15 Years Ago, the Jankiest Mario Kart Game Changed Nintendo Forever
Shortcut to victory.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve never owned a console or are an industry veteran — pretty much everyone has played Mario Kart at some point.
And most likely it was Mario Kart Wii, a game fondly remembered for its unique motion controls and innovative mechanics — and less fondly remembered for its many glitches, broken maps, and overpowered characters. Still, the innovations of Mario Kart Wii gave its more successful sequel, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, the polish and drive to become the top-selling game in the franchise.
The fundamentals of Nintendo’s casual racing series have remained remarkably consistent over the 14 titles released since 1992. Players race against each other over imaginatively themed race tracks, avoiding items and obstacles to reach the finish line first.
Though the core formula has remained relatively unchanged, there have been a few tweaks along the way. Double Dash put two racers in one kart and Super Mario Kart DS brought the series to handheld. But 15 years ago, at the height of Nintendo’s casual gaming phase, Mario Kart Wii tried to change a bit too much.
Mario Kart Wii is not a well-balanced game. Numerous bugs and glitches allow you to jump through areas, clip through walls, and complete races in a ridiculously short amount of time. The game is so busted that a speed-running community has popped up utilizing “ultra shortcuts” to complete laps in mere seconds. For example, by going backward and doing a few well-timed flips, you can complete a lap on Rainbow Road in just over 15 seconds. Mario Kart 8 got a bit more polish and removed these shortcuts as a result. The fastest lap you can do on the Nintendo Switch version is just under a minute.
The characters are woefully unbalanced, too. Funky Kong on the Flame Runner bike is by far the best combination, having the best stats in speed, weight, and drift (which are the only ones that really matter). Even though the surfboard-wielding ape is nowhere near as popular in other games, here he has more speed-running world records than any other character. Mario Kart 8 has a much more balanced roster and vehicle selection. Being able to customize the wheel, chassis, and flag of your rider makes the game a whole lot more open and fair.
Though Mario Kart Wii allowed players to control their actions normally with buttons, the big gimmick here was the Wii motion sensors, which allowed you to steer by tilting the controller side to side. The core design was so integrally baked into the game that many copies of it came with a plastic steering wheel that you could plug the Wiimote into. The promise of the steering wheel — being able to pretend that you are actually driving — was more ambitious than Mario Kart Wii could actually deliver. The Wiimote consistently came up short against a traditional input device, like a Gamecube controller.
Chances are, if you go into your attic or basement to find that cardboard box with your Wii, you’ll find that ugly steering wheel right beside it.
In spite of those problems, Mario Kart Wii was a massive success, selling 37.3 million copies. Being the best kart racer on Nintendo’s most approachable console, it’s the second highest-selling game in the series, right behind Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. But unlike Wii, 8 Deluxe has been consistently updated with new maps and content since it came out. There are probably people out there who purchased the Switch Online expansion pack just to access those extra maps. It’s allowed the game to continue thriving for far longer than most.
The legacy of Mario Kart Wii is bigger than broken maps and plastic garbage. This entry in the series introduced bicycles, a new mechanic that has been tied to the series ever since. These two-wheeled forms of transportation were finally added in this generation, giving all racers a bit more flexibility when it comes to what they take on the track. The bikes are also just more fun to play, adding a bit more control and speed when compared to their clunky counterparts. Even the heaviest Bowser could stay upright and win a race with a well-balanced bike.
All of these reasons make Mario Kart Wii an unforgettable milestone in the series. Nintendo has never been afraid to be inventive and it pushed the cart racer in a bold new direction for its bright-white Wii Sports machine. If it didn’t have any of those glitches or broken characters, I doubt the game would still be played today. Players love to break things — and there’s nothing more fun than dismantling a childhood classic.