Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mario Kart Wii Musings

I had a little more time to play around with Mario Kart Wii at the Megamall, and it's definitely growing on me. This would easily be a "system seller" for me if Nintendo Wii was actually stocked anywhere. I am continually amazed at how well this little cream-colored box continues to sell. The last time I saw one on a store shelf was last August. At this rate, I'm openly wondering if I'll ever get one; then I sigh and go back to my turntable and record collection.

Back to Mario Kart Wii. An excellent game overall. I'm starting to grok the controls, or at least the basic Wiimote controls sans steering wheel. I can appreciate how well the steering wheel would improve things, since the game really is meant for that. I'm also aware that you can use Wiimote with Nunchuk, which should be very similar, but I haven't seen that at the Gamestop stores around here.

One great thrill for me has to be the new courses. The early beginning racetracks are pretty basic and standard, which is no surprise to seasoned Mario Kart freaks. The Star Course is where things get really interesting. One course takes place over a series of giant trees, where you are blasted into the branches, and then work your way down to the roots. There are some groovy curves on large branches that remind me of the tubes in F-Zero X, and I'm sure that's going to become a major cause for fistfights among friends. Then we add in some bumps - which enable you to perform show-offey stunts - and a halfpipe or two, and you've got a terrific thrill ride. This tree course may be my favorite Mario Kart in the whole of the series.

Ah, yes, a quick mention about stunts. You simply shake your Wiimote whenever you bump into the air. It can be a simple bump in the road, or one of the ramps, or one of the major jumping points like the red psychedelic mushrooms - someone needs to explain to me why Nintendo has always been so open about psychedelics. Weren't they the ultra-conservative ones, the guys who wouldn't stand blood and violence in Mortal Kombat? And yet, here they are, handing out psilosybin like Terence McKenna. Hmm...come to think of it, Terence McKenna raps would go perfectly with all-night sessions of Mario Kart.

There's another course on the Star circuit that takes place on water, where everyone races over a raging river. That's just wonderful from start to finish. The best part is when you suddenly find yourself careening over the waterfalls, and into some underwater tubes. There are also some narrow rocky passages, laden with halfpipes and ramps, of course. There's a bit of a balance between steering and driving responsibly, and playing risky and reckless with powerslides and stunts. Going the latter may pay dividends against your peers, but it's so much easier to fall off and crash away.

Twelve racers are present, instead of the old eight, and it's a great thrill. I'm expecting that online matches will include all racers, which makes me more interested for the online modes. As I wrote before in the last post, I don't know if "snaking" is present in this version, so hopefully we won't have the multiplayer games devolve into one or two expert racers that leave everyone else hopelessly lost in the dust. That was the one reason I grew tired of Mario Kart DS' online races. What's the point in competing against that?

I've trolled around gaming blogs for impressions, but it's tough to find anything. Most game sites like Go Nintendo, Joystick and Kotaku are merely interested in posting news items. They see themselves as the prozines redux, offering little more than free advertising in exchange for getting paid to play videogames. Where the bloody hell are the real videogame blogs? The real voices? The real opinions? I'm probably asking for too much, but whatever.

In any case, when I do find online discussions, they're all complaining. For me, this is a good thing. As I've said before, the hallmark of a Mario Kart is its ability to spark controversy among the fans. Usually it's for trivial reasons, all of which point to the same whiny lament: "I can't win anymore." Well, boo hoo freakin' hoo, Timmy. That's what you get for wasting your twenties in front of a television set, instead of going outside and living. I don't really care if "rubber-banding," the slang for racers snapping back from the rear of the pack, costs you anything. I really don't care if you've been hit repeatedly by items. That's just part of the show, and it comes with being the leader in the race. If you're way out in front, there's a good chance you'll get hit multiple times by your rivals. Suck it up. It's part of the game.

And I can say this honestly, since my last race ended with me falling into second place after being hit four times by shells and bombs. The hallmark of a great multiplayer game is the ability to royally screw over your friends. It's what made M.U.L.E. so great. It's what made Super Bomberman 2 and Saturn Bomberman so great. It's what made Chu Chu Rocket and SF Rush 2049's Battle Mode so great.

So don't listen to the crybabies. Mario Kart Wii is a democratic racer - everybody has an equal shot at the gold.

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