Solid Multiplayer! But single-playing unlockables? Welcome aboard the pain train.
I am a hardened veteran of N64 Mario Kart, and I do own the Gamecube's version as well (although I never really invested the hours and HOURS on that version), so I have a decent point of comparison for this new installment.
Let's talk about what this game did right. MULTIPLAYER is probably the most obvious answer there. 4 people can play in the same room or you can send out your 'Friend ID' and your buddies can connect with you through the Internet. Each race has the option of including the CPU-driven bots or not. There are 12 participants in each race or battle, up from 8. You can actually give the A.I. bots a level of difficulty (Easy, Medium, Hard), which is another nice addition.
There are 32 COURSES in this baby; 16 brand new tracks, and 16 'Retro' tracks. They're broken down into 4-race chunks, called a 'Grand Prix', which should all be familiar to those who have played Mario Kart before. The 16 new courses are fun, inventive, and have plenty of variation between them. And the Retro tracks are as close to 'dead on' as the major difference in technology will allow.
The CONTROLS for this game were probably my biggest cause for concern going into it. I just could NOT see how using the motion sensor in the Wii remote was ever going to be as accurate as a good old Analog Stick. I picked the game up off of ebay, the bundle comes with one wheel and the auction that I won threw in a 2nd. At the time I considered picking up 2 more off of ebay, because I didn't want kids fighting over accessories, but then I thought I would wait and see what kind of experience a plastic wheel, with a place to hold a Wii remote, would offer me. Did I dodge a bullet there! To be fair, the 'wheel' control-type is as responsive as it could possibly be; I mean, when you turn, your character turns, but if you're thinking that you're going to be able to compete at any respectable level while using the wheel…you must either be the most patient person living or be part Cyborg. It just isn't accurate enough to give you that little nudge that you need sometimes to scoot past an upside down question mark, a downed Kart, or a banana. Fortunately there are other controller schemes, and one that includes using the Nunchuck! While using the Nunchuck you will use its Analog Stick as your 'Steering Wheel' and balance will return to the universe. Soooo…my 5-year-old uses the actual Steering Wheel, but all other friends and kids that come to my place grab the Nunchucks, and that's what I would recommend for anyone that actually wants to do well in this game.
And one last note on what they did right; the POWER SLIDE. The N64's version was my first time seeing this, and I really enjoyed it in that game. For those that don't know, the power slide is essentially a controlled skid that you can perform when going around corners. When executed properly it does 2 things: 1) It reduces the amount of speed you lose while taking that corner and 2) If held long enough, it will provide you with a mini speed boost when you 'release' it. They took it one step further on the Wii and put an 'Automatic' setting for the power slide. For those people that just couldn't get the hang of when to start, control and end their slides, this is Nintendo's compromise I guess. The limited times that I have used the 'Automatic' setting, it seems that you're only getting half of each benefit. Your mini-boost isn't nearly as compelling (if it's even there at all), and you don't really retain as much of your speed as when you do your slides 'Manually'.
Now as far as the actual racers go, there are 3 weight classes (just like previous Mario Karts). There are Light, Medium and Heavy weight toons. Now back in the N64 days to be a Lightweight meant that you were very agile, quick to recover from spills, you'd lose a bit of speed when cornering without power sliding, and would bounce off of heavier players a little. To be a Heavyweight was essentially the opposite, your top speed was a bit higher than everyone else's, you didn't lose much speed cornering, your handling wasn't quite as crisp, people couldn't just push you out of your spot, and it took you a bit to recover from a spill. For the Wii, they decided to BROADEN that spectrum. The weight class you choose is a CRUCIAL factor in how your driving style will have to play out. Beyond just the 3 weight classes there are as many as 14 vehicles (it may be 16) for each class to choose from (that's 42 different rides if you do the math). And these Karts and Motorcycles aren't just cosmetically different they have different ratings in crucial categories such as Top Speed, Acceleration, Weight, Drift (Power Slide), Mini-boost, Handling and Off-Road. Matching up the right Weight class with the right attributes in the Karts and Cycles tends to be a never ending chess match. The vehicles for the Heavy class don't end up having that much Acceleration, Handling or Drift to choose from, so if you're a finesse driver, the Heavy class is NOT for you. But the Light class vehicles don't get any real options for Top Speed, Weight or Off Road…and although on paper this sounds great, the transition to the game leaves you pretty frustrated.
Which leads me to my one HUGE GRIPE about this game. When a Lightweight toon comes in contact with a Heavyweight toon there is a DRAMATIC BOUNCE. It's not a nudge, or a little shake, the Lightweight literally FLYS sideways for several yards!!!! I wish I was exaggerating. That one aspect of the game has really torn a lot of fun out of the game. In the few matches that I have participated in online, it's rare to see any lightweights on the track, it seems that the game has been reduced to "Who can drive a tank around the track the best?" I still plan on playing a lightweight toon, because I like the challenge of winning from the front, and there don't seem to be too many 'Blue Shells' in the online mode, but I guess we'll see.
About the only other thing I'd like to speak to is the amount of unlockable content. There are MANY drivers, courses, Karts and Motorcycles that are tied to single-player, content. Almost all of it is pretty approachable, and easily managed for the average gamer, but I just want to take this chance to flame the retards that designed the new Rainbow Road! The old one on the N64 was bad because it was so lengthy and bland. This new version has little to no fences, if you play it as a Lightweight you're ALWAYS getting knocked off, and as a Heavyweight your handling isn't accurate enough to negotiate the corners, and THEN when you finally unlock the 'Mirror' cups (same courses only backwards) you have to manage that course going at 150cc, except reverse all of the lines you have taught yourself?! Yeah…unlocking the Mirror mode's Special Cup took me 3 hours of straight sailor language! But it's done, I unlocked everything, and I am telling you that it is NOT a fun journey, but now that I've done it I get bragging rights, and a nice little gold star by my name when I race online, so I guess there's that.
The only person that DOESN'T buy this game, in my mind, is the person who HAS to play alone. The single player content is NOT compelling. But it really is a no-brainer for everyone else. It is a solid multi-player, both in-house and online. Pick it up and race your brains out.