mario kart wii

a review of Mario Kart Wii
a videogame developed by nintendo
and published by nintendo
for the Nintendo Wii Budget-Price Fun Device
text by tim rogers

2 stars

Bottom line: Mario Kart Wii is “a grinning corpse.”

And so this is Christmas — and what have we Mario Kart Wii.


Actually, so proud of that first sentence right there, I let this review sit untouched for an hour and a half, and now that air has returned to my lungs and the pain in the pit of my stomach has evaporated, I have no idea what I was going to say. It was going to all be very coherent and straightforward, and I was probably going to call this game the “Best Mario Kart Yet!” and maybe even give it a perfect score. I don’t know anymore, though. So it often goes with criticism — you have to nip opinions in the bud, or else they start to change. Looks like I’m going to just have to complain about this game’s box for seven or eight paragraphs before actually talking about the game, and by the time I start talking about the game, you’ll have already counted all the paragraphs and reported the tally on your favorite web forum, and damned me repeatedly to the Special Hell for obese, homosexual serial murderers. Which, if only you’d stick around to the end of the review, you’d see is precisely the thing that a person who “likes” Mario Kart is supposed to do, anyway.

Insert the sound of me sighing! (If you need help imagining what I look like, imagine the World’s Fattest, Gayest Serial Murderer.)

Before I commence a long, perhaps-planned (“second-degree”) tangent about the box, let’s take a look at this sentence, which I’m pretty sure I had planned out in my head long before I lost concentration:

Mario Kart Wii turns any weeknight into Christmas Eve.”

I’m pretty sure that when I first cooked that sentence up in my brain I meant to use it in a fairly straightforward review, in which I compared Mario Kart Wii fondly to what many human beings growing up in first-world countries consider to be a delicious and savorable evening of family togetherness and friendly rivalry as each prodigal brothers communicates the girth of his derring-dos far away from the fireplace.

Now, though, a few hours (during which “office work” was done) and several espressos removed from the original typing of that sentence, I’m capable of a more linear forensic analysis: perhaps, subconsciously, the writer of that sentence (“me”) was considering his own definition of Christmas Eve, which includes references to being locked in his room upstairs (by his own hand), gritting his teeth at the sound of pleasure rumbling up from downstairs, and girding up his loins for the morning, when he, despite pulling in a 4.0 GPA for his entire life and never speaking a single profane word, will not receive a single gift. More to the point, he’s going to have to sit there by the Christmas tree and watch his little brother open morbidly expensive present after morbidly expensive present — or else be excommunicated from his parents’ idea of the Catholic Church.

That is to say, yes, “Christmas” for me is synonymous with gritting my teeth and hissing like a rabid fairy whilst all the world becomes an orchestra in the name of pleasing someone even fatter than I am.

To be fair, Mario Kart Wii isn’t exactly like Christmas — in the case of real Christmas, my little brother would hop aboard the Fun Train at “YESSSSSSSSSSSS” Station and crash immediately into a wall, almost as animalistically pleased to report that “THIS SHIT IS BROKEN ALREADY WHAT THE heck” as he had been five minutes ago when he said “SWEET DUDE THIS IS ALL I EVER WANTED”. With Mario Kart Wii, no one complains that dad is a limp-noodle moron for not buying enough AA batteries, because they’re all “having fun” pointing the remote control at their RC cars and pretending it’s moving.

Here is where I am tempted, as I usually am, to say all the positive things about the game, just to get it out of the way. That means it’s time, once again, to engage my masterminded plan to Get the Kids off my Lawn — ie, begin the tongue-speaking tangent ritual. Lucky for you guys, I might have actually had this tangent written out for, like, two months already:

So Mario Kart Wii is the next title in a long line of games that come with a plastic accessory to snap the Wii Remote into. This time, it’s a steering wheel. Snap your Wiimote into this plastic steering wheel — made of delicious, vinyl smelling, pistol-heavy white plastic — and now you can pretend you’re driving a car. On your sofa! Welcome to the future!

The Wii Wheel is Nintendo’s first perhaps-inadvertent acknowledgement of just how silly the name “Wii” is, particularly because it repeats the “Whee” sound twice in a row, giving us a play on “Wee-wee”, which is a “cute” name that young parents frighteningly think up when it comes time to tell their male children what that shrunken sausage between their thighs is, or explain to their little girls what a dictionary would have to say about when water starts voluntarily leaking out the crack between their legs. Why didn’t they just call the accessory the “Wiil”? Probably because it would look ridiculous. You know how you can repeat a word over and over and over again, and then suddenly the word loses all meaning (Glove Glove Glove Glove Glove Glove Glove)? It’d be a lot like that. For over a year now, I personally have been comfortable with the name “Wii”. It has, for the longest time, struck me as entirely juvenile that any adult (at least, I’m pretty sure that anyone smart enough to type words on the internet must be an adult) would see the name “Wii” and think of “Wee-wee” — a maturity-archaic descriptor for urinary evacuation and/or the penis itself — before they would think of, I don’t know, “We”, the preferred first-person plural pronoun of English students worldwide.

If you set your mind to it, you can make any molehill into an apocalypse, so let’s try with the Wii Wheel: it is rigidly documented that when Nintendo’s concept-men got together under the Fellowship of the Revolution, desiring only to reinvent the way people think about budget-priced half-hearted morally void videogames, they had absolutely no idea what they were going to make in the end. On Kotaku there was this story linked once, with a bunch of pictures of concept sketches for the Nintendo “Revolution”‘s eventual controller. One of them was shaped like a huge Super Mario invincibility star (I can’t call it a “Starman” in good faith because that would be infringing on the David Bowie song, and infringing on David Bowie (he’s a big fan of the site) is something the Action Button Action Legal Team has told me repeatedly not to do), and it had like five buttons on it, one at each point. I guess players were supposed to press the Happy Button whenever they started to feel sad, and the various games (yet with pre-production titles like “Next Mario Game” and “Next Zelda Game” and “Next Animal Crossing“) would reciprocate by playing back a happy, encouraging text-message related to the day’s weather (*internet connection required): “Six days of rain in a row means the price of brown rice will be sixteen yen cheaper per kilogram three months from now!”

