Things That Make You Go Vroom

Friday, May 2, 2008

Through the years, the Mario Kart racing series has developed a devoted following. With Mario Kart Wii, it's easy to see why. This latest installment of the franchise features 24 beloved Nintendo characters, making for a terrific, accessible game.

Players navigate through several levels, competing in eight single-player tournaments for cups along 32 tracks; 16 tracks are from previous Mario Kart titles. Players can unlock additional characters and vehicles as they win tournaments and can go head-to-head against up to three players or compete online against as many as 11 opponents.

Simplicity may be Mario Kart Wii's greatest strength. The game is easy to learn; a Wii Wheel accessory comes with the title (players insert the remote controller into the wheel and then steer). The wheel is light and intuitive and adds to the feel of the game. Players need to reach for only a few buttons while tilting and turning the wheel.

The graphics may not be overwhelming, especially when compared with Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 titles, but they convey a fun, entertaining world. There are colorful levels, giant mushrooms and amazing scenery from the Super Mario Brothers universe. Mario Kart has top-notch audio work as well.

Online multi-player gameplay is new to the series, and the game offers two major online modes. One is Grand Prix, which functions as a conventional race; the other is Battle, in which players must pop three balloons trailing behind their opponents' vehicles to score points or collect the most gold coins while dodging attacks to win.

The game has other great new touches. With the slipstream tactic, players can essentially "draft" behind another vehicle, building up an incredible burst of speed to use for passing. Alternate routes make hunting for a shortcut fun, and players can choose their own vehicles. Other clever additions include ever-changing obstacles such as a rainstorm that intensifies and alters the track or a quicksand trap that gradually widens.

There are a few quibbles. The game's tracks can feel wide and lonely with only a few players competing, and character choices seem to make no difference in gameplay. Still, this is one of the most fun titles developed for the Wii.

-- Chris Barylick

Mario Kart Wii Everyone; Nintendo Wii ($50) Nintendo EAD/Nintendo Mario Kart Wii Everyone; Nintendo Wii ($50) Nintendo EAD/Nintendo

© 2008 The Washington Post Company