Considering how popular the Mario Kart series has been in past years, and with Mario Kart DS being regarded as one of the best racing games ever, it was clear that this game was going to be released at some point. Like many other people, I'd previously played Mario Kart DS and loved it, and so I decided that I would enjoy this game too? So, was it the great racing game I was expecting? Absolutely.
The core gameplay remains the same as it has been since the first Mario Kart was released. You choose your character, vehicle and track, and then you start racing. That's all there is to it. One of the things I like about the game is that just about anyone can learn to play it within ten minutes. However, a number of changes have been made to how the game works. For a start, in Mario Kart DS there were eight characters in each race, but now there are twelve in each race. In my opinion, this is a good thing, because it makes the race more frantic and hectic, which (for me, at least) adds to the fun. There are two sets of controls you can use. The first is the Wii Remote and Nunchuck combo, and the other is the Wii Wheel, which you use to turn as if you were in a real vehicle. In my opinion, the wheel is much more fun to use, but really it's up to you.
Another interesting new addition is the inclusion of bikes. If you get bored with the karts in this game, then the bikes might be more in your league. They are generally lighter than karts, but they can also do a wheelie to slightly increase their speed. It is now also possible to do tricks in the air. After coming off of a ramp, all you do is flick the wheel, and then your character will do a quick pose, and you get a speed boost when they land on the ground. Though a relatively small addition, it's quite a quaint one, and some of the character's poses are very funny.
If you've ever played Mario Kart DS, then chances are you know about snaking. If you're one of those people who hated it, then you'll be happy to hear that snaking has been toned down massively. Technically it's still possible, but it takes much more skill and timing, and for much less reward, due to how the drift boost system works.
Now, in Mario Kart DS, each character had three karts to themselves, which would eventually become shared amongst the cast. However, this time around the karts and bikes that characters can ride depends on their weight class. Each weight class has six karts and six bikes, some of which have to be unlocked. That's a total of eighteen karts and eighteen bikes, which I would say is a pretty decent variety. You can also play as many different characters. As well as playing as old favourites like Mario, Luigi, Bowser and Peach, you can now play as characters such as King Boo, Rosalina, Bowser Jr. and Birdo. The character you pick has a slight effect on how the vehicle travels, though to be honest the effect is usually hard to notice. Essentially, you can pick any character and still win.
The graphics in this game are a mixed bag of good and bad parts. On the plus side, the race tracks look great. They have a large amount of detail, and all of them are bright and colourful, and there are no sharp edges or grainy textures in sight. The vehicles also look pretty good. They animate fluidly and look fine, but the textures on them are a bit on the simple side. The character models, to be honest, look pretty bad. The characters look a bit edgy and don't animate too well, sort of like something you would see in a PSX game. Fortunately, this isn't very noticeable, since you only really see them on the character select screen.
As is always the case with Mario Kart games, the music is usually bright and cheery, unless it's on a darker track, and the music generally fits the track perfectly, and encourages you to keep going. The sound effects are decent but nothing special, and are generally the sort you would hear in a Saturday morning cartoon. The voices are also not very noticeable, though that's probably a good thing, because at least you don't have them distracting you while you're racing.
But what about the tracks that you race on? Put simply, the race tracks in this game are superb. Just like in Mario Kart DS, you have sixteen original tracks, and sixteen classic ones. The brand new tracks, in my opinion, are stunning. They have a good deal of variety, and also they are the perfect length: not too long, or too short. Tracks that are particularly great are Coconut Mall, Moonlight Valley and Rainbow Road (As always). The selection of classic tracks you can race on is also decent, with tracks coming from Mario Kart games from the SNES, GBA, Gamecube and the DS.
You also have a ton of items that you can use in each race, a staple part of the successful Mario Kart formula. There are boring items such as the banana and the green shell, and there are great items such as the Golden Mushroom and the now infamous blue shell. There are also a handful of new items, such as the Thunder Cloud which makes you go faster and then shrinks you if you don't pass it on. One thing's for sure: the items in this game are guaranteed to cause hilarity or frustration in almost every race.
The range of modes in this game is similar to that of Mario Kart DS. You can race in a cup championship, in a single race, time attack or in team battles. For the most part, the modes remain unchanged, however the team battles received a rather unwelcome change. Whether you do Shine Runner or Balloon Battle the same problem exists: you have to play as part of a team. Whereas in Mario Kat DS you had the choice of being in a team of a free-for-all, here you don't get that luxury. Why Nintendo chose to do this is beyond me.
What really stands out about this game is the fantastic online gameplay. When you have connected onto WiFi, you have two choices: you can either play against random people (worldwide or continental) or you can play against people whose friend codes you have. Once you've done that, you pick your character and vehicle and play in races for as long as you want. Also, you can get points depending on how well you do in the race, and getting them up to 9999 points takes a long time. The reason it shines is because there's practically no lag whatsoever, and in addition it's great fun.
Now, as you should all know, when it comes to Mario Kart, multiplayer is where enjoyment reaches its peak. Just about anybody can learn to play this game, and this game is great for parties, especially if someone who looks like they're going to win for sure gets hit by a blue shell (guaranteed laughs for everyone except the unlucky player). And with the huge variety of courses, vehicles and modes, this game has a ton of replay value.
However, as great as this game is, there are a couple of noticeable flaws. For a start, the game's AI is somewhat questionable. The game uses rubber band AI, not just because they get faster as you're further ahead, but also because they end up getting the best items and end up using them effectively against you. However, the AI is still pretty easy to beat overall.
In fact, on the subject of items, although without them the game would probably be a lot less fun, there is occasional item overkill, with items having a profound effect on the game. It's not uncommon for someone in 12th place to grab a bullet bill, and suddenly end up in 3rd, or for someone to get a golden mushroom and end up in the lead. And don't get me started on all the times when I've been hit by a blue shell right next to the finish line…
Still, apart from occasional frustrations caused by items, this is an extremely enjoyable and engrossing game that is definitely worth your time and money. It sticks to the traditional Mario Kart formula that has worked for so many years, but it includes just enough new features to stop it seeming rehashed and boring. If you aren't one of the 15 million + people who have already bought this game, then for goodness sake, buy it now! Trust me, you won't regret it, especially if you have a decent WiFi connection and/or lots of friends. For all of those reasons, I'm awarding this game an A-.
Replay Value: A-