Flash back way before this, and remember that time at an E3 press conference when Satoru Iwata, who we at Action Button Dot Net are dead convinced is absolutely not a stupid person, walked on-stage and presented the audience with their reward for bearing the heat of the afternoon and stale muffins: a little plastic box. “This is our new games console. It’s finished, and it’s the size of three DVD cases stacked on top of one another!” Amazed, shrieking applause followed.

Basically, that was Satoru Iwata talking out his balls, though not in the way you think: the console most certainly was complete. I mean, let’s face it, the thing’s just a Gamecube with a spec bump. I’m not knocking that aspect of the Wii, not by a longshot. In fact, I’m applauding the size of its testicles: Nintendo had slaved away for years under a liverspotted coal-tar-stuffting octogenarian with an epic mean streak, Sunday-driving down one wrong boulevard after another, and eventually they’d lost touch with the “people” that had made them rich in the first place. If Iwata were a character in Final Fantasy Tactics, he’d be a level 99 Calculator, for sure: with one swift flick of his wrist, he was able to make an epicly large percentage of Japanese Human Beings go bug-eyed at the sight of outdated graphics and tinny sound. All it took to pull off this magic trick was one bite-sized cypher: the idea-nugget that there are gamers, and there are non-gamers, and that non-gamers can be divided up into “people who have never played games” and “people who played games before and then stopped”, and that “people who played games before and then stopped”, while perhaps a smaller group than “people who have never played games”, are in fact probably a larger group than “gamers”. The point of Nintendo’s Revolution Vigil, during which I’m guessing a dozen greying men huddled in a bomb shelter subsisting on a meat-locker full of Boss Coffee for three months was to figure out how, exactly, to package the Same Old Shit in a way that made Grandma and Grandpa stuff their same old pants with excitement.

In the end, the “Wii”, a moniker chosen for its “first-person plural” aspect as well as its similarity to a shout of uncontrollable glee, was born and branded as “The DS, on your TV — only now, the stylus is invisible“. The DS, of course, had been the result of Satoru Iwata having conveniently eaten a Very Grotesquely Large Salad and a bowl of rice precisely twenty-two hours before first seeing the television commercials for Sony’s EyeToy: during that forty-five minute breakneck brickstuff, Iwata must have screamed “Eureka!” so many times that he couldn’t not invent the Nintendo DS by the time he began washing his hands. If only Sony Japan had had a little faith, if only they hadn’t dismissed “casual games” as something the Japanese don’t “do”, or if only Sony Europe had developed some solid concepts (like, say, EyeToy games that were deeper than window-washing and/or don’t feature the player’s horrifyingly-lit slack-jawed visage as the “protagonist”) to sell said septegenarian board members, then maybe the PlayStation 2 would be the top-selling console instead of the Wii, and the PlayStation 3 would either look more or less depressing, given your perspective.

Alternate sentence-clump I couldn’t fit in the above paragraph: long before I obtained an interest in poetry and my penis got so inexplicably large, I worked at a GameStop in Indiana, from roughly the Dreamcast launch to the PlayStation 2 launch. Right before the PlayStation 2 was released, Sony sent us demo stations, with fiber-optic blue track-lighting embedded in frosted glass: “PlayStation 2”, it said. We put this demo kiosk right next to the Dreamcast demo kiosk, and the kids who we accidentally babysat while their mother stood in the women’s shoe store across the hall looking lonely would stand there and squeal at the sphere-eyed, single-complexioned John Madden Football Warriors on screen: “PlayStation Two is toight!” We switched the PlayStation 2 inside for a Dreamcast, with the objectively-better-looking NFL 2K1, and the kids began to ogle it, and squeal: “PlayStation Two is toight!” In the end, we probably hecked up the world economy in a chaos-theory sort of way — maybe our trickery of those dumb kids, for selfish purposes, had been the butterfly-wing-flap that brought about the DS/Wii hurricane, who knows. Though at the time, it really, honestly seemed like something to do.

Back in the real world, here we are with this Nintendo Wii wheel. I’m not going to make too much fun of it, because it has a delicious weight and it smells like vintage vinyl records. It also manages to miraculously fill in some kind of psychological gap and feel, most of the time, not at all like bullstuff. This is remarkable, I guess, because games like Excitetruck on the Wii and Motorstorm on the PlayStation 3 have featured controller-tilting steering wheel controls and mostly ended up feeling cheap instead of psychically immersive. The Wii Wheel is no second coming of Christ or anything, though playing Mario Kart Wii with and without it leads me to mathematically declare that yes, it does make a difference.

Still, there’s a sort of weird pseudo-backwardness about it. If Nintendo’s goal with the Wii was to create new genres of fun while lighting peoples’ imaginations on fire, and if this goal required them to make a controller that was as simple as possible, why complicate things? What’s with all the add-ons? Like, I was at the presentation where Iwata revealed the new controller; I heard him say their goal was to make the simplest game controller possible, because a PlayStation pad was too daunting and the sight of an Xbox controller gave grandpa epilepsy; I thought it was hilarious, brilliant. Then they rolled out the nunchuk attachment, as if to say, “You can play regular games on it, too.” That left me a tiny bit confused. I don’t even feel like finishing this paragraph now, to be honest, so I’ll just say, and objectively, that if this world we live in is one where a PlayStation 3 controller, with four face buttons, a D-pad, four triggers, and two analog sticks, can and will make your aunt call the cops, then the Nintendo Wii Remote, plus protective rubber safety condom, plus nunchuk, is obviously a hybrid sextoy / murder-weapon, and you will need a Catholic priest to perform an exorcism on your eventual death bed if you’ve ever so much looked at one.

