crazy scenery. Some of them are based on levels from Super Mario Galaxy. Looks beautiful on a big flatscreen telly.
7) The bikes are a new addition, and for us they were an acquired taste. They handle totally differently from the karts - they’re faster, but way more sensitive, and you can do wheelies.
Players will be forced to use them if they want to compete in the 100cc class, because that’s bikes only. 50cc is cars only, and 150cc is mixed.
8) Each character starts out with four vehicles (two karts, two bikes), with another four to be unlocked later on. Some vehicles can go “off-road”, which means they won’t slow down so much when you go off the track in search of short-cuts. This feature comes at the expense of other stuff like speed and acceleration, however.
9) Multiplayer mode is perfectly balanced, as you’d expect. You can spend the whole race lagging in 12th place, and then a few well placed power-ups in the last lap will put you right up in front.
10) New power-ups include the giant mushroom (from New Super Mario Bros), the POW brick (from the original Mario Bros.), and a storm cloud thing that will repeatedly dog you until it’s been transferred onto another player (by crashing into them).
11) The online version looks like it’ll be a winner too. You can create a playroom and invite your friends into it, or you can play random strangers around the world. There’s a giant globe (like on the weather/news channels) with location markers for your opponents.
12) There’s also going to be Mario Kart Channel, where you can see yourself on a global leaderboard for time trials, etc. You can download the “ghosts” of other players to race against, or you can challenge them directly. There’ll be online competitions and tournaments too, though these weren’t demoed to us.
13) Finally, the Wii Wheel. This was the most disappointing thing, simply because it’s absolutely crap. Though Nintendo valiantly tried to convince us otherwise, it’s a silly gimmick that detracts from the quality of the game. Fortunately, you can play using the standard Wiimote and Nunchuk, or you can bust out the GameCube pad and be proper old school.
Don’t know why Nintendo thought this thing was necessary; perhaps it looks good in advertising? A good way of bumping up the price? Either way, it’s rubbish.
EDIT: Some of you have asked, so we’d thought we’d answer. Mario Kart Wii doesn’t feature two characters on each vehicle (a la Mario Kart Double Dash). Sorry if you’re disappointed, but there’s a wealth of features to compensate.
EDIT: Something else we forgot to mention is the chatroom function in the online play. Nintendo haven’t given players the freedom to chat freely, but players can choose from a selection of phrases that best fits their mood. “I’m happy”, “I’m sad”, that kind of thing.
Also, players can cast votes on which track they want to race on. It’s a democratic approach for track selection, and the host doesn’t automatically get to decide what it’s going to be.
One last thing; players who use the Wheel will get a special icon next to their names, which appears whilst racing and on the leaderboard at the end. Nintendo are really pushing folks to use this thing!