Only Nintendo would be crazy enough—or, perhaps, obtuse enough—to ship a triple-A title the same week that Grand Theft Auto IV hits stores. Some might argue that it's counter-programming foresight, akin to releasing a romantic comedy the weekend Iron Man arrives in theaters. Probably closer to the truth: Nintendo hasn't ever really paid attention to what Rockstar or anyone else does in this business. And Mario Kart Wii stands tall as proof that the company isn't about to start now.
Like the Smash Bros. series, Mario Kart Wii hearkens back to an era when videogames made absolutely no effort at making sense. The classic illogical formula in the Wii version remains the same: Drop a host of Nintendo characters (some well-known, some terribly obscure) into go-karts, equip them with jokey weapons like banana peels and turtle shells, then turn them loose.
The bright, shiny visuals—now available in 480p—and the slide-whistle sound effects will make depressives choke on their Zoloft doses. Plus the game includes motorbikes (a series first), presents 32 tracks (16 new and 16 recycled from previous games), and adds the novelty of the Wii Wheel peripheral. Yes, the game ships with this landfill-bound bit of plastic whether you want it or not.
Beyond the game: The game's superb online interface, featuring an easy-to-navigate world map so you can locate potential competitors, is by far Nintendo's most accomplished online effort yet.
Worth playing for: The new courses, including one set inside a shopping mall filled with escalators (look for your Miis to appear in advertisements throughout the mall), are some of the best tracks in the series.
Frustration sets in when: Getting nailed with a Spiny Shell when you're only a few feet from the finish line will, as usual, result in the invention of several hundred never-before-heard expletives.
Final judgment: Whether all this is enough to merit a purchase depends almost entirely on how much Nintendo-fanboy blood courses through your veins.