I played Mario Kart Wii today, and I spent more time kvetching about level design than actually playing. I like games that are not afraid to be cute in the North American market, but too many take the “it’s a kids game” excuse to skimp on things like balance or reasonable level design. Many fall prey to two problems at once. First, the learning curve is shallow and short, quite often with great randomness, so there is little difference between being experienced and playing for the first time. Second, the differences that do exist are completely game-breaking, including degenerative strategies, exploits, or tricks trivialize the game. Insert your favorite examples here, say blue shells or raining power-ups and cheap moves in the Smash Brothers series.
You can imagine how I react to level design problems in racing games given my day job. “This cartoon roadway has completely inadequate signage and lining.”
There are additional problems in terms of party games. First, the above, although hopefully the randomness is enough to avoid having new people get stomped by whoever owns the game in question. Second, make sure to bring your save files with the game, because bringing just the game to Bob’s house means nothing is unlocked. I have not seen how portable everything is with the Wiimotes. Third, there is still a learning curve, such as Mario Kart’s maps with falls that can essentially knock you out of the race. You will cycle through courses if you are playing it as a party game, so by the time that you get an idea of the proper path on one map, you are done playing that one, and you are not getting back to it unless you and your friends play at epic length.
Which you might, since you are gamers, but I have accepted that the Wii was not made for us. Obviously that is a great financial decision, because the Wii has been a haberdashery for money hats, but it is disappointing for the core audience left behind. Almost everything utilizing the Wiimote is far more gimmicky than innovative, and it does not seem sensitive enough to do anything really interesting; insert Yahtzee here mocking “wave spasmodically as gameplay.” It is a great system for casual players and for party games, but has it brought us anything much better than the original Wii Sports? It seems like the Gamecube had the best versions of all the Nintendo games.