I was lucky enough to live near one of the 30 Game stores that were taking part in the special Mario Kart Wii event on Saturday 5th April. I scuttled down to Portsmouth nice and early to try and have a go at getting on top of the leader board and have a chance of getting into the grand final being held at Brooklands. At the final, four people will be playing for the grand prize, Nintendo themed VW Beetle. The first thing that I did upon arriving was watch some other people race; this gave me the chance to have a look at the track from a distance, and most importantly, study the competition. What struck me as odd to start with was the presence of a gamecube controller. I remembered the rules of the contest quite clearly stating that only the Wii Wheel and Wii Remote and Nunchuck could be used. Seems no one told the staff at this Game store about that rule. Having already had years of experience with a gamecube pad and Mario Kart Double Dash; I made it a point to do my laps using that and not the Wii Wheel.
After signing the terms and conditions, I queued up for my first go at Mario Kart Wii. All races were 4 player matches on 100cc speed around Luigi Circuit with weapons and CPU cars switched on. Yes I know what you’re thinking and I agree with you; a race for the best time with weapons and CPU cars switched on is just crazy. You don’t see British Formula One star Lewis Hamilton getting knocked out of contention during qualifying by a blue shell do you? No you don’t.
I suppose it’s the same for everyone, but having random elements like blue shells, oil splatters and banana skins really does mess up with the whole idea of being really fast and setting a good lap time. I can see that it makes it fairer for everyone, but still. For the most part it did really seem that you had to be lucky and get 3 clean laps to stand a chance of getting into the top ten. I won my first race, but with quite a slow time which wasn’t fast enough to get me onto the board.
Having now had some practice with the tweaked controls from Double Dash I was ready to give it another go. Bam! – up onto the board in seventh place and I was only three seconds behind the leader. That was easily attainable and beatable if I were to have a race with no incidents…..but as it turned out, that was to be my problem. I had many more goes at trying to improve my time but never managed to, and so ended up twelfth overall. I can’t express how frustrating it is to be in the lead of so many races and to be knocked back by some bugger using an item. If it wasn’t blue shells it was red shells, and if it wasn’t either of those it was the new self harming thundercloud which is a right pain in the gearbox if you ask me.
The winner was a chap called Matt, followed up by his brother David; amazingly enough they both used the Wii Wheel rather than the cube pad. I don’t actually think it helped them win. No that was more them getting favourable items such as stars and mushrooms and not being hit by blue shells. What is interesting though is that this shows the Wii Wheel can be used competitively and those thinking that it wouldn’t work (me included) have been proven wrong.
So how do Mario Kart Wii and the Wii Wheel actually fair up? I think Mario Kart Wii is very good. As usual it just feels right and is so much fun to play. I had one try at using the new bikes in Mario Kart Wii, it felt fast and stuck to the ground nicely around the corners, but I couldn’t seem to pull off the corner skid dash and ended up flying off the road when I tried. Perhaps it’s a different technique than that of the carts, sadly I didn’t really get a chance to experiment. Nor did I see how to do the mid air stunts, but that could have been down to the fact that there were no special ramps on this particular track. The Wii wheel itself is pretty nice considering it’s really just a hollow piece of plastic. The overall weight including the Wii Remote feels ok, not too light and flimsy and not too heavy. I’m glad to report that the responsiveness, accuracy and turning circle seemed fine. I only have one gripe with the Wii Wheel and that is that the B button is placed in a position which I think only suits the left handed folks out there.
Even though the Wii Wheel was better than I expected I’m pretty sure I’ll be using my Wavebird Gamecube controllers and be bunging the Wii Wheel in the cupboard. Having only been allowed to play on one track I can’t really give you a full lowdown on how everything is in the game yet, but what I’ve seen so far is great and just what I was expecting from the next Mario Kart title. I really can’t wait to get a hold of Mario Kart Wii next week so everyone please keep your fingers crossed that Amazon will send it to me by this weekend. The Mario Kart Wii release date is the 11th April; make sure you get your copy because I’m looking forward to racing (and hitting everyone with blue shells) on the 12 player online mode through the Nintendo Wi-Fi connection!