Saturday, April 12

Game: Mario Kart Wii Click for more info

It's pretty telling that between my brother and me we've owned every single Mario Kart released. For reference, that's Super Mario Kart, Mario Kart 64, Mario Kart Super Circuit, Mario Kart: Double Dash and Mario Kart DS, and it's the only series of games that we've been compelled to own fully.

This was partly due to the love we had for the seminal SNES classic. Hours were spent playing it, sometimes alone but mainly with two or more people - it was one of the few games along with the likes of Street Fighter 2 that was an enjoyable to watch as it was to play.

MK64 added to the fun by allowing four people to play at once. It was a worthy replacement and not disappointing, but I'm not left with as many fond memories of playing that particular version. The other iterations were footnotes as far as I was concerned; SC and DD were diluted and spoiled, while the potential brilliance of DS was wasted on a platform where multiplayer was such a hassle to set up.

I guess the first clue to Mario Kart Wii's awesomeness is in its name. There are no gimmicks here, no two man karts or coin collecting. No, in many ways MKW has been stripped back to basics, left in a pure form not really seen since M64.

I should admit that I struggled with it at first, the redesigning of the drift mechanism throwing me off a bit (if you've not played since the SNES or SC then you'll have no problems grasping the simpler non-snaking form here). Once I had gotten over that and settled into a character/vehicle combination that best suited me (from the myriad of options available), I was able to play MK as it's supposed to be played - that is meticulously, exploring every nook and cranny for those vital extra seconds to shave off.

And that's when I discovered that this is no "simple" MK after all. The most obvious addition is that of bikes, vehicles not only with different statistics but totally different characteristics. We also now have the ability to perform air stunts, the reward of which is a small boost on landing - again things which all add up to a shattering track record or first place.

So far so good then? Well as it stands I'd say that alone makes MKW one of my favourite MKs ever, placing somewhere around MK64. The thing is that I've not even mentioned online yet.

For all the stick Nintendo has had for their online strategy, MKW totally removes any suspicion that they don't know what they're doing. You can both race and battle online, the former with up to 12 other karts. You can match up globally, within your continent or against specific friends - with wins in the first two contributing to your permanent "race score". Against friends you're able to play with standard GP rules - a simple concept MK fans could only dream about before.

You don't just race against each other either - you now have global, continental and friend time trial leaderboards and can finally officially record who is the fastest at track x or y, downloading the leader's ghost in order to practise against. It's the little things like that which makes the whole experience so excellent - for example as you boot up the installable (and so disc-less) Mario Kart Channel, seeing who's online and then joining them for a continental race or whatever.

And that's why this actually gets placed way ahead of MK64 - Mario Kart has always been about playing with other people and MKW totally seems to understand this. Coupled with a pure, yet sophisticated and evolved game mechanic I'm not even sure the SNES version is top of my list anymore. That's something I'll only know when looking back at any memories provided by this game; whether it will or not I can't say - the potential is certainly there though.

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