Mario Kart was never meant to be taken seriously, even though I may get into the game too much when I want to win. Mario Kart is a type of game where you can gather up a friend or two and casually just have fun playing for the heck of it. It doesn't compare to more serious racing games like F-Zero, but Mario Kart has its own charms. In short, Mario Kart is more suited as a party game, but now this party has expanded to the online world.
What you may notice quickly is the ability to create up to 4 different licenses. These are profiles that use your Miis and each license keeps track of records for single player and online separately from each other. No more of having your littler brother go online with your profile and screwing it up. Single player mode hasn't changed much. There's the Grand Prix where you race against 11 other racers in a variety of tracks. 50cc is karts only, 100cc is bikes only, and 150cc lets you use both. Just like Mario Kart DS, there are 8 cups with 4 tracks each, totaling to 32 tracks. Half of them are originals while the other half are upgraded graphics of the old tracks from previous Mario Karts. VS mode is like the Grand Prix, but with more customized rules. VS mode can be played alone with the AI or against friends.
Battle mode has been slightly changed, much to the dismay of the fans. Balloon Battle is no longer pop everyone's balloons until they are gone. Instead, it's a forced team battle where the object is to pop as many balloons as you can in 3 minutes. Even if you lose all of yours, you'll just come back. Coin Battle is simply gathering as many coins as you can and trying to horde the most of it in 3 minutes. Also done in teams. Why Nintendo forced team battles instead of giving people the option to choose between teams or free for alls is beyond me. Local multiplayer is also unchanged, with the exception of no grand prix races. It's either VS or Battle.
Like Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Nintendo did something smart this time and allowed a variety of controls to be used; gamecube controller, wii remote with nunchuck, classic controller, and wii remote with the wheel shell. The wheel isn't exactly perfect, but it is fun to use. In fact, the game even tells you if players are using the wheel and if they made a new record with it. Can you imagine someone making a really good time with the wheel?
The online is where the game really shines. You can play anyone from around the world and play as many races as you want. You can even do battle mode online, something we all wanted for a long time. Not only that, but you can even join in on a friend's match if he or she is playing the world as well. Races and battles both use skill points that go up and down as you win and lose. The less points you have and the better you do, the more points you earn while winning and having a ton of points won't get you much. You will lose tons of points if you have a lot and don't even do extremely good while having fewer points and doing bad won't hurt your score as much. Now the points are pretty useless because they are nothing but bragging rights and with all the crazy items flying around in a race, luck shouldn't really be a deciding factor on the points you gain. Another cool thing that the online mode does is allowing you to download ghost data of the best times and sending your ghost data to friends. Not only that, but you can even send messages to people on your Wii friend list that gives them your friend code and if they reply to it, your code will be entered right away.
Now the downsides to this game. First, the AI is a bastard, a really big one. They will always get the powerful items very frequently and you WILL get hit A LOT. This occurs even on 50cc, where the class is supposed to let newbie players get the hang of the game. Nothing better to greet a new player by introducing cheap AI, right? Because of all this, races seem much more luck based than skill because of the powerful items showing up way too often. It feels like the game punishes players for being skilled and staying ahead. I know Mario Kart always had luck involved, but this is taking it too far. Next, the AI has a rubber band effect, where no matter how fast you are going, they will be able to keep up with you and they'll be there once you get hit with an item. The cheap AI with rubber band effects is something all racing games had used in the past, but now it the time to ditch the lazy AI programming and try to make better AI.
The graphics are a mixed bag here. The characters look too glossy and low polygons, which is not an excuse for a Wii game. If Super Smash Bros. Brawl was able to make everyone look decent, Mario Kart Wii should be able to as well. The environments however do look pretty well done and the upgraded graphics (except the SNES tracks) on the retro tracks are nicely done as well. The sound effects is just meh. Some sounds have been recycled from Mario Kart Double Dash and the others are just something you wouldn't really care for. Then again the sounds are just a minor flaw.
One thing that is extremely annoying is how most of the cups are locked. To unlock them, you'll have to beat each previous cup to unlock the next and repeat this for ALL of the engine classes. Sure, you'll also unlock other features along the way, but no one should be forced to unlock the same tracks multiple times for each engine class.
Is this game worth the buy? It all depends. If you don't care about serious racing and want to just have a good time with friends or the world, then by all means get this game. If you prefer to have races where your skills are shown, the avoid it because rubber band AI, unbalanced item distribution, and numerous course hazards will make you pull your hair out. Other than that, this game is the same Mario Kart most of us known, but with very few new things added.