But hold on a minute. If the extra four karts don’t add anything to the Grand Prix, why include them? It’s not like Nintendo to crowbar in excessive features for the hell of it - they’re the master game pruners. Keep that in mind as we enter the final lap of our Mario Kart Wii review. In racing terms, this is where you pull your finest tricks out of the bag to get ahead, but likewise, this is where slip-ups are most painfully felt.
The trick we’re referring to? Online play. As an online Wii experience it shames its rivals. Smash Bros. may offer a cavalcade of online modes, but it’s crudely handled. Press a button and you play Smash Bros. online. Caveman basic. Mario Kart is a crafted online experience designed to develop a community. From the immensely slick and welcoming lobby system to the special Mario Kart Channel installed on the Wii menu, everything about it drips thoughtfulness. It’s the first online Wii title where you feel like you’re developing a competitive online profile and not just accessing a rubbish database that only records how many games you’ve won (ahem, Mario Strikers Charged and Pokémon Battle Revolution).
Chasing best times has always been the lifeblood of Mario Kart, and through the downloadable ghost runs of the Mario Kart Channel it’s taken to a global level of competition. Challenge your friends to beat your racing ghost or download the number one ghost time in the world and see how you measure up against them. No longer will results have to be filtered through monthly magazine pages to find out whether ‘I’m the best’. This is an instant, ever-evolving online contest. And online, 12-kart races finally make sense. Humiliating 11 AI karts is nothing like racing 11 human minds. The spirited chaos of the lower ranks that you’re denied by the ease of single-player? Not an issue here. Not to mention the 12-player takes on other modes. Balloon Battle is now a team effort - four gangs of three working to burst as many as possible. The Grand Prix can be raced as a team, you and friends clubbing together to ensure you all place higher than rival members.
Mad. Ridiculous. But all in the spirit of fun. It’s Nintendo all right. Only it isn’t. Because the Nintendo we know and love would never sacrifice one portion of a game for another. Nintendo trim and tweak to perfection. Not so here. The pressure to deliver an online experience has led to Nintendo overlooking the local multiplayer mode - the one that carried Mario Kart for all these years. Four-player Balloon Battle? It stinks. Designed for 12 players, the remaining eight teammates are AI drivers - completely undermining the skill-based play the mode has always rewarded. Same goes for Coin Grabbing, a new battle mode that needs little explanation.
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