Mario Kart two months on

Feature: Does time heal all wounds?

You have no idea how close Mario Kart Wii came to destroying our mag this month. By day five of a new issue, Download and World of Nintendo should be coming along nicely. Instead, we were haring around Coconut Mall.

On day 10 we received an angry phone call about the absence of a reviews section. We were too busy scooting around Luigi Circuit to hear it. Day 15? Still no cover, but boy, was Andy getting sweet times on Ghost Valley 2.

Once Mario Kart Wii gets its oiled-smeared claws into you, there's no letting go. The phrase, "ahh, let's jack in the work for a spot of Kart" has grown as commonplace in NGamer Towers as, "how'd you get the damn remote to synch?" and the weird noise Matthew makes when he loses a bout of Smash Bros for the fifth time in a row.

Actually, since Kart arrived, we've been hearing that last one less and less - we've only got one TV and Kart tends to prevail.

The verdict

Two months on, our opinions haven't so much changed, but clarified. Reviewing a game in a hot room full of Pepsi-swilling strangers - most of them German - does not the ideal condition make (unless you have a weird multiplayer setup) and lo and behold, playing with Team NGamer sees an instant hike-up in fun.

Mario Kart is born in the banter as much as the code on the disc. Joshing a rival as they drift over a cliff, vindictively announcing that your blue shell has Kittsy's name on it, collectively pretending to vomit whenever Funky Kong is mentioned.

It's interesting to see how fast certain habits form. After one week of play, each team member had already found their Karting niche: favourite characters (we all play middleweights), certain karts (Matthew stubbornly sticks to the Nostalgia while everyone else uses Standard), particular tracks, a universal hatred of bikes (more on that later).

Indeed, our grand prix settled into a routine insanely fast: Peach Beach, Ghost Valley 2, Mario Circuit 3 with a Bowser's Castle finale (N64 version, natch).

Some would say that only playing four of 32 tracks is narrow-minded - we see it as testament to Mario Kart's ability to be many things to many different people.

We're mostly retro obsessives, reliving multiplayer sessions of yore while the young turks of the office bemoan our refusal to race them on the flashy new tarmac snakes, which are clearly devised to give old hands an instant migraine.

Differing opinions over track choice are best seen in the online lobby, where some persistent souls demand Coconut Mall and Rainbow Road on a loop, while we beg them to throw us the odd Mario Circuit 3 shaped bone.

Play online

The internet's strange desire to play a grand prix consisting of four Rainbow Roads aside, the online scene is a beautiful thing.

Seeing the mystery racers pop into life - Hey! It's George from Sweden. Zap! It's BigBoy47 from Italy - watching the roulette track selection tinkle out your fate, the sudden hike in the music when the host begins the game; it's all terrific stuff.

We're particularly enamoured with the stilted conversation system that sees everyone trying to converse only in over-enthusiastic shrieks of "Yaaaay!" with a bit more "Yaaaay!" to clear things up.

And ghost times at the press of the button? We'd heap on the praise if they hadn't put Andy into a scary fug of Yoshi Falls obsession for a solid month - he was drifting into insanity (quite literally).

It's perfect one-more-go territory: you've beaten the staff time and driven yourself into an early grave trying to beat the expert staff ghost, only for some blighter from Japan to rain on your parade with an extra five seconds off.

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