Though the initial Nintendo “Revolution” controller concept reel clearly showed a guy playing (from a point of view inside the TV, looking out — a crucial point for what we’re going to discuss later) a first-person shooter of some sort, Nintendo eventually released a “Zapper” peripheral, which is no more than a hollow shell that cheaply binds your remote and nunchuk together into the shape of a crude gun. It’s supposed to help the players’ imaginations, or something. If you ask me, it looks like what happens when the cinematographer for “Star Trek” drinks on the set.

If Nintendo is all about giving us this magnificent magic wand — and the Wiimote is a grand technological icon on par with the iPod, don’t get me wrong — and letting our imaginations run wild, why must they continually doubt our imaginations?

I would put that question in huge, bold letters, though something holds me back. I guess it’s the fact that, yes, I find that the Wii Wheel really does enhance the experience of using controller tilts to steer in Mario Kart Wii. Instead, all I can do is whimper: though the controller is shaped like a steering wheel, we have to press the “2” button on the Wiimote in order to accelerate, which makes it absolutely impossible to employ the 10-2 position on the wheel while playing the game. Why bother to simulate driving, if you’re going to force people to do so in such a manner that would, in the case of a real-life head-on collision and airbag deployment, result in the driver’s right hand flipping backward at a high enough speed to possibly break the passenger’s neck? (I smell a very loose class-action lawsuit, though I suppose Japan is exempt, for obvious reasons.)

When Nintendo announced — at the same press conference where they revealed the remote — that they’d be making “shells” for enhancing the remote, this isn’t exactly what I had in mind. I thought “shell” had been a slip — I thought they meant they’d keep making attachments like the nunchuk, things with buttons or whatever on them.

Therefore: if the upcoming Super Mario Sluggers baseball game comes with a baseball bat shell for the remote, it will be the Piece of White Plastic that Broke the Aircraft Carrier’s Back, and I will walk down to my local convenient store, withdraw 6,000 yen from the ATM, and proceed to eat it right there, in front of the super-hot visual-kei cashier dude. Maybe he’ll mistake me for a hardass, or else a wounded lunatic, and he’ll ask for my phone number, and we can have tea parties.

This, of course, is not even the tangent I meant to go on. No, it’s all just context for what I’m about to say:

Mario Kart Wii‘s box, in addition to being shiny, delicious, and somehow both white and colorful, in addition to being packed just firmly enough to squeeze with the tips of the fingers, setting off “I am holding a High-Quality Videogame Product, I must run home and eat a bowl of cereal AQAP” alarms within my obese human brain, also features a picture of Super Mario himself, and his brother Luigi, both holding Wii Wheels.

Why are they holding the Wii Wheel? Well, they’re playing Mario Kart Wii, of course.

An open-mouthed forensic analysis of this follows:

Mario and Luigi are holding the Wii Wheel on the front of the box for Mario Kart Wii.

They are floating on air, with feet kicking wildly and surprised expressions on their faces.

Their feet are, for the record, not in the position that people’s feet would need to be in to operate an automobile.

Beneath their bodies are shadows of what look to be formula-1 race cars.

The Wii Wheel is included in the box, as is a copy of Mario Kart Wii.

The photograph of the Wii Wheel in the background of the cover image is the actual size of the Wii Wheel in the box.

The DVD case containing the Mario Kart Wii software also features the picture of Mario and Luigi using the Wii Wheel.

The Wii Wheel in the background image of the instruction manual cover is a drawing, not a photograph.

It is also not actual size, for obvious reasons.

The Wii Wheel is not needed to play Mario Kart Wii.

The Seventh Circle of Hell is revealed on the game’s title screen, which features a (much-lower-resolution) instance of the aforementioned image.

(An inside-the-box observation:’s official image of this game’s box is an actual photograph of the actual box, with an airbrushed shadow and all.)

(An outside-the-box observation: videogames are about us pretending to do things; in Mario Kart, we step into Mario’s virtual shoes as we hold a real-like steering wheel. Mario’s use of the wheel on this box can then only be seen as a mockery of us flesh-and-blood creations: if this game is about pretending to drive a car, then Mario is pretending to pretend to drive a car. Et cetera.)

Now, it is quite possible that Mario and Luigi are sitting on a sofa, though the sofa has been invisibled for presumably the same reasons that music comes even out of the trash cans at Disneyland. That’s not the point. The point is that here were are, adults, Horny As Hell in the 21st Century, possibly fornicating three or four times a week, possibly enjoying fornicating more than our forefathers did, and here’s Mario and Luigi, holding the same controller I’m holding, freaking out as they look in my direction. I’m about to press the A button and begin the enthralling user registration process, and they’re already having fun, albeit in freeze-frame. This is when the Nintendo “Revolution” concept reel showed off at Tokyo Game Show 2005 all comes rushing back to me: cheap horror-movie sounds, a young boy in a yellow T-shirt aiming the Wiimote with his right hand and twiddling an analog stick with his left hand while his girlfriend’s teeth chatter; some said that the “Revolution” was Nintendo giving a spiritual tax refund to those numb nincompoops who thought pulling the NES controller sharply upward might make Mario jump higher, and maybe those people were right; at the time, all that was certain was that Nintendo was now inside the game, looking out at us. We would be the stars in their new games, just as “You” would be TIME magazine’s “person of the year” in 2006. When the “Wii” was eventually named, and then quickly launched, the brilliant gateway for many non-players was the opportunity to craft a “Mii”, a videogame character that would essentially look like you — if you were a videogame character (with somewhat stuffty graphics).

Flash forward to 2008, an era some have dubbed “The Now”: here we have Established Videogame Characters, the Super Mario Brothers, aka Mario and Luigi, holding the game controller that real-life you and me are using to control said Established Videogame Characters in said Established Videogame Franchise. It’s easy to generalize, and raise up scarecrow debates, like how it’s bizarre that the box art (and title screen) portrays videogame characters doing something human beings can do on their own instead of portray them doing the fantastic, escapist things they can do in the ame, or ask hilarious questions like “What’s next, Little Sister using an Xbox 360 controller to control Big Daddy on the front of BioShock 2?”

