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Mario Kart Wii is a great game for getting the family together or inviting over your friends who don’t play games. Just fire it up, hand them a Wii Wheel, and you’re off to a great time. However, for the more competitive of us, and for serious racers who’ve been with the series since the beginning, it’s a mixed bag at best.

MKWii’s most obvious trait is the addition of the Wii Wheel. To use it, you just slide a Wii Remote into the wheel shell. The fit is snug and secure, and is easy enough for anyone to do. The wheel itself is a fun peripheral for racing with friends. If you’ve got up to four Wii Remotes and wheels, you can get most any group people racing and having a good time. It controls pretty much like you would expect; you turn the wheel to steer, the B trigger is used for power slides, the 1 button is the brake/reverse and 2 is gas. That’s it. The biggest change with this new layout is the removal of the manual mini-boosts while power sliding. They are now triggered strictly by how long you hold the slide. This irks some folks, but it makes sense because there’s no way to implement the standard format with the Wii Wheel. You can also use just a remote on it’s side, a remote and nunchuck, or a Gamecube controller, so there are options.

Multiplayer is scattershot this time around. With 12 racers per track, it can get hectic with items flying all over the place. You can race alone or in teams, you can choose to have all items, aggressive items, strategic items, or none at all, and you can put together your own impromptu Grand Prix. You race on any four tracks and the game will tally points and announce a winner after the four are over. You can also pick whether racers can use karts, bikes, or both. Bikes are a great addition, and are perhaps the highlight of this release.

love the bikes, not because they control different (because they don’t ), but rather for their wheelie option. You can pull a wheelie at any point on a bike to get a speed boost at the expense of turning ability. With either the karts or the bikes you can do stunts off of jumps, be they large or small. Stunts give you a speed boost upon landing but some jumps are out of the way, so you have to balance the speed boost you get versus taking the shortest line.  Each weight class, of which there are three (large, medium and small) has three karts and three bikes to start with, with more unlocked through play. There are also a total of 32 tracks, with half being available at the start while the rest need unlocking. 16 of the total tracks are retro courses, and while the art styles are fun and hold the look of the old games, I do wish they’d spruced them up more for the Wii.

There are a  number of hidden racers available as well, including the Mii tied to your racing ID. This is a fun idea for me and really should have been in Smash Bros. Brawl. Battle mode, a staple of the franchise, is fun as well with a number of new and retro battle mode stages and 12 people battling at once, but you’re forced to battle in teams and I dislike the points system. Losing all of your balloons means nothing since you’re immediately respawned to continue while the only perk for your enemy are points on the board. All battles are time based now and the maps are HUGE.

I do have a problem with the difficulty, though. Time and again you’ll be thwarted when racing in the Grand Prix when you get hit by a slew of items just when you’re about to win. All I can think of is all the time I put in to playing NBA Hangtime when the AI would artificially keep things close by screwing the player over with cheap baskets for itself and lowered abilities for the player. The AI here uses similar tactics and you will lose repeatedly through no fault of your own.

Mario Kart DS is still my favorite in this series and Mario Kart Wii has some serious flaws, but it’s still fun. Don’t bother playing by yourself, other then to unlock more karts, racers and tracks. Get a couple friends, some snacks, and a couple wheels to experience this game the way it was meant to be played. Alphasim out.

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