Editor's note: The following review is satirical in nature.
I unleash the full might of my finger on the gas button and my kart rockets to its maximum speed in seconds. A variety of colorful characters dodge around me as I explode out of the starting gate. Seconds into the race, I smash through a transparent block inscribed with a question mark insignia and am awarded with a homing weapon, which I promptly use to ruin the day of a competitor. I aim for a boost pad and reap its benefits, blazing forward and taking first place. A sharp turn appears ahead, so I hold the left trigger and enter a powerslide. I hold the slide for as long as possible, and the flames erupting from my kart's exhaust pipes change from orange, to blue, and finally to red, indicating that I'll be propelled forward with a boost as soon as I stop powersliding.
The first ever HD addition to the Mario Kart franchise gets the feel of its predecessors spot-on, but some important elements from past games have been drastically altered. Power-sliding, weapon pickups, and candy-colored environments have made their return, but it seems that everything about Nintendo's beloved series has undergone a bland rebranding that completely eschews any of the personality that made previous Mario Kart games fun.
Let's see... I can play as a blue hedgehog, a black hedgehog, a pink hedgehog, a red hedgehog, a fat man, a fat cat, some guys from a fighting game that isn't Street Fighter, that black guy from Crazy Taxi, or Diddy Kong. I don't recognize these characters! Where's Mario, Bowser, and Toad? And is that Billy Hatcher? Oh no, I already got tricked into spending $50 on that game once. Not again.
All the weapons from past Mario Kart games have been the victim of an unwelcome re-skin in this game. The green shell has become the "K.O. Glove," the red shell has been swapped for homing rockets, fake item boxes have been traded for exploding traffic cones, and Mario's signature mushroom has been done away with in favor of racing shoes. This complete abandonment of any meaningful theme will make players feel as though they're playing a game without any context--if the charactes, areas, and items have no interesting history or impact on gaming as a whole, why would I play this instead of 2008's Mario Kart Wii?
One welcome addition to the series is the new "mission mode" which is accessible from the single-player area of the main menu. There are about 64 different missions that one can play through, each with objectives spanning from a quick lap around a level that seems to be inspired by some game that I played in the early '90s, to a quick lap around a level from games that I've never heard of. One particularly annoying mission required me to navigate a giant motorcycle-riding cat(who I think might be from the Japanese-only version of Super Mario Bros. 2) around some pots without breaking more than three, but the game redeemed itself a few minutes later when it gave me a mission to break as many of those pots as possible.
I did enjoy the fact that I could purchase ambiguous techno music from the in-game shop with the "miles" that are earned at the end of each grand prix or mission. I also found online play with other confused gamers to be extremely enjoyable, and Nintendo's long-awaited abolishment of friend codes for this game is awesome. Four-player split screen is a surprising option to find in this next-gen game, especially when you actually play it and realize that the game bogs down to Mario Kart 64 speeds.
The new in-race announcer is pretty strange. At one point after a good race he quipped, "FOOD?! WATER?! CLOTHING?! WHO NEEDS THAT STUFF WHEN YOU'VE GOT RACING LIKE THIS?!" He seems to be a little too excitable by the slightest thing, but I'll admit that his habit of constantly hollering puns cracked me up on more than one occasion. It's instances like when Banjo & Kazooie (it's nice to see that Nintendo worked out their differences with Microsoft to get them in, by the way) use their special move and the announcer screams, "BANJO AND KAZOOIE ARE REALLY GETTING JIGGY WITH IT," that made me shake my head and chuckle.
I might give this game a lot of crap for being a personality-free version of past Mario Kart games, but I'll admit that I had fun with it. The powerslide-heavy focus of this kart racer gives the game a nice feel, and I had trouble putting it down, resulting in a couple of sessions that lasted for quite a few hours. It's no Mario Kart Wii, but it is the best kart racer on the HD consoles, and for that I gladly recommend it.
Players:1-4 players local, 1-8 players online
Platform(s):Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, Wii