Yes, it is some sixteen years since Mario first pushed his go-kart out onto the track and created a whole new genre of kart racing.
Fostering many copies and lookalikes, the original game featured kart racing, power ups and many wacky characters that appealed to young and old alike. Since the original, there have been six other game releases. Mario Kart for the Wii is now the eighth game in the series.
(Some readers may be wondering at this point why our review has been published three months after the official release of Mario Kart in New Zealand. This is due to availability issues after the demise of the New Zealand Nintendo distributor, SPI, earlier this year. These issues have now been resolved and we do not expect this to be a problem going forward. -Ed)
What strikes you first about Mario Kart is the wheel that comes packaged with the game. Nothing more than a circular piece of plastic and a housing to hold your Wii remote, we were somewhat sceptical about how useful the whole thing would be. We are pleased to say however, like most things on the Wii, simplicity in design hides sophistication in game play. It works a charm and turns your Wii remote into an almost perfect peripheral for controlling racing games. It's responsive and feels very natural to use (although holding a steering wheel in mid air turning it vigorously does make you look like a putz).
The game that comes packaged with the wheel will be like a trip down memory lane for fans of the previous games. It includes sixteen classic tracks from previous releases which have been cut and polished in the pits, but at their heart you'll find the basic tracks you are familiar with. There are also sixteen new tracks which are designed to take advantage of the new stunt moves contained within the game.
Real life devotees of karting may frown on the concept of air time in a go-kart, however in Mario, flipping your wheel as you take flight off one of the ramps allows you to perform spins and turns in mid-flight. If successful you gain a sizable speed boost. The new tracks are well endowed with these ramps, while the classic tracks also have a sprinkling of them to keep you on your toes.
The usual shell and mushroom power-ups make a return, and these have been further augmented by the inclusion of the thundercloud (this stuns the cars in front of you) along with a new blue shell that can be used for a devastating effect. Unfortunately these new additions introduce imbalance in the game rather than adding to the fun, as it seems that no matter how good a racer you are, those following have an obscene amount of these power-ups available, which makes leading a race a short and suicidal experience. This is unfortunate, as in some ways the game loses some of the challenge and pushes it more into the realm of dumb luck to win a race.
With the differing race modes and engine sizes there is in effect over thirty tracks to challenge players as well as some battle arenas where surviving, rather than winning, is the name of the game.
Graphics are what you would expect from the Wii, and there are some funny tongue-in-cheek effects that are the hallmark of any decent Mario title. Drive under a pile driver and your car is flattened - it's still drivable, but your equally flattened wheels means you are slower than when you first drove under it.
A departure from previous games is the inclusion of motorbikes. Karts they are not, but their faster speed and more manoeuvrability add a nice dimension to the overall game play.
The game really comes into its own when you play against human opponents. This can be on four-way split-screen set up, or by way of a twelve-player WiFi game. Certainly four-way on the split-screen is party mode, and fits well within the family entertainment aspects of the Wii console.
Overall this game has some interesting new concepts and is a welcome addition to the Wii console. Race game enthusiasts may be disappointed in the luck aspects of winning, but it's certainly fun to play. Especially with friends.