More to the point: Part of Nintendo’s policy for Wii software was (and continues to be) that the advertisements always feature real-life human beings enjoying the games. Wii Play‘s box shows a real human hand clinging to a Wiimote, for example. With games like Smash Bros., with strong brand appeal and old-school controls, the advertising standards didn’t enter the equation. With Mario Kart Wii, Nintendo had themselves painted into a corner — on the one hand, we’ve got this orgasmically beloved characters, and on the other hand, we have a clever new way to engorge the players’ endorphins, to make them feel the car. That they went with advertising both at once is a no-brainer; that they made said image into their game’s title screen is the trumpet of a kind of third-world apocalypse. It bangs a gong in the brain: at Nintendo, something has changed.

Then you realize that, by playing Mario Kart Wii for enough hours, you can unlock the ability to use your Mii in a race.

The argument that ensues is awesome. You can figure it out yourself, because I have to throw up right now, for reasons completely not related to this article, or even videogames. It’ll be like a mad-lib. I’ll write the beginning:

“If and when they make a Wii2, with 720p graphics and a hard-drive, if and when they upgrade the Miis so their appendages don’t look as gimpy and/or so they can have more interesting clothes and a couple more face part options (multicolored hair, et cetera), there will still be a ‘Classic Mii’ option, for people who want the gimpy appendages or more limited selection of noses.”

And then the ending:

“And when, at last, Classic Mii Kart Wii 2 is released, you’ll be able to unlock Baby Mario.”


That was fun!

Now let’s talk about Mario Kart Wii. I’ll use the inverted pyramid method to summarize:

Mario Kart Wii for the Nintendo Wii, by Nintendo: you’ve played it already, or it’s definitely not your favorite game ever. I despise the weapons and everything they represent. The tracks are shining examples of good videogame level design — great videogame level design, even. We’re talking Original-Super Mario Bros.-worthy level design. Even the jerk-off parts in two tracks where you get fired out of a cannon and thus are not controlling the game for a whole three seconds are forgivable when, upon landing, you’re, like, going down a snowboard slope, with awesome speed-boosting half-pipes. The motorcycles are cool, with appropriately floaty drift mechanics, and the ability to do wheelies for extra speed boost. The graphics are colorful and sharp, with gritty textures that look actually cute, even confectionary-like; it’s like the Wii’s hamster-wheel graphics processor is finding a niche as some kind of sideways “new retro”. The character voices are hateful trash, a cacophony of homicidal crocodiles kacking down cotton candy, schizophrenic ostriches kacking down skittles, kleptomanic velociraptors kacking down broken glass; the music, for the most part, sounds like something a Brazilian community college professor would compose as a tool for conditioning the more gorillia-like breed of human &^#$# to masturbate to, thus sparing the lives and virginities of entire city blocks. Donkey Kong is great, and it’s sad that his voice sounds like Goofy drowning in Jell-O.

Now that that’s over with, I’m going to go back and expand on the second sentence of the above paragraph re: weapons.

I hate the weapons. Well, not all of them. The green shell and the banana peel can stay. And, of course, the speed-boost mushroom, which isn’t a “weapon”, anyway.

Anyway, most of the rest of the weapons are hateful. Let’s go ahead and make a list, in order from least to most hateful:

Red Shells: I guess these are kind of okay. They target the person in front of you — or right behind you — and they’re usually a sure hit, though they can be avoided.

Bob-omb: throw in any direction to cause a big explosion that can possibly catch many other drivers at once. I guess it’s decent because it takes a bit of skill to use, and it’s dangerous because you can get yourself caught up in the blast.

Thunder cloud: a thunder cloud appears above your car and hisses at you for a bit; wait too long and it’ll strike you with lightning and shrink you; tag another racer before the lightning comes out and the cloud will stick to his car, instead. Decent because it makes for a nice little game of hot potato and it carries a risk.

Super dash mushroom: a dash mushroom that can be used something like twenty times in rapid succession. Basically the game’s way of telling you that you suck, though you might stand a chance of getting better if only you win a couple of races and feel good about yourself.

Mega mushroom: turns your car twice the size and jacks the speed up to 200%. You can also crush any drivers you run over. Mostly fair because there’s a risk accompanying the reward (ie, your car is harder to control).

Invincibility Star: makes you invincible and about 200% faster. Kind of almost the same thing as the Mega Mushroom.

Bullet Bill: turns your car and driver into a Bullet Bill, which flies at about 1000% the speed of your car, flattening anything in its path and usually jumping you ahead ten or so places in the race; really easy to control. Kind of really stupidly unfair in a “Yay Button” sort of way.

POW Block: use this to cause an earthquake, flattening every car that’s touching the ground. Wouldn’t be quite so hateful if it was a tiny bit easier to avoid the quakes. I suppose you’re supposed to jump at some precise millisecond to avoid it, though I haven’t succeeded at it once. Always seems to impact just as you land on a tiny island before a ramp that will jump you to another tiny island, meaning that you fall into a pit and lose about twelve places in the race.

hecking Squid Thing: No, I’m not going to call it by its canonical name. Use this stupid thing to telepathically squirt ink on every driver in front of you, making it “harder” for them to “see”. If you get hit with this yourself, that means there’s going to be a big ugly black “ink” effect on the screen, obstructing your view. If you use this against computer racers, the “ink driving” AI algorithm kicks in, everyone starts bizarrely wobbling back and forth, and it’s horribly depressing: for a split-split second, your brain becomes unable to differentiate between the phrases “next time I get laid” and “the day I die”. Seriously, obstructing the view is not a good idea for a videogame. Have you ever heard about that blind kid who can beat anyone at Mortal Kombat? Yeah, that’s because Mortal Kombat isn’t a real videogame.

