Nintendo has further alienated the ultra-hardcore by messing with the drift and boost mechanics. You can set drift to automatic, making corners easier but losing you the boost you get when coming out of a drift, or you can set it to manual, in which case you jump and then drift like you used to, but the boost is now relative to the length and direction of your drift, not built then used by ‘snaking’ left and right before releasing the trigger. People who hated all the snaking business are quite happy about this, but those who’ve spent years working on their drifts and boosts are not so delighted. For them, a substantial part of the skill has gone.
For me and for the greater part of the audience, I suspect it’s a non issue. Playing with the wheel is more fun than playing with the stick, the new boost mechanics suit the wheel, and Nintendo has now thrown in a two new ways to get extra speed. First, stunts. Hit a ramp, jerk the wheel or remote, and your character goes into a cool stunt move, picking up a speed boost when he or she lands. Secondly, the game now features motorbikes, and these motorbikes can wheelie. Jerk up on the remote on a decent straight, and your front wheel soars aloft. You move faster, but be wary: get hit by a missile or another player and you’re even more toast than normal.
Even if you’ve played Mario Kart before, it will take you a while to get used to all this. On the plus side, at least many of the courses will be familiar. Mario Kart Wii has the cream of the crop of past Mario Kart courses along with a reasonable selection of new ones, with the tracks arranged into eight different cups. Four of these are initially locked and must be unlocked – along with additional playable characters – by getting a podium position in the available cups. Apart from the widening, tracks are surprisingly faithful to their original incarnations. The ghost swamp and beach courses from the SNES and GBA Mario Karts remain flat, and the textures and architecture have been updated rather than replaced. Tracks like the Mario circuit, Moo Mo Farm and DK Jungle tracks will be instantly familiar from their N64 versions, while a scattering of the Mario Sunshine themed courses from Double Dash! have made it through to Mario Kart Wii.