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.


  1. I’m pretty torn. I really want this game… but I REALLY REALLY want it to be good online. I played a couple terribly terribly laggy unplayable games of Super Smash Bros. Brawl last night (and one good one)… and it just made me so angry. What are the chances that Nintendo will fix their online problems? I’m not buying another game that’s broken online.

  2. I was really confused about the location for this article-poster and had to go check the Mario Kart release date. I’m probably not going to buy the game at launch (and will probably return my sealed copy of Brawl). Don’t get me wrong — both are quality, quality Nintendo first-party titles, but it’s just not what I feel like playing right now.

    Mario, I love you, but I need some time away from you.

  3. I’d usually say I couldn’t care less for online, but since my brother moved to Canada, I’m starting to get interested. However, I’d never not purchase such a great game if online is “broken”.

  4. A game so strongly based around multiplayer needs an online component, for me. The only people I can play multiplayer with locally are little kids (mine and their friends), and they don’t provide enough challenge. Maybe someday when their older.

  5. I don’t play online, i have a much more fun time playing with friends and their wives or girlfriends. Everyone should give that a try, the game time lasts a lot longer and you can actually have social interaction.

    Can’t wait for this game. day one.

  6. sorry if that sounded pretentious, not my intention. I just don’t understand not-buying a game if it’s a good game meant for social gaming, regardless of if has solid online play. the next infendo poll should be:

    what’s your percentage of actual online play vs. normal play in your home?

    I’m really curious about this.

  7. Thanks for the preview. This is still my most anticipated Wii games behind TP, Galaxy and Metroid. Much bigger fan of Mario Kart than a Smash Bros.

    Brandon: Your argument about local multiplayer is frequently made, and I don’t mean to pick on your point, but it is kinda presumptuous. It’s great that you apparently gather enough friends and family to frequently enjoy local multiplayer. That’s awesome, man…I wish I did, too.

    But for me and many others, gathering people to play locally isn’t as easy. I mean, don’t get me wrong…once in a while, I get to play locally with friends and stuff. But it is actually very rare, for various reasons, and never includes more than a few people. Never big affairs.

    So for me and players like me, online multiplayer is a MUST to get together with friends and family over long distances. I never thought I’d join that group, but I have. If the online isn’t there or is weak, it will be a HUGE disappointment.

    I’ll still buy Mario Kart Wii regardless, though, out of my love for the franchise. But a game like Worms: A Space Oddity may have joined my library…had it included online play.

  8. PS: To answer your percentage question, Brandon…I’d say for every ten multiplayer games I play, nine of them are online. My online play absolutely dwarfs my local.

  9. Wow man, this is a good game. Still addicted to all the karts, but this one is phat…. Now watching the end of 50 cc (all gold, but no 3 star race yet) now, off to 100 CC. Good luck with Brawl as we Europeans have to wait for that….


  10. I think that people who are concerned that Kart will suffer the lag issues that Brawl sees need to calm down. Racing and Fighting are worlds apart in terms of Online and Kart for the DS works fine for me. That said when playing friend matches of Brawl I have no problem either the last Infendo Thursday was silky smooth.

  11. online play is almost as bad as the automatic garage door opener…

  12. Yeah, online works great on the DS. How Nintendo screwed it up for the wii is a real mystery. Seriously, Brawl is laggier than when I used to play Quake 2 on a 56k modem… and that had way more players per game, in a full 3D environment.

  13. James you are not listening or informed. FPS and racing games function better than fighting games online. This is a fact that is not bound to Brawl the online Street Fighter suffered this as well. Everyone is basing their expectation on Brawl. Strikers Charged works perfectly online as does MOH Heroes. If the Online were some kind of problem with the Wii hardware this would not be true. Furthermore not EVERY Brawl match is laggy which indicates that there may be variables beyond control i.e. your competitor’s shitty connection. I have only been to one Infendo Brawl night and it restored my faith, has anyone experienced problems in that situation as well?

  14. Yes, I have had very laggy matches playing on infendo Brawl night. Some matches have been great, others have been terrible.

    I know that less info needs to change hands back and forth for a racer than for a online fighting game. But if Quake 2 could run pretty smoothly most of the time on a 56k modem with occasional stutters when it had more players and a more complex 3D environment then why should Brawl be so messed up when everyone using it should have comparatively faster connections? Brawl should be flawless.

    I don’t think it’s a problem with the wii hardware, I think it’s a problem with Nintendo’s servers or their coding.

  15. Or maybe not. I don’t really know anything about the technical stuff. But if they can’t make it work they should leave it out.

  16. the random brawl matches I played last night were like watching a very slow slide show, just a handful of frames per minute. Was Streetfighter Online really that bad?

  17. online kart rules! It fast, furious and endless in play!!!!

  18. The reports about the graphics being sub-par are pretty disturbing. It’s not like I am asking for super detailed bump mapping. With such a stylized cartoon world, I see no reason that it should ever be less polished than SM Galaxy.

  19. I finally had a really good experience playing online. Played for about an hour, random matches, only slight hiccups in frame rate. Just thought I should say, after complaining. Hopefully my good luck will continue.

