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Latest Mario Kart puts you behind the wheel

Just when you think you've accomplished something, that darn blue shell knocks you right back into your place.

Luckily for Mario Kart fans, I'm talking about what literally happens in Mario Kart Wii, not the success of Nintendo's latest addition to the comic racing franchise.

This is the sixth outing for the game, and fans of it will find many familiarities. The usual cast of suspects returns, including Mario, Luigi, Bowser and Donkey Kong. Favorite in-race items return, including the red and green shells, banana peels, speed-boosting mushrooms and that dreaded blue shell that seeks out the racer in first place with extreme prejudice.

The first new item you will notice with Mario Kart Wii is the Wii Wheel. It is merely an attachment for your Wii Remote that better simulates a racing wheel than just holding the remote sideways, but it's functionality is so much more. The Wii Wheel makes Mario Kart Wii feel like you're in the game. Instead of gauging how much to move your left thumb to turn a vehicle, you just mimic driving with the wheel.

The motion sensor inside the Wii Remote is very accurate to the on-screen driving, and the Wii Wheel helps draw you into the game even more.

Another welcome addition is bikes for your character to drive. They have a very different feel from the karts and allow you to perform stunts while jumping. You can also do the stunts while in a kart with a wiggle of the wheel, but the animations on bike stunts are much more elaborate. Either way, you'll get a speed boost if you strut your stuff in the air.

Just like Mario Kart DS, Mario Kart Wii has 16 tracks - eight new tracks and eight classic tracks from previous games. The classic tracks are not merely ported from previous versions. In Waluigi Stadium from Mario Kart: Double Dash!!, the accelerated jump ramps on the side walls have been added in a couple of locations, allowing you to use your new moves in a track you may have raced many times before.

New tracks, such as Wario's Gold Mine, will have you screaming as you undoubtedly fly off the track numerous times while trying to get a hang of all the extra peaks and valleys in the course.

Mario Kart Wii brings worldwide gaming to the Wii through the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. You can play up to 12 players over the Internet by choosing opponents from across the world, just in your region or from a list of friends. Online multiplayer modes include the versus mode, where you race among the 16 tracks, and the two battle modes, which splits players into teams to either pop balloons or collect coins.

The game doesn't fully live up to its potential because of a couple of disappointing faults. Gone is the multiplayer grand prix, which allowed you to race a human opponent in one of the cup series and earn a trophy at the end. Also gone is a free-for-all battle mode, which has been replaced by teams. Another feature that would be welcome is the ability to turn off certain weapons such as the previously mentioned blue shell or the stop-everybody-in-their-tracks lightning bolt.

But overall, Mario Kart Wii is one of the best games to hit Nintendo's newest console since the launch in November 2006.

SideBar: Mario Kart Wii

3 1/2 stars out of 4

Platform: Nintendo Wii

Publisher: Nintendo

Price: $49.99 (Includes game and Wii Wheel)

Rating: E (Comic Mischief)