A word on video games — Mario Kart Wii rocks!

We got a Wii last week. The final reason was Mario Kart Wii — it’s one of my favourite series, I’ve enjoyed it on both GameCube and particularly on DS. The Wii version is the best, however, for several reasons.

Wii has been on our “to buy” list since it came out, it was obvious we would buy it at some point. It’s the only console I’m at all interested in. PS3 and Xbox 360 have simply nothing at all to offer me, yet I’ve been quite intrigued by Wii. I don’t care about flashy graphics or most games, I want clever gameplay and few choice hits I’m going to play a lot. Mario Kart Wii fits the bill, and I expect Wii Sports (bowling in particular but also tennis) to entertain me for quite a while as well.

Mario Kart Wii is a very good game. The gimmick is the Wheel, where you insert the Wii remote and then go driving. It’s funny, it’ll change your driving style a bit, but it works. It takes some getting used to, but I like it. It’s not a cheap gimmick, but actually a rather pleasant way of driving.

There’s some other new stuff as well. There are now bikes as well: 100 cc class is at first bikes only and 150 cc is bikes or karts. A local game critic didn’t like the bikes, but I love them — right now if I have a choice, I’m riding a bike. They just work very well with my driving style.

The new tracks are fun, there are several rather clever and funny tracks in the new set and the recycled set is well chosen. Many favourites are back, with some new twists. The new tracks remind me of F-Zero GX at several places… There’s plenty of speed and some pretty tough challenges. The latest version of Rainbow Road is just fiendish.

There’s a ton of chaos in the game, it’s much worse than before if you don’t like it. There’s 12 karts or bikes in each race and some new and nasty objects (POW blocks and the thunderclouds in particular), so there’s trouble ahead! Winning races is hard at 150 cc, because someone’s blasting you with shells or something all the time. Skip this game if you can’t stand the chaos or are easily frustrated…

What really works is the online play. I tried online matches with DS, but that wasn’t very good. There’s little point in running four race competitions when your opponents are going to drop out as soon as they figure out you’re better. Here it’s just one race at a time, with up to 12 players. Players have rankings, and if you suck, you don’t have to win to improve your rating (right now, I think if I only could make it fifth or so, I would improve my rating in most cases). That makes sure everybody has motivation to do their best all the time.

One feature I really like is ghost races. You can get a ghost run that’s slightly better than your current record and try to beat that. That gives the game so much extra mileage. I used to do something similar with Tommy in F-Zero GX: we had an online leaderboard where we recorded our times. That competition kept me playing F-Zero GX for a long time after I had unlocked all the cups. Here it is built in the system. You can compete with your friends, find random opponents at your level, challenge the continental or world champion, race against staff ghosts, see how your times compare to other people… All very cool stuff, and everything works without any trouble at all.

So, I expect to play Mario Kart Wii for a long time, because the regular cups will offer more challenge than before and the online play will add to that. This all means the game is well worth the money and almost alone enough of a reason to get Wii.

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