Mario Kart bleurgh

7th May 2008 – 8.53 am

I played some more Mario Kart Wii over the Bank Holiday weekend, after I'd recovered some sleep from the film festival. Unfortunately, I'm not sure how much more I'll end up playing. I've been relatively positive about the game with my initial impressions, but with some reservations about the random nature of the added computer opponents. After the other day's sessions I am leaning towards the game being too random and unforgiving for my liking.

The Rainbow Road circuit has been the biggest challenge since what I believe was its debut back in Mario Kart 64, with it being longer and more punishing with more places to fall off the track than any other circuit in the game, and the same is true in the Wii version. This time, the game seems to help in punishing mistakes on Rainbow Road. Hitting a barrier on one side of the track on Rainbow Road often has the effect of ricocheting you across to fall off the other edge without the opportunity to steer your way out of trouble, which makes me question the point of the barriers in the first place. The barrier jumps, which have seemed to me to be almost fool-proof in that when you jump from them they end up pointing you in the right direction down the course, repeatedly pointed me towards a circular hole in the track with no chance of steering to avoid after getting the boost from the jump. And when I twice fell off a section of the road that looks to be an automatic jump I started to wonder whether this was a problem of skill or just poor design.

Rainbow Road as a course is entirely unforgiving and makes for quite the challenge just to make a circuit. When you are then in a race with eleven opponents this makes completing the circuit challenging. When your opponents have access to power-ups designed to prevent your progress and they fire them off almost at random, and even their vehicles can act as weapons that can barge you to one side, even off the edge of the course itself, it's more of a frustrating waste of time than a challenge.

Such is the nature of the pack of racers that a single incident that makes you crash, and particularly one that knocks you off the track, you can easily lose multiple places in a matter of seconds. Whilst it is also possible to make up a number of places in an equally short period of time it is more unlikely for that to happen, and dropping from first to seventh on the last corner because of a random power-up event does not endear me to the racing aspect of the game, particularly when this occurs so frequently.

I'm not sure I have the patience to be continually battered just trying to get lucky one race. I would like to believe that it is just a matter of acquiring a certain level of skill before I can start winning races with some regularity, but the random power-ups and likelihood of losing several positions points more to luck playing far too large a part in the game. A friend pointed out that it seems the best tactic is to stay in second or third place and linger close to them near the end of the race, relying on a power-up to remove them from the first spot to claim it yourself, but I don't want a tactical race. I want to be able to race as fast as I can around a circuit and rely on my skill in handling the car and reactions in avoiding obstacles to help me win. When my skill becomes second to random events I am no longer having fun.

When I got hit by a blue shell and came plummeting back to the track to see a red shell literally circling beneath the explosion waiting for me to land before it could strike I could feel my excitement for the single-player game dwindle significantly. This is a shame, as the steering wheel control is fantastic, and the best racing controller I have ever used. The tracks are good, with a couple of flaws here and there but also with some great designs. The animations are excellent and the use of bikes is interesting addition. I'm sure that as a multi-player game, with a bunch of people who can all play at least moderately well, it is a whole heap of fun, but the single player game suffers horribly from randomness. Maybe I'll persevere a little more, but I don't want to play a game to be frustrated, I want to have fun.

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