  20. Posted this under the “Driving School” post, and thought I should probably put it here, too:

    I got a quick hands-on with Mario Kart today! mykie will be pleased to know I picked Luigi… 😉

    It feels a lot like Excite Truck, though doing stunts is less complicated – tilt the controller towards you in the air, as opposed to button combos and frantic waggling. The graphics are fairly good, but the music is a bit disappointing. I think that’s probably just because after playing Galaxy I have pretty high expectations in terms of orchestration!

    I played a couple of solo time trials, but raced against a computer ghost time. It seems to be a bit like single-player Wii Sports, playing against CPUs who get a bit faster each time you beat them.

    I haven’t played Mario Kart in ages, and even back then I never got into it like my brother did. So I can’t really tell you how it handles compared to the old versions, or comment about snaking. And I didn’t try the motorbikes.

    The Mii integration through the drivers’ licences is a nice touch.

    Can’t wait to have a longer crack at it — but please, please, please, let the Infendo game night fit my schedule!

  21. I had a short crack at it yesterday, played for about an hour: did a 50cc mushroom cup and some local multiplay with my girlfriend. I used the wheel, took some getting used to, and the B button was a bit of a pain because it made me powerslide in the wrong direction a few times. It would have made more sense to me to map the items to the B button and use the D-pad for powersliding. Still, I’m a sucker for utensils, and the Wii wheel is pretty naff one.

    The graphics left me unimpressed as well, just barely better than the CGN. Another niggle is the dumbing down of doing tricks, basically you only have to give a vigorous shake while being airborne. It takes no skill at all, unlike Excitetruck. I DO adore the online part though, also they nailed the Friend system on the head this time. You can instantly access your Wii friends list in the game and sent an invitation. You can also invite online players to become friends immediately after racing. That’s the way it should be.

    The Mario Kart channel is also very good. This morning at brekkie I just fiddled around a bit, and sure enough, it took but a minute before I could view the replays of best players, download their ghosts to race against, and check out my own stats. To me, the online feature is actually the beef of Mario Kart Wii!

  22. I preordered this game and got it on the 10th (Day Early WOO) and I have never been more addicted to a game.

    Yes at first the controls are a bit “dodgy” and the graphics are slightly below par, but the gameplay is simply amazing. I recommend the Nunchuk/Wiimote style if you struggle because you get all the control of the Classic Controller and all the best parts of the steering wheel (flips n tricks).

    Sadly I have no friends cos no one else had it but online was amazing – I went continental and had no issues with lag, I didn’t even realise I was online at times in the good sense. There were no connection problems even with 12 players.

    My favourite part of this game was that it wasnt “just another Mario Kart Game” – its obvious that they have taken all the best parts of the previous games and added that little bit more to make it almost perfect.

    If you are unsure about getting this game simply becuase of lag – dont be. If you are unsure about this game becuase of graphics, get a 360. If you are unsure because of gameplay, I think its the best game in the UK. (we dont have SSBB 🙁 )

  23. James, from my understanding the only thing the Nintendo server does is match make. Thus someone’s Wii is the host machine. No dedicated servers could be the big flaw that is causing you grief. If that person had a crap connection/wireless router/bandwidth hog in the house that may have led to your bad connections.

  24. Online is awesome.

    I’ve played a few Worldwide Vs races, and I love the way it connects people. I was playing people from Japan, the US, Europe and Australia, and as they connected, the globe spun around to their location and their Mii popped up on the map. Beautiful.

    While it’s loading, you watch a live race with a countdown to your own race keeping you informed of what’s happening.

    Everyone picks their favourite track, and then it’s selected from those choices at random.

    While you’re racing, people’s Miis populate the environment. They’re in the crowd watching the race. In one track, they’re driving cars back and forward. I swear I saw my own Mii on a billboard.

    It seems to match people to others of about the same skill level. I came dead last in one race (probably not the best time to start using a Manual kart), and first in the next, but both were tightly contested and frantic.

    There was no apparent lag, and I’m not on a super-fast connection (512/128) but the option to limit your race to a Continental competition will probably help.

    Snaking is pointless now. You get a slight speed boost while you’re drifting, but you get a much bigger one when you release the drift.

    I partly agree with Ronin about doing tricks. It’s much easier than Excite Truck, but then the jumps in ET were so much bigger you had to fill them in somehow. It seems like anything more complicated just wouldn’t be quick enough in MK. And the motion controls work well here, because it can sometimes be an important decision: do I go for the trick here and risk wobbling the wheel and missing the next turn? There’s a slight trade off in terms of giving up a bit of control for the chance of a turbo.

    Great fun. I was never a real Mario Kart fan, but the motion controlled steering has me hooked. I can understand entirely why MonkeyMan is hooked!

  25. Well, since we all agree on the online supremacy shouldn’t we all go bonkers and swap friend codes by now?! 🙂

  26. I’ve set up a code exchange thread in the Forums.

  27. The most important part about Mario Kart to me is the battle mode and Nintendo have ruined it in MK for Wii! 🙁 You can’t just be like three human players. Now you are forced into teams and that sucks big time! I’m not gonna buy the game because of that! Damn you, Nintendo!! 🙁

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