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The Whole World In Your LAN

Feature: Is Nintendo's Wi-Fi service worth the bandwidth it's written on?

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It's-a-them! Again!

A few old favourites are still knocking around online. Are they striding purposefully into the online age or is it time for them to hang up their boots?

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Super Mario Strikers: Charged
Horrifically exploitable, cheaper than a Russell Brand gag and so complex you need a PhD in Randomonics to play. In 2009, servers for the Wii's first ever Wi-Fi game are as empty as the JJB Stadium. Still, log on during peak times and you should have little trouble finding a match, but try not to have the temerity to take too commandeering a lead or your opponent is likely to quit out on you. There are weekly leaderboards that provide some impetus to keep playing, but with no defined penalty for quitting out they receive more abuse than Bowser's hapless team-mates.

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Super Smash Bros Brawl
Even the likes of Capcom have struggled in recent times to get the problematic fighting game genre working online, so it was incredibly optimistic of Nintendo to think that they could get their madness festival working online with any consistency. The end result is somewhat of a lottery - at times the online play is passable, with very little lag; at others it rolls like a pyramid.

Whenever Nintendo's bandwidth is at a premium, it does seem that Smash Bros' servers are the first to buckle under the strain; the game was down for much of the Christmas period, leaving us wondering if Nintendo ever intend to issue a fix. The punching bag training session that's displayed while you wait for your opponents is nice, mind. Which is just as well, seeing as how you spend so much time staring at it.

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Mario Kart Wii
Nintendo learned well from Mario Kart DS's Wi-Fi woes (dare to inch ahead of the opposition for even a second in that game and everyone would quit out, leaving you on your lonesome), introducing a permanent scoring system (beginning at 5,000 points, increasing or decreasing depending on results) that offers sharp penalties for quitters. Occasionally you'll find yourself disconnected through no fault of your own, incurring a harsh points deduction with it, but this is rare enough as to not prove an annoyance.

Lag is virtually non-existent, but this is largely due to the game 'predicting' your opponent's position, which means that often you can finish, for example, second as your TV screen sees it, but actually only sixth or seventh overall, which can prove frustrating. The Mario Kart Channel, which provides a steady stream of monthly challenges, helps improve longevity. The time trials are carefully and thoughtfully arranged, but all too often it's the cheaters that prosper.

Conclusion
Drop any preconceptions you might have had about Wi-Fi - Nintendo's online service is so far removed from the one that keeled over after five minutes of lag in mid-2007 as to be unrecognisable. While it obviously doesn't have the features of Xbox Live and is still prone to unacceptable levels of downtime (during the period we tested, which admittedly was Christmas weekend, the entire system was down two evenings out of six), when Wi-Fi is working perfectly (which is becoming a more and more regular occurrence) it's capable of providing just as many thrills and spills as its peers. And with the likes of Red Steel 2 and The Conduit already signed up to become members of the blue-badge brigade in 2009, the future is looking pretty peachy. If you haven't already, make sure you get yourself connected.

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