Lightning Bolt: awarded only to the most headgear-wearing-&^#$#ed of players, those who are in twelfth place and deserve to be there forever. When used, it shrinks every other kart on the course to half speed and half size, making them instantly crushable by the lightning-bolt-using driver. However, it does not change the fact that the driver who used it most likely sucks. It awards them only hope, for a few seconds, before restoring everything to normal and telling the jerk who used it to get to the back of the bus again. In short, it just causes immense annoyance to anyone who’s not losing to everyone.

The Fake Item Box: for heck’s sake, it doesn’t look anything like a real item box. For one thing, it’s red, and for another thing, the question mark is upside-down. According to the Japanese manual, “It looks exactly like a real item box.” That’s hecking false advertising, right there. I mean, I suppose that the average Japanese person doesn’t immediately reject an upside-down question mark, and — well, I realize that the average American can’t identify the North American continent on a map, though hell. It’s really, stupidly embarrassing, this thing. Anyone who hits one is either stupid enough to think it’s a real item box or just forced into a position where there’s no alternative, and in the latter case, they’re just going to think (if they’re like me, which I’m sure everyone is) of how ridiculous it is that these game designers might seriously think (or, even worse, be pretending to think) that people will mistake this thing for a real item box.

The Blue Shell: . . . well.

The Blue Shell is a sign of the times; it’s the first nail in the coffin of game design. Know that I come from a proud heritage of people who play Virtua Fighter 5 and genuinely enjoy losing because it teaches you something.

If you’re in a losing position and have been for a good amount of time, an algorithm behind the scenes kicks in and awards you a Blue Shell. Use it, and it rushes to the head of the pack and crashes into the person in first place with absolute certainty. Other drivers in the general area will also be decimated.

I’m sure that the general idea of the Blue Shell when it first appeared, in Super Mario Kart 64, was that a person in last place would obtain it, shudder with joy, and then be filled with the turgid urge to claw their way to the head of the pack and use it when within strategic range of the leaders.

In the current “videogame industry”, though, things like the Blue Shell are communistic concessions thrown to the people who Aren’t Getting Better. If my little brother, say, spent twenty hours a day doing something other than playing videogames — that is to say, if he sucked at videogames — the Blue Shell would be his “Best Thing Ever”: something to use when bitter and bored, to ruin the chances of the person who’s just so happening to win. The Blue Shell, simply described, is an easy way to strike back at the person who’s beating everyone, when you are the one losing to everyone. If that’s not heady, frothy communism in action, I really don’t know what the hell is. How is this a more family-friendly experience than killing hookers in Grand Theft Auto? If anything, the sugar-coating just makes the arsenic more dangerous, and it can’t be too hard to prove, from here, that Nintendo fanboys — big, sweaty, mouth-breathing — are actually individuals of scarier morals than most self-mutilating suicide-bombing terrorists.

Since the Nintendo Wii is the game console of the proletariat (“the game console of the proletariat” is the nice way to say “they should sell most of the games in the supermarket tabloid rack, next to ‘1,001 Baby Names for Girls (Now with more mixed-race names)'”), Nintendo has seen about sharpening the item randomization algorithms to razor edges. Everyone always has a chance to be in first place in Mario Kart Wii, which seems to make sense because I suppose it’s meant to be a “party” game for people with “friends”, though when you’re playing it dead alone, against a cold last-gen computer chip that’s only just barely powerful enough to keep a graphing calculator from meeting “six divided by three” with “ERROR”, and you’re about to cross the hecking finish line in first place and get hit by a POW Block, a Lightning Bolt, a Blue Shell, a Red Shell, and then the hecking Squid Thing — all it seems to do is present striking evidence that the world is full of pricks.

The theories seem stable enough: if we construct a few detailed Venn diagrams, we can prove that the person using the Blue Shell now might be the most technically skilled of players. He might just be having a run of stuffty luck because, of all the things we can mathematically prove about a race with more than two live (as in “not dead”) racers, someone must be losing at any given time, meaning that someone is getting these Almighty Items, and then using them, either out of bitterness or out of hope.

If you’ve got a pen and paper (or MSPaint), start making a flowchart of this: it is possible for a Good Player to be hecked back into last place, though Almighty Items only appear if one is in last place for a set period of time; a Good Player will most likely be able to advance a few places before being awarded an Almighty Item.

With a little bit of work I’m not 100% willing to do right now (got an erection again T-T), it can be quite easily proven that the only reason these items were originally conceived, in earlier installments of the series, was to make it possible for losers to become winners occasionally, and that in Mario Kart Wii, the items mainly exist to “liven up” the contest.

I have seen police officers who will accuse a man of being a homosexual for insisting that Mario Kart should just let the best man win. I’m well aware that I’m going to get at least a dozen half-sentence emails telling me that I obviously don’t like having fun. I’m fully prepared to ignore them. I stand by my assertion that maybe there’s a way to make an amazingly fun game with just a few weapons that require a small amount of skill to use.

In the name of research, I ironed my hair, donned designer eyeglasses, and gathered up a group of fourteen carrot-skinned, silver-lipped, corkscrew-beehive-headed Dolce-and-Gabbana-sunglasses-wearing Japanese part-time prostitutes and made them wait outside my apartment in single file while I forced each one in turn to play Mario Kart Wii for an hour. Twelve of them would ask me for money, six would report me to the police and press rape charges, and I think two of them actually didn’t have brains or eyes, though all of them managed to win first, second, or third place on cumulative points in the 50cc Mushroom Cup, despite them all whipping the wheel around over their heads and flailing like a lunatic, like they’d never even seen a guy driving a car in a movie.

