Take Mario online for extra fun

Mario Kart Wii offers a 12-player online racing mode

It's not often that a series instalment can stray so little from its past and still make a mark, but Mario Kart Wii waves the checkered flag with a 12-player online racing mode that makes the best use of the Wii's WiFi capabilities to date.

Sure, it introduces a steering wheel controller shell, two-wheel motorcycles, new racetracks and attack items, but this slick online interface makes the whole experience more human.

The online lobby provides a place to hook up with friends, but it's more fun jumping into a worldwide match with random opponents. Just knowing each 'Mii' character is powered by a good old human brain instead of artificial intelligence will rev your engine.

You'll be hard-pressed to leave the online world, but some single-player action is needed to unlock new characters, tracks and vehicles.

The tried-and-true Mario Kart formula has not changed much since the series' 1992 debut on the Super NES, with Mario, Luigi and their friends racing vehicles around elaborately decorated tracks. Players can also choose battle mode, in which teams complete to pop the most balloons or gather the most coins.

The Grand Prix racing mode offers the standard classes. An excruciatingly slow 50cc is for go-carts only, while 100cc showcases the new bikes. Carts and bikes can be used in the more challenging 150cc class. The new two-wheelers handle differently from the carts. It's easier to negotiate sharp curves, but the motorcycles are understandably more susceptible to bumps from the cart drivers sharing – or hogging – the road.

 Bikers can also pop wheelies for quick speed boosts by tilting the Wii Wheel, which comes bundled with the game. And whether you are using a cart or bike, you'll want to try it.

The Wii remote plugs into the simple-yet-comfortable shell, allowing players to steer while using one button to accelerate and another to attack drivers. Players can also use a Wii remote and Nunchuk combination, the system's Classic Controller or old GameCube controllers.

Up to four players can compete locally via split screen, although the graphics degrade when shrunk to a quarter of the TV screen. As with previous titles, the trick to a better ranking is driving through question mark-adorned blocks to add a random item to your attack arsenal.

The usual banana peels, mushroom speed boosts and invincibility stars are back, with a few extras. Finally, Mario Kart Wii offers 16 tracks out of the box with the ability to unlock 16 more. Some are remade versions of tracks from previous titles, while others are new.

Fans may nitpick about various aspects that differ from previous versions, but this instalment offers the best online experience.

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