My brother Brad used to race cars, and he once gave me some good advice I use all the time in driving games like "Mario Kart Wii."
Brad said if you see cars wreck in front of you, drive toward the spot of the accident, because by the time you reach that point, the ruined cars will be crashing someplace else. And you don’t want to be at that "someplace else."
Crashing is, obviously, an integral part of driving fast. But in "Mario Kart Wii," it’s constant and whimsical. This is another cutesy Nintendo Wii adventure set in a colorful land of deep-blue cartoon skies and puffy faced, comical characters.
You race and crash often as the usual suspects: Mario, Bowser, Donkey Kong and so on. You speed in cars and motorcycles. Choosing an auto or a character doesn’t give you a leg up on the competition. Vehicle dynamics are the same, more or less.
But if it makes you feel better to win as, say, a girl named Peach in a hot rod, more power to you.
There’s nothing surprising inside "Mario Kart Wii," but its 32 tracks are definitely super cute. Cows graze in your way. Mushroom heads and gophers pop up at you. And Mario lets out his silly "woohoo!"
More important, you can toss bombs and banana peels at rivals to slow them down. Or you can pick up a speed burst that catapults you ahead of cars.
The thing about this kind of kiddie title is it’s way more fun to play with other people than alone. If you race solo against the artificial intelligence of the Wii computer, you’re basically just memorizing hairpin turns and weapon upgrades.
But if you battle against people in your living room — up to four players at a time — then you’ve got yourself a little parlor game. And thankfully, you can take "Kart" online against up to 11 other gamers.
The opposite of "Mario Kart Wii" is "Gran Turismo 5: Prologue" for PS 3. It’s a sober, unforgiving racing simulator featuring street rods, from Mazdas to Ferraris.
In "Mario" and other racers today, if you mess up, other cars slow down so you can catch up. But in "Prologue," you have to race as perfectly as you would in real life. If you blow a turn or two in a three-minute race, you are toast.
The steering is impressively intuitive. You control the direction of the car by pressing your thumb against the left joystick, and you control speed by thumbing the right joystick. Easy-peasy. Downside: The few tracks get repetitive in no time.
Like "Mario," all the best action is online or in multiplayer. That’s where you get to drive against real people, and the feel of the game completely changes, as cars steered by people, not a computer, zigzag and knock you around. Oddly, though, there’s no crashing. Your "GT 4" cars are indestructible.
Personally, I prefer "Mario Kart Wii," even though it’s super easy. It’s just funner. Plus, I like to play as a Peach in a hot rod. I’m all for girl power.
("Gran Turismo 5: Prologue" by Sony retails for $60 for PS 3 — Plays fun but the low number of tracks get old. Plays most fun online. Looks fantastic. Starts challenging, gets more challenging. Rated "E" for mild suggestive themes. Three stars out of four.)
("Mario Kart Wii" by Nintendo retails for $50 including racing wheel for Wii — Plays fun. Looks cutesy-cartoony. Easy offline; moderately challenging online. Rated "E" for comic mischief. Three stars.)NEW IN STORES "Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" is a movie-based action-adventure returning to Narnia, 1,300 years later in its fantasyland. Many puzzles and battles await to be mounted. And you can portray as many as 20 characters online. There’s cooperative play for living room battles. The game retails for $60 for PS 3; $50 for Wii and Xbox 360; $30 for PS 2 and DS. It’s rated "T" for violence. "We Ski" is a rare snowboarding game for the Wii, where you use the two hand controllers to direct yourself over snow. You can also use the balance board, from the late-May "Wii Fit" release," as a snowboard. "We Ski" retails for $30 for Wii. It’s rated "E" for alcohol reference.