In the end, there was me, trying to win the 150cc Special Cup, being hecked over countless times by jerk-off Lightning Bolts or Blue Shells and winding up in second place overall, maybe a dozen times in a row. It comes to feel almost like video poker, after a while — the computer obviously knows what you need in order to win, and though it’s illegal in a sense if it relies on anything more than raw math to determine what cards are dealt, when you do lose, you feel like stuff and you’re dead positive that god hates you.

It can be surmised even by an elementary school dropout that Mario Kart Wii is designed from the ground up to be “a game that people enjoy with their friends”. At what cost to our dignity, though? By “our” I don’t just mean “Hardcore video-gamers”, I mean “the human race”. There’s some Brave-New-World-style stuff peeking out from behind mama’s skirt, here: why would someone even care to get “better” if it’s possible to just keep relying on the jerk-ass weapons and occasionally getting a lucky break, just for being a jerk? With Virtua Fighter 5, it’s like, if you lose to a guy, it’s because he’s better than you. If you really like the game, you’ll keep playing whether you win or lose — with the idea being that you should want to win. Mario Kart Wii imagines a world where “it’s not whether you win or lose — it’s how you play the game” or “it’s all in good fun” or “they’re just jealous” are not just something gym teachers tell the fat kid the day he gets hazed to death in the showers; it imagines that world, and then it runs with it, straight for the gates of Hell, nose to the sky. That ain’t how it always is, jack. They wouldn’t call it a “game” if it was possible to not want to win. Someone up there needs to respect that. Rather than rely on its existing, sharp, utterly enjoyable core mechanics to encourage players to play more and get better, the game scoops out its right eye and offers it to the gods of $$$. And it sold 300,000 units on its launch day in Japan.

Mario Kart Wii unfolds as a game-design exercise with the personality of that sniveling rat bastard at every Japanese corporate party, the one who squints at a spreadsheet all day, doing no real work, and feels inadequate that he’s not bench-pressing intertwined naked lesbians on his lunch breaks, who decides in his dead samurai heart that he must go around, get in everyone’s face, take their drinks out of their hands, hold them just out of reach, chortle, guffaw, and make sure everyone is having Adequate Amounts of Fun. Some day he’ll blackmail a decently not-unattractive woman into marrying him, and when his child gets kicked in the balls at school because his dad is an asshole, he’ll tell his wife that it’s a tough world and people have to learn. Deep within the jumble of motives and execution-style hiccups called Mario Kart Wii is a mathematical proof for why you should never let the Boss speak a single suggestive word at a meeting requiring creativity: the Boss, if nothing else, exists only to ask the most hideously obvious, stupid questions at the latest time possible, and usually, if he doesn’t do this, the whole company will figuratively go down the drain. By the end of a brain-dead night of trophy collecting, of the coin-toss-like stiff odds, of the pachinko race dynamics, of the unbelievable, improbable luck that the same two racers keep finishing in the top three even though you and everyone else are bouncing all over the place, of shuddering that a gorilla named “Donkey” can share a winner’s circle with a fairy-tale princess and another instance of said fairy-tale princess as a baby, the world starts to feel the wrong color. Your mind wanders back to the Miis, to Mario holding the controller on the box, to the shadows of racecars, to the Lightning Bolt, to the Blue Shell: it’s like, all of a sudden, a publicist informs the YMCA that every “we regret to inform you that a toddler shat in our olympic-sized swimming pool” letter is bad enough for their reputation to the point that they’re probably legally better off just pumping their pools nationwide full of human feces and calling it a day: People who find the possibility of stuff in the water repulsive are a liability, whereas people who don’t mind swimming in steaming feces can be classified as, among many other things, “loyal customers”.


In short, Mario Kart Wii is a snappy little racing game with some bright happy graphics and some smashing great track design best enjoyed at your own pace in the time attack mode. It is also a sign of an three-quarters-decent-sized apocalypse, though hey, as long as everyone is having fun, that’s all that counts!

In closing, the back of the Japanese box says, and I quote (in translation):

“Battle it out in twelve-player races with rivals from all over the world! Your friends far away, or people from anywhere in the world!*”

The semantics are intriguing, indicating dully to the reader that their friends are “far away”, and that anyone they haven’t ever met is a “people”, from “anywhere in the world”.

The applicable footnote reads:

“*You will need an internet connection.”

Welcome to the world, then. Hope you guys are enjoying the revolution.

–tim rogers


29 Responses to mario kart wii

  1. When the hell is Nintendo going to implement the option to choose which items appear and which don’t when playing multiplayer games? That way you can get rid off all the infuriating bullstuff their stuffty items cause.

    And when are you going to tell me how to play a custom level with a friend in Bangai-O Spirits?

  2. I’m just going to say that the DS iteration made me feel word for word the same cowering for the apocalypse.

    It’s a good thing all of my video game consoles were either sold off or subsequently stolen from me, I reckon.

  3. I too am terrified that Mario is doing an insufficient job teaching us — and our children! — about how the world works.

    If I have children, I’ll do my part to educate them by banning namby-pamby videogames and instead wean them on the pithy aphorisms of the “No Fear” X-treme lifestyle company – “second place is the first loser”, &c.

  4. Hey, I’m not saying that everyone should try to win — just that they should at least, somewhere deep down, want to.

  5. I kind of stopped going to karate tournaments because of an incident where one of my instructors lost to the Brazilian champion because the Brazilian flew in from Brazil and lost the fight, and nobody wanted to embarrass him.

    I imagine Mario Kart Wii would just make me bitter.

  6. Tim, you say: “I stand by my assertion that maybe there’s a way to make an amazingly fun game with just a few weapons that require a small amount of skill to use.”

    Yea, there is. It’s called the original Super Mario Kart.

    In a perfect world, a game that is so completely bonkers and random (were it to even be designed, which it would not obviously) would be getting slammed left and right. And if this game had, say, Sonic characters or Pac-Man “characters” or Blinx the hecking cat riding around in carts… it would be.

  7. mario kart as it is now has a fundamentally usefull role in the library of anyone who enjoys video games.

