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Mario Kart Wii

Are the keys to the kart the keys to your heart?

The brothers Mario clash on the racetrack. As their karts grind together, the combined mach speed threatens to tear the lip warmers from their very faces. The scene seethes with venom - never has Nintendo dredged up such ferocious rivalry. As an opening FMV? It's a killer. As an indicator of the day at the races to follow? They're being a little liberal with the truth.

Entering our first race - Luigi's Circuit in Mario's 50cc banger - the tash-flapping wonderment of the intro is dispelled instantly. It's a dull loop - roughly shaped like Patrick Stewart's head - that's far too wide; a sea of tarmac that denies you anything close to a satisfying racing line. It makes the bloated tracks of Double Dash look super-skinny. It's hardly the best opener.

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Then you hit the accelerator aaaand... not a lot happens. Yes, the 50cc Grand Prix has never been the speediest of events, but this feels wind-up car slow. A piddling trickle of movement, it's particularly jarring if you've recently played Zippy The Wonder Boy, aka Mario Kart DS. Why the treacly pace? It's likely due to the wheel peripheral - speed and new controls are going to take the precious 'expanded audience' time to grasp.

While it's hard to write passionately about a plastic wheel (we give it a try in 'Wheely Good', right) the control it offers, although alien at first, is soon warmed to. It's not long before you're translating the minimal analogue tweaks that got you through Mario Karts of yore to the wheel, though seasoned Kart-heads will probably stick with the tried-and-tested analogue stick, especially for the bikes.

Oh so remote
But never fear: this shambles of an opening race is in no way a clear indicator of how good Mario Kart Wii can actually be. Pop out the remote from its plastic casing and ramp up your vehicle class to 150cc, and the game is transformed into the Mario Kart you know and love. Basics first. Analogue stick steering? Fine. It sits somewhere between Mario Kart 64 and Double Dash - there's none of the sluggishness of Dash's fattened karts, but it's got more grip and presence than 64's pseudo-3D floaty-mobiles. And drifting? Really solid.

Instigated by performing a hop, a drift boost is no longer gained by steering in and out of the slide, but is now dictated by the length of the slide. Drift for long enough and the blue sparks turn to blue flames, before flaring a bright, super-boost-coloured red.

Boosting is a case of less is more. Despite being easier to pull off than the old waggling technique - you literally just hold down the hop button and steer into the bend - the boost is harder to trick and manipulate. Is this the end of snaking? We certainly hope so. Sure, you can hop and force a drift along a straight, but the game doesn't like giving you boost power unless you're on a corner. It may be technical witchcraft, but we won't send it to the ducking stool.

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Having to hold the drift for as long as possible actually makes for a riskier game. Do you try to drift through multiple bends in one manoeuvre for a mega boost, or chop it into more manageable pieces? It also calls for re-evaluation of the retro tracks included here, as strategic slides question your tried and tested racing lines, and best times once thought unbeatable are soundly trounced.

Not only are you attempting to cultivate a zen-like appreciation of corners, but you have a stunt boost to chase, too. Whether launching off a ramp or passing a minor bump in the road, a quick remote shake activates a trick and rewards you with a turbo upon landing. There's no way to mess it up and no tricksy angled landings la Excite Truck. It's as pure and obvious as Mario Kart has ever been.

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