'Mario Kart Wii' offers more ways to get screwed

The gaming world is just another day, another Nintendo console, another Mario Kart.


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What more needs to be said about Mario Kart at this point? Toss some Mario characters into pocket rockets and some wacky courses and weapon pick-ups into a game, then tack the name of the console onto the title, and there's your new Mario Kart - always has been fun and always will be.

"Mario Kart Wii" manages to distinguish itself from other games in the series, though. Instead of the two-driver dynamic of "Double Dash!!," "Mario Kart Wii" returns to the old-school, every-man-for-himself style of racing. On the other hand, bikes now join traditional karts as selectable rides, and each character eventually has six or eight vehicles to choose from.

Bikes can't accelerate as fast as karts, but players can wheelie with bikes on straights to pick up extra speed. The dynamic prevents any one section of the course from getting too boring. The differences in performance between all of the different vehicles, though, are almost completely superficial: That extra boost in handling means jack when red shells and banana peels keep screwing you up.

And there are more ways to get screwed (and screw other players) in Mario Kart than ever. Mega mushrooms transform you into a kart-flattening giant, POW blocks force all the other players to drop their items, and all of the classic uber-powered weapons (the star, the blue shell, the lightning bolt, Bullet Bill) are still here.

All of these game-breaking pick-ups ensure that anyone sitting pretty in first place won't stay there for long. In fact, you'll probably do better if you hang back in 12th place for the first two laps and scoop up all the powerful stuff. It's great if you want to play with your newbie friends, but not so great when taking on AI in the Grand Prix mode. You'll love "Mario Kart Wii" if you have a glutton for punishment.

The game includes a whopping 32 courses - half new and half old. Most of the new courses are fantastic: DK Summit takes you down a snowy mountain full of half-pipes and moguls, Grumble Volcano constantly requires leaps of faith over pits of lava and Moonview Highway is an uphill fight against oncoming traffic.

Tricks are a huge part of gameplay now. Performing a trick in midair results in a speed boost when you land. Most courses offer plenty of opportunities to get air, so remembering to perform tricks is a crucial tactic for making fast times in time trial mode. This is another dynamic to the gameplay that prevents courses from turning into "drive in a straight line and turn around corners" routines.

There is just one problem, though. Every character feels compelled to say something like "Wahoo!" or "Yeah!" in the most annoying, high-pitched voice imaginable every two seconds. There are also more baby versions of characters than ever now. The audio experience is unpleasant to say the least.

The most worthwhile addition to the series has to be its 12-player online mode. Finally, Nintendo allows random players to have identities beyond their 12-digit friend codes by displaying their Mii and region as well. Matches are wonderfully lag-free and quick to start, making this the preferred mode of play when you just want to kill time for a few hours.

Having a good time with any Mario Kart game is easy. Once you exhaust every course in every speed class and unlock every character and vehicle, though, you'll probably feel like you've had enough Mario Kart for one lifetime. And if you don't, the online mode will keep you occupied until you can't throw koopa shells anymore.

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