Mario Kart Wii: too many old dogs, not enough new tricks

You and I are about to engage in a little experiment. If you happen to be near a Nintendo Wii, fetch the closest Wiimote and wrap this issue of Metro Pulse around it. Write the word "REHASHED" in Sharpie on your makeshift Wii Baseball Bat, then smack yourself in the face with it between 20 and 30 times.

If you managed to get through this exercise without calling me a pretentious twerp, congratulations! You just experienced an allegorical recreation of Mario Kart Wii, the first in Nintendo's Wii-era "Guaranteed Hits" line to fall short of the standard set by its brethren.

Note that this is the first Wii-era Guaranteed Hit to get this kind of vitriol from me. That Nintendo will continue to release them until the earth spirals into the sun is a truism, but it's one that can be ignored as long as there is a reason for the hits to be guaranteed. MKWii runs aground by letting the innovative wind that has kept Nintendo's Guaranteed Hits moving forward be focused only on one little add-on that only sorta could. Without anything else to make MKWii feel new, the results are unfortunately lackluster.

Which brings us to the newest addition to the Wii's stable of single-use Wiimote controller add-ons: the Wii Wheel. It's a good thing the Wii Wheel is a free pack-in, since to the untrained eye it appears to be just another one of those throwaway add-ons that is worthless to a society of people who need no accessory to increase their mastery of the remote control. However, unlike such gems as the Wii Zapper, the Wii Tennis Racket, and the Wii Pocket Fisherman, the Wii Wheel actually manages to make MKWii... well, I wouldn't call it more fun, but at least a different kind of fun. To its credit, Wii Wheeling your way through a few MKWii tracks is the kind of intuitive and responsive use of the Wii's controls that we've come to expect from first-party Wii titles. The Wii Wheel puts all the necessary buttons within thumb's reach, and controlling a kart with it takes surprisingly little adjustment.

But one quirky little addition like a new controller just doesn't cut it anymore. It seems that someone in the Nintendo hierarchy realized this, and their solution for it was to stuff the game with content from previous Mario Karts and hope that players would be too busy to notice that the game's content consists of just a new paint job. Fully half of MKWii's tracks are lifted wholesale from previous entries in the series.

As an addition to a game with plenty of original content, this kind of thing makes perfect sense. MKWii is so anemic on its own, though, that making up the difference with leftovers from other games does more harm than good. Replaying old tracks in a marginally new way doesn't evoke the same refreshed interest that other Wii-era sequels to date have engendered. Even MKWii's multiplayer capability, ostensibly Nintendo's other Big Thing this time around, suffers from an overabundance of "blast from the past" material. While reliving MK64's skyscraper level might be fun for a few minutes, it's the same fun that I was having 10 years ago, and the result of effort that would have been better spent figuring out something more to do with Battle Mode than popping balloons on enemy carts for the sixth time.

MKWii does at least attempt to branch out in a couple of other areas, but the results are too watered down to be effective as selling points. Bikes could have been an interesting addition, but in implementation they're just stiff karts with marginally higher top speeds. Kart jumps and midair acrobatics were thrown in at some point, but their realtime effects are negligible, and performing them eventually becomes just another step in the Mario Kart rote: start fast, gain first place, scream at cheating AI Karts, waggle-jump, repeat.

As much as I hate to say it, MKWii would have been a great GameCube-era game, but in the Wii age, it just doesn't bring enough innovation to the table.