Fun fact: I'm a total Mario Kart fanboy. For the record: Double Dash is my favourite (I know, I know). So I'm used to watching the Mario Kart series take small, baby-steps forward with each new version. In this case, I was expecting just that. Small steps forward. Mario Kart Wii, however, feels more like a step forward, a shuffle to the side then, after a brief pause, a tentative step back.
New Courses: Most of the game's new, original tracks are fantastic. Coconuts Mall, Wario Mines and Snowboard Cross all make excellent use of jumps and shortcuts. Certainly more exciting than most of Double Dash's offerings.
Car, Character Depth: Having so many unlockable characters and vehicles is great fanservice. But having vehicles with varied, multiple stats and characteristics is just great service. It's a small touch, but it makes picking the cart or bike that's right for you a cinch.
Bikes: And here I was thinking this was the stupidest addition to the series thus far. The bikes are actually really fun to use, and aside from a few tracks that have a few too many trick jumps, they're quite tastefully incorporated.
It's Still Mario Kart: For all the game's flaws - and as you can see below, there are many - this is still Mario Kart. It's still a blast at parties, you'll still love rushing from sixth to first on the last corner, you'll still scream to the heavens when you drop from first to sixth.
Online play: OK, so this is the Wiis fault, not the game's, but online play just feels so...impersonal. Mario Kart's a series where multiplayer has traditionally been about shit-talking and good times, not racing some nameless, voiceless opponent. If ever a Nintendo game needed voice-chat, it's this one.
Sterility: I can't quit put my finger on it, but compared to previous MK games the whole thing just feels really...clinical. Maybe even soulless. This is most telling in the dry presentation.
Too Many Karts: I'm sure the idea of having more (there's now 12) racers on the track seemed like a good one while sitting around the design table. And it looks good as a bullet-point on the game's marketing. But for many tracks it just results in too many items flying around and too many (yes, there is such a thing as too many) cheap shots. It it's not broke, why fix it, etc etc.
Item Unbalance: Mario Kart's built around a principle of elasticity. Last can go to first, and first to last. But this time around, it feels like they've gone too far. Thanks to overly-powerful items like Bullet Bill and the return of the fucking blue shell, which as said above are being thrown around by even more racers, you're no longer being challenged for being in first place. You're being punished. Again, if it's not broke, yada yada...
Wii Wheel: Perhaps the game's single biggest let-down, since the new peripheral was all that was keeping this from being, well, a Double Dash 1.5. While it's adequate, it just doesn't work as well as a Nunchuk and Wii Remote.
Look, Mario Kart Wii isn't a bad game. Far from it! I've enjoyed playing it, and I'm sure a ton of new Wii owners, whose last go-around with the series was on the SNES, will have a blast. But you know what? I'm not a new Wii owner. I'm a longtime fan of the series. Safe to say most of you are as well. And I found the unnecessary gameplay tweaks and underwhelming wheel more than a little disappointing. It's still a good game, don't get me wrong, it's just...not as great as you probably thought/hoped it would be.
Mario Kart Wii was developed and published by Nintendo, and was released on April 27. Retails for $US49.99. Available on Nintendo Wii. Played singleplayer game to completion. Played 15 online multiplayer matches.