    I, like many of you I assmue, have significant others and accquantances who never graduated beyond super mario brothers and duck hunt.

    I can explain the functions of the controller countless times to them they’ll never retain it, I can slow my gameplay and tone it down a bit it won’t be enough, I can do just about anything to handicap my experience and it still won’t be enough for them to have fun and then neither of us are having fun and the point of playing a video game with another person is completely lost.

    That’s where mario kart comes in. It’s about as level a playing field as you could ever hope to find, everyone is hecked upon starting the game.

    The good player who would otherwise sit in first the entire time the game is on.

    The horrible player who gets to unleash hell on the other players as a reward for never winning a race.

    And The in betweeners who are caught in the cross fire of good and terrible.

    The game isn’t so high concept that your average girlfriend won’t play on the grounds of “what the hell do I do? This is stupid”.

    So I love mario kart because it means I can enjoy a video game with people I enjoy on some level without it simply being me grinding their face into the ground in tetris or cvs2 time and time again with little chance of them ever improving.

    Also kudos for having the balls to give yet another wii game 2 stars, hell why not just give the system 2 stars and be done with it.

  8. StompStomp:

    The flaw in your argument, sir, is that I only play videogames with certified pro gamers!*

    Or, well. Yes. I get what you’re saying. The example in the review, about my inviting prostitutes into my house and forcing them to play the game, while exaggerated (there were in fact only twelve of them, not fourteen), was my way of acknowledging that, I guess, anyone can enjoy these games.

    What I’m trying to say with all my hissing, pouting, and whining is that I really wish Nintendo would be honest, and just make a global menu selection that says “Retard Mode” before the game starts. They don’t even have to use the word “&^#$#” if they don’t want to — they can call it “Numbskull Mode”, or “Moron Mode”. Yeah — that double-M thing there is marketable!

    The difficulty selection screens of first-person shooters on the Xbox 360 always offer clear descriptions of the differences between the modes:

    “Easy: You’re new to action games.
    Average: You’ve played a first-person shooter before.
    Hard: You can pull off a headshot.
    Extreme: You are Jesus.”

    I know Nintendo finds “difficulty selection” screens complicated for casual gamers, though couldn’t they just bury one in there somewhere, and let me and my Local Dudes play a game of Mario Kart that’s about racing and using skilled weapons, not having to worry about four Lightning Bolts per hecking lap?

    Also, have you played the Wii version of this game? Mostly I’m complaining that the “Yay-time Items” have just gotten worse, more abundant, et cetera. It’s literally a carnival of that stuff, now. You’ll spend as much time per race being spun out, lightning struck, blue-shelled, et cetera as you do actually drifting around corners. It’s depressing.

    Also, I still believe in the Wii!

    Though if I were to score it right now, it’d probably be more like one and a half stars! (The reason would be that I’ve played and completed all of the two-star games already.)

    Rondo of Blood is coming out on the Japanese Virtual Console tomorrow, though, so that should be fun! I’ll have to go through the pig-slitting bone-rolling tongue-clicking ritual of connecting my Wii to the internet again . . .

  9. If Virtua Fighter 5 is an antidote to Super Smash Brothers X. Then Ferrari 355 Challenge is the equally branded antidote to Mario Kart Wii. I suppose this is due to the Arcade as being a space to “lose” while simultaneously subconsciously wanting to lose again, with non-mathematical based experience as reward.

    Nintendo just give you the non-mathematical based experience, as a reward for buying the game, which in a hecked up way makes perfect sense.

  10. StompStomp, Tim actually slagged Tekken 6 for the exact same thing as he is slagging Mario Kart here, what with its .500 winning percentages for everybody. So it’s not just a Wii thing with Tim…

  11. Why do Nintendo insist on being so hecking fatalist, your right Tim it is depressing.

  12. i think nintendo should just finally listen to it’s fans and build a goddamn real life (RL) go-kart raceway with real life mario kart power ups, like shells and banana peels. up to 16 prostitute racers.

    that way, we wouldn’t have to continue this illusion of playing with a plastic wheel. it’d be the real, goddamn, life-threatening thing.

  13. You overrated it. Nintendo didn’t even have the decency to get the “rubber-banding” (congratulations on not using that phrase once, by the way) working properly. I played online matches for about 3 hours with a friend last night, there were tons of races where the guy in first was quite literally half a lap in front of the guy in second. No amount of bullstuff weapon combos would unseat this apparantly immortal bastard from the pole position. Such despair I have never felt in my life.

  14. I think you’re absolutely spot on Tim. I have been a Mario Kart fan since the SNES original. And with each successive title they take away a piece of the magic, by either having super wide tracks, or by adding some grossly over-powered completely unfair weapons that go off at overly frequent and inconvenient times…

    … After purchasing this game I feel too, that finally, Nintendo have not only killed, but they have nailed the coffin and buried the series forever.

  15. God damn what are you all europeans? I haven’t got a chance to play mario kart for wii as it’s not out in america until the 27th.

    As far as difficulty selection throughout the series I always saw the different engine classes just being new names for difficulties. 50cc is the “Retard Mode” and it always has been.

    And look brawl had difficulty selection for practically every mode.

    Old smash games had difficulty selection.

    Star Fox 64 had a higher difficulty setting.

    They stick it in when it works, but some of the games they make just wouldn’t benefit from a difficulty choice.

    Super Metroid wouldn’t be any better if there was a hard mode would it?

    Also online and wii work fine, I’ve never had a problem with the shop or internet channel and I play brawl with a friend 400 miles away nightly with no lag while running skype and instant messenger (nintendo live) at the same time.

  16. If you’re a fan of the original, then be prepared for a disappointment. You’ll understand where we’re all coming from once you get the chance to play it.
    It does seem quite strange that on the one hand a game like Smash Bros. will have a wealth of options available, enabling you to customise the matches to however you like, giving you for example, the chance to turn off or on any particular items. Whereas, Mario Kart doesn’t follow on from Brawl in this way at all.
    If it had, I’m sure the game would have been quite a bit better.

