Besides Grand Prix, Mario Kart Wii also includes Balloon Battle and Coin Runners battle modes, which take place on 10 separate arenalike tracks, five of which are new and the rest brought out of retirement. Both of these modes have been changed to two team-only events, which is a disappointment to say the least, but they are still fun and entertaining alternatives to standard racing. Split-screen multiplayer allows up to three friends to join you in Grand Prix or battle. Using Nintendo Wi-Fi Connect, you can play online matches with up to 12 total players with a maximum of two per system.
Four player split-screen can get wild and crazy, especially in the battle mode arenas.
Online integration is deeper than most other games on the Wii, and you can join matches of any game type with friends as well as strangers from your local region or across the world. You have a persistent score, which is either increased or decreased by your performances, and when seeking out matches you're automatically place with like-skilled opponents revealed on a representation of Earth that uses Miis to show the approximate locations of the competition. In the event that you join a game already in progress, you will automatically be placed in a spectator mode until the round finishes and it's go time. Communication between players online is still virtually nonexistent, but while the ability to smack talk is a vital element of local multiplayer, it's not necessary for facilitating matches.
The most interesting online feature of Mario Kart Wii is the Mario Kart Channel, which can either be launched from within the game or saved directly into your Wii dashboard. Using WiiConnect24, you can compare your best lap times against your friends' and the rest of the region or the world. You can also download ghost replays to see firsthand how the top players pull off their times and send your own ghosts to friends as a challenge, and if this channel has been installed in the Wii menu, you can even do all of this without having your Mario Kart disc in the system.
Mario Kart Wii features a cast of 25 characters, over half of which must be unlocked through various accomplishments in single- or multiplayer modes. The ability to race as one of your Miis is perhaps the most notable new feature, but as great as putting Chuck Norris or Dr. Gregory House behind the wheel is, some of the newcomers like Baby Daisy and Dry Bowser are underwhelming and disappointing. Unlike Mario Kart: Double Dash, characters don't have items specific to them, but they do have up to 12 personalized motorcycles and go-karts to select from to determine racing stats.
Graphically, there isn't very much of a leap between this latest Mario Kart and its predecessor on the GameCube, but there are a lot of little details that add to the experience. Crowds of onlookers are populated by your Miis, and posters or statues throughout the levels can feature them as well. Lighting is vastly improved, and there are a number of nice environmental effects. Electricity crackles around you after you've been blasted by a lightning bolt. However, there is a considerable degradation of graphical quality in split-screen multiplayer--especially with four players--and character models are unnaturally shiny.
Letting a baby participate in a go-kart race is bad enough, but putting her on a dirt bike is just plain irresponsible.
The musical selections, just like the tracks, are a mixture of old and new, and item sound effects are just as they have always been. Characters, as typical of Nintendo games, only say about four or five different phrases, but these become incredibly grating over time because they say them more often than ever before thanks to midair tricks.
Super Mario Kart may have originated way back in 1992, but 16 years later, Mario Kart Wii proves that the franchise is just as relevant and fun as ever. The all-new stunt system, simplified drifting mechanics, natural motion controls, and expansive online integration all come together in a single package that, despite a few hiccups, is one of the best and most accessible experiences available on the Nintendo Wii.