However, Mario Kart Wii follows Mario Kart DS by taking the competition online too. As always, hooking up via the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection service is a breeze, and the game soon finds up to eleven other racers - on your continent or worldwide as you choose - to race against. Oddly, there's something more personal and infinitely more charming about a race against strangers when its preceded by the sight of their waving Miis, and you won't miss the grumping and trash-talk of Forza 2 or PGR4 on Xbox Live one bit. The racing itself is hilarious, and while I've had the odd dropped game or sudden disconnection, it has mostly been impressively lag-free.
Yet Nintendo hasn't stopped with just a multiplayer option. You can access a new Mario Kart channel, either within the game or installed to your Wii's main Channels page, then instantly look to see whether your track times are being beaten, what your friends are up to and whether anyone is looking for a game. You can see where your achievements rank against other players, join competitions, or even download random Time Trial ghosts to tackle. It's all beautifully done, and just leaves you hoping that Nintendo can offer similar options in future games. What's more, completing a specific championship in the single-player mode allows you to play online and offline with your own Mii. Cleverly, the game assigns a weight class based on your Mii's own physique.
For me, it's the online mode that pushes a very, very good game up to greatness. I know some hardcore fans will have other grumbles - like the fact that the classic Battle mode is now a team-based shadow of its former glory - but for me this hardly impacts. Nor does it really matter that the graphics aren't what you might call amazing; Double Dash! was arguably a bigger leap forward visually, and there are only a few courses where the scenery or the enhanced lighting engine really shines. What matters to me is whether the wheel works, the online option works, and whether the game is hugely addictive and massively entertaining. On all these counts my answer is an unqualified 'yes'. Hardcore Mario Kart players are free to disagree and moan, and can dock one to three points off my score as they wish. The rest of us can just get on and enjoy what is still the finest kart racing game known to man.
The new Mario Kart will please the Wii's casual audience better than Nintendo's hardcore fanbase, but relax, enjoy the new features and the nostalgia factor, and it's still an exemplary racing game.