    Yes, I am from Europe…

    … We still have no release date for Brawl.

  17. Tim, I love your awareness of the nature of Nintendo´s decay and the perverseness of it´s “Revolution”. All Nintendo multiplayer games are under the same hecking scheme. Your emphasis on the box art issue is the key: “all that was certain was that Nintendo was now inside the game, looking out at us”. Nintendo is slowly killing all that it did for videogames in the old times and those who have played the originals of this games know it. Please, Enlightened Gamer, keep up the good job.

  18. Interesting!

    I’m still going to buy this game, play it with a group of friends, and, in all likelihood, enjoy the heck out of it!

  19. I really like the running theme of hating on Nintendo’s complacency. Not hating on Nintendo, as the giddy fan boys accuse Tim of, but hating on the dumb stuff they’ve been up to lately. It’s smart, inflammatory, attention grabbing, and punk (a quote for the Action Button movie poster). I think right now is the time for video games to go through their own punk movement if we ever want something more out of them, and fanboying, revering holy cows and cherishing time honored placeholders, isn’t going to get us there.

  20. Pingback: GoNintendo » Blog Archive » Mario Kart Wii review- What are you waiting for?

  21. Pingback: Action Button Reviews Mario Kart Wii. « Handheld Wii

  22. I find it curious as to what makes a Mario game a Mario game to some people. Most appear content with the notion that as long as Mario and his BUDS are kartin’ around on tracks with a Mushroom Kingdom motif, using powerups derived from the Mario universe (shells, mushrooms) and others that are just completely random (lightning bolts, goddamn blue shell), it’s a “Mario game.” Though, I don’t know. Mario was always Mario to me because of the run/jump mechanics more than anything.

    I mean, Super Mario 64 could have just been some dude at a castle, in reality. When, ever, did Mario punch? It was, of course, necessary that Nintendo’s franchises make the jump from 2D to 3D, although at this point, these cease to really be the games they always were, aesthetics aside.

    That being said, Mario riding around in a go-cart does not make it a Mario game in terms of game mechanics. I should hope this is terribly obvious. It’s just… a kart game. Though really, I guess you could argue that Nintendo does this better than anyone (for better or worse). And while driving around in a cartoon world as Pac-Man and his band of ghostly ghoulies is sickeningly, perversely tempting, I guess, at the end of the day, I’d rather go the Mario route. Hell, I’d rather just not play the damn game at all, truth to be told.

    As we discussed in that ramen shop the first night I got to Tokyo, it is awfully telling how little faith Nintendo has in their REVOLUTIONARY controller, when you are — like Brawl — able to use virtually any controller produced by Nintendo from the GameCube era on. I mean, these are Nintendo’s big ol’ first-party heavy hitters, too.

    (War is over lol)

  23. Yeah Tim, why don’t you just write boring reviews that make me sleepy and have no personality, like everyone else?

  24. jebzig:
    you could just play as pac man in the mario kart arcade game. then everyone wins! there’s also a tamagotchi as well, if you’re into that sort of business.

    i’m completely indifferent to this new installment. i really only cared for the 64 version (even though everyone hates it, for some reason).

    (oh, and the DS version. that cart helped maked traveling the JR awesome.)

    of course, i could change my tune if they release a “choose items” patch. come on, you did it for smash bros.

    i think we should reformat this site to bash the latest nintendo games. it would boost traffic.

    yeah, metroid prime 3? HELLA GAY. lulz.

  25. “…sounds like something a Brazilian community college professor would compose as a tool for conditioning the more gorilla-like breed of human &^#$# to masturbate to, thus sparing the lives and virginities of entire city blocks.”

    What the hell, man, that isn’t nice, that it isn’t nice at all, like, geez, man, that was offensive, even if you didn’t meant to say what at first I thought you wanted to say (“Brazilians = gorillas, Brazilians should not be allowed to breed”), I suggest you change that, I mean I understand it might be meant to be only a joke, said on a very different context, but even so it can be (quite) misleading.

    The rest of the article is alrighty, I just felt the need to bring notice upon this.

  26. Yeah, wow, no, I totally didn’t mean that at all; as quoted in your comment, right there, the sentence’s meaning should be perfectly understandable.

    The only reason for the use of the word “Brazilian” was because of the obvious samba influences.

    There are gorilla-like &^#$#s everywhere in the world — even in Brazil.

  27. Wow, that was an impressively long tangent.

    Honestly, I think the SNES original was the only good game in the series. As bad as the latest one seems to be, this stuff was happening from MK64 onward, what with the triple-pack of red shells and Rainbow Road having hecking RAILS.


    It’s too bad no one ever attempted a kart game with actual skill-based weapons. Might have been fun.

  28. Awesome review, Tim. Your metaphors speak volumes to me.

  29. Tim, did you spend any time online with this? Racing the CPU can be like taking a hammer to your own nuts in the name of unlocking more deformed midget avatars (when all I really wanted was my Mii available by winning the 100cc Special Cup so why do I persist) but online is just about perfect. No lag. No real exploits. No voice communication. Over a large sample size, track knowledge tends to win out, and those unbalanced weapons are there just as much for the Kart-talented who get hecked by the general chaos as they are for those who refuse to get better. I’m a consistent top-half finisher but I admit to a certain thrill when I get cornholed into 11th or 12th place and know that I will have a brief window to play with the children’s toys that I rarely get to see. As for the blue shell, well, the key is to be far enough in front that it doesn’t even matter. Perhaps 1 out of every 3 blue shells I take really change the outcome. Shit, if the guy/gal in 2nd place is at all close to you, there’s a good chance they’re getting caught in the shockwave too, but maybe that doesn’t help my argument.

    What I mean to say is, this grinning corpse has quickly become one of my desert island games. If that island had Wi-Fi, of course.

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