Mario Kart Wii First Impressions

mariokart_wiibox.jpgBefore I started home from work today my bu-chou (head of planning) told me her father had bought her daughter a new Wii game and she wanted me to go up and see it before I went home (bu-chou and sha-chou (CEO)) live upstairs from the company office).

Not to get into the complex family dynamics of my employment situation, let’s just say I got to sit down and watch a 6th-grader take the Wii wheel for a spin, and then played one course myself. Obviously not enough play-time for a review, but I can definitely list some things I’m looking forward to, and somethings that I’m not.

At first I was very apprehensive about the controls, having had a somewhat rough experience with the demo of “Excite Truck” at my local gamestop when the Wii was originally released in the states. However, at least on “auto-drift mode” the game was pretty easy to handle despite my apprehension, and I think with practice steering could be no problem.

There is however one fundamental flaw in the steering wheel’s design and that is the placement of the B-button. The B-button is under the left side of the steering wheel, which is where the turning signal would be… on a Japanese or left-side-driving European car. However, since I grew up driving in the US and have never driven here, having a button there feels a little unnatural. Of course this is no problem for Japanese and/or non-drivers, and the wheel is actually so small that it doesn’t really feel like a car’s steering in the first-place, so I think the B-button won’t be impossible to get used to.

… I know, “use another controller!” You might say — but I always like to at least try playing a game in the “default” setting, all though after purchasing the game I may eventually switch it out with the nunchuck.

Of the tracks I saw, some of them looked a little re-hashed, some of them actually were stages from previous Mario Kart games (of course with mild face-lifts), but some of the tracks seemed really innovative, with strange new designs, and bizarre traps and pitfalls. If the majority of the new tracks turn out this way then I think a very solid game-play experience meriting Mario Kart sequel status may be in order. Of the three new items in the game I only noticed the pow block being used (wasn’t really sure how), but one thing I wanted to point out is that the upside-down item boxes are now almost a completely different color and are quite a bit easier to recognize than in previous iterations of the game.

Graphics were unfortunately the only really area of the game I came away feeling really disappointed with. After playing such visually stunning first-party titles like Galaxy and Smash-Brothers, the Kart graphics just fall flat. Of course the bright colors and fun characters and scenarios are very well designed, but the quality of the models just seem low, and there are a whole lot of grainy textures on the tracks. Having said that, a lot of the cut-back may have been to keep the online play running smooth, and if that’s the effect it has then I think it will be worth it. Graphics have never made a Mario Kart title, and they probably shouldn’t.

You can tell right away since I’m home writing this article and not playing a copy of Mario Kart Wii that I immediately picked up on the way home from work that the game was not quite the moving experience that would have me grabbing a title like Mario Galaxy as soon as I could. But I’m definitely looking forward to playing more of the courses and of course racing my Mii online with friends world-wide.