Monday, April 28, 2008

The problem with the Wii Wheel and Mario Kart Wii

feature_image_large.jpgI've heard it all today,
"Mario Kart is lame."
"The wheel sucks."
"Mario Kart is awesome."
"The wheel is excellent."

As someone very clearly in the target zone (dad, kids, lots of family playtime) for Nintendo with this thing, I learned something unexpected this weekend. Forget whether you think the game is good or bad. Forget worrying about whether it's a step backward in terms of game design. What really needs to be asked is "does it deliver on what Nintendo is promising?"

The answer, realistically, is "not quite."

Now admittedly my kids are certainly on the young end of the intended audience for Mario Kart, but they're already big time Mario fans. I've discussed in the past how much we enjoyed playing Super Mario Galaxy together, and I think I've mentioned my three-year-old's Jedi skills at Mario Kart DS. If there was ever an "easy" audience for this game, I think we're it.

So here's how it went down yesterday.

At 10am we grabbed the keys to Mrs D's car, and the three Davison boys hightailed to the local Toys R Us to pick up the copy of Mario Kart we'd pre-ordered the previous day (let's not go into why Nintendo has yet to put What They Play on it's mailing list for product after six months of asking about it, it's too depressing.)

wiiwheel.jpgThere was much excitement in the air. We grabbed the game, a second wheel, and indulged in a third Wii Remote thanks to the handy table with all three of the above neatly laid out to entice us. This $50 game cost me over $100 so all three of us could play together. We practically ran back to the car, and dashed back home as soon as we could.

After tearing open the game, rigging up a pair of Wii Wheels, and installing the Wii system update, we were ready to rock. The boys know a bunch of the tracks like the backs of their hands thanks to the DS game, so we jumped into a familiar environment in a three player game; the boys with the wheels, and me with the Nunchuk.

It didn't take long.

My oldest struggled through, but had some major problems with the calibration of the wheel. He'd either turn too much, or too little. Both being equally frustrating, as they result in the same thing: banging into the walls, or falling off something.

My youngest struggled at first to get to grips with holding down the "2" button for the throttle, and very quickly tired of trying to steer the kart like a real car.

We abandoned three player races and tried single player "coaching" games. Son on lap, controlling the kart together. My older son started to get the hang of it, but was still a little frustrated, while my little guy gave up completely. "Can I play Mario Kart on the DS?" he asked me, less than 15 minutes after we'd started playing the Wii game.

My oldest boy thinks he'll get the hang of it "eventually." We don't play console games during the week, so he's looking forward to trying it again next weekend, and thinks he'll start to get good at it with some practice. The little guy's not interested. "I don't like it," he told me last night.
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