Mario Kart DS has pulled up its recliner, sat its butt down, and made itself at home on the DS with its dual screens, online play, and outstanding gameplay modes.
Back in the earlier SNES days, Nintendo created a new genre of video games: the Kart Racer. Mario Kart was the original kart racer and stands second to none. And you know you hit the nail on the head when numerous cheap rip-offs are created in an attempt to mimic the original (but are always filled with more crap than the WB).
Every Nintendo system since the SNES has graced a single Mario Kart sequel, each bringing something new and fresh to the kart racing world. The original SNES Mario Kart blew gamers away with its extremely fun gameplay and originality. Mario Kart 64 was released on the N64. The bigger 3D environments, analog stick control, and four-player support supplied nothing but nonstop late night multiplayer action. The GBA version brought the series back to its Mode7 roots. Mario Kart Super Circuit also stood out from the crowd by offering new tracks along with every track that was in the SNES version. Plus, multiplayer was capable with only one game pak. Finally, Mario Kart Double Dash!! completely changed the way kart racers are played. By having two players to a single kart, strategy and multiplayer games once again were introduced to something entirely new to the kart racing genre. Most importantly, each Mario Kart game contained the highest level of quality, and the DS version is no exception. Now, Mario Kart DS brings elements from all these games into one racer and adds something fans have always wanted: online play!
The quality and production values in Mario Kart DS have been placed on the highest shelf. Every element in this game has been crafted with care and detail including the single player and multiplayer modes. If you have ever been grabbed by the face and whipped to the ground, you know how Mario Kart DS will hit you. The game will engulf you with its deep and involving features from the moment the power button is tapped. This DS game has enormous shoes to fill, given the background quality of the series? previous games, but manages to reach and surpass expectations.
If you have never played a Mario Kart game, or one of its crappy clones, then punching yourself directly in the face is only suitable redemption for your sin. Players choose from a cast of famous Mario characters in race to the finish. However, getting there is not so easy. Tricky track design, hazards, and weapons are all the main elements that founded Mario Kart. For playing solo, GP mode is the main mode of play. The goal is to finish with the highest possible rank in each race. Once four races are finished (one Cup) trophies are awarded to the top three racers. Gold trophies unlock more goodies such as new characters, new tracks, and new karts.
The dual screen function is a total blessing on the DS. The top screen displays all the action while the bottom screen uses a map-like radar system. This bottom screen can be displayed in one of two ways. First, the close up view shows what is directly in front of and behind the player. This includes all incoming projectiles and laid traps such as banana peels and decoy item boxes. Using the bottom screen is a must if you want to avoid incoming attacks. However, if the bottom screen is tapped once, this radar map will zoom out to pan the entire track. Icons of each player are displayed in real time according to rank. The player can also see which weapon a particular opponent has at any time. Each screen is best used in different situations but both are an important aspect of the game. This map system is not a gimmick and it will be hard to play another Mario Kart without it. The only downside of this game?s dual screen nature, is the complete lack of a speedometer. There is no way to tell how fast the player is traveling. This is a major bummer because die-hard Time Trial fans will need this crucial indicator. Major bummer.
What would any racing game be without Time Trial mode? Any unlocked track can be played solo in an attempt to finish with the fastest time possible. No weapons or items can be found on track. The player only starts with some mushroom boosts. But in order to gain addition speed, boost turning is a must. Just like Mario Kart 64 or Double Dash!!, the right shoulder button is used to produce a hop and then a power slide. While slide turning, the D-pad must be pulled from a left to right or right to left manner depending on the direction of the turn. Once the dust that emits from the rear of the kart changes color, a boost of speed will be produced after the right shoulder button is released. Gamers of the N64 or GC version need not worry. The D-pad works just as well as the analog stick. After a couple of boost turns, everything will feel natural. The game even keeps track of your own Ghost data. These ?ghosts? map the path traveled and fastest time you took to complete any given track. Ghosts can even be swapped and stored via wireless link to other Mario Kart DS owners.
Brand new to the Mario Kart series is the Mission mode. Here, players are given a set mission objectives such as ?collect all the coins?, ?drive through the gates,? or ?shoot the enemies with shells.? Each mission usually can be completed in under a minute, but they grow with increasing difficulty. After each mission a rank is also granted. The player could very well spend hours upon hours trying to achieve the highest rank for all the missions. When all the missions in a set are complete, a boss battle takes place. Yes! Boss Battles in a Mario Kart game! These bosses have all been taken from previous Mario games such as the Bully from Mario 64 and the new Goomboss from Mario 64 DS. These missions are a fantastic new addition to the Mario Kart series and is surely to become a new staple in the series.
A purchase of this game is in order strictly for the single player side of the game, but the developers focused a ton of energy on the multiplayer aspect as well. Mario Kart DS supports many types of multiplayer modes. Up to eight players can compete via LAN multicard or singlecard style. Naturally, the single card option does not contain all the features of multicard play, but still offers enough options to make multiplayer games entertaining.
VS mode is your standard race to the finish, just like GP mode only with human players. But what would Mario Kart be without Battle mode? Each player has three balloons. Once damage has been sustained by one of the game?s many weapons, a balloon is lost. The last person standing wins. But deflated balloons can be inflated by blowing into the DS?s mic.
New to the DS version is Shine Runner. Here, players are again placed in an arena with the goal of collecting the most shines, the collectible icons from Super Mario Sunshine. But if you collected a shine and get nailed by a projectile, the shine is dropped and opponents have free reign to collect it. And if you don?t have seven other friends to play with, computer controlled Bots will take their place. You can even play team battles. Very, very cool.
The biggest and most looked forward aspect to the multiplayer function is the online play. Nintendo WiFi enables up to four human racers to compete in a race to the finish. However, do not expect Xbox Live type features. First, only four players can compete in a single race. Not like the eight-player LAN mode. Eight players would have caused too much lag and matchmaking troubles. Second, the Friends List system isn?t as friendly as you would like it. When you jump into a game, you will be paired with three other random opponents. But nowhere during the game, or after the game, can you add these players to your Friends list. And since there is no voice or text communication option, finding friends can be difficult. But when you play LAN games, your friend?s Friend Code is automatically entered into your list. Both the DS and the game card use specific friends lists. The friends you made playing Mario Kart DS will not appear when you play Metroid Prime Hunters online. Third, you cannot hold a weapon behind your kart when playing online. Perhaps this was to increase competition or maybe the game would have suffered from more lag issues. And only race mode can be played online. Battle mode over WiFi is a no-no.
One of the biggest suck factors about playing online are quitters. Say you are in first place, but the third place person lags out. The fourth place person now gains the third place spot but still is unhappy with his rank. So he just quits. There really is not a good way to keep track of quitters and there is no suitable punishment. Finally, not all the tracks can be played online. Some levels are just too big and would cause lag issues. But a solid 20 of the 32 tracks can be played online. Again, this isn?t Halo 2?s Bungie.net gold-standard experience, but for being the first handheld game to go online, it is still pretty well done. It would have been nice if Nintendo allowed for some new downloadable levels, like in Tony Hawk American S8land, but the game features enough built in options to keep playing for quite some time.
Nintendo made connecting to its WiFi network easy. All you need is a wireless router and a high-speed connection. Playing online is free, unlike Xbox?s $50 a year price tag. If you do not have a wireless router, but have a broadband connection and Windows PC and still want to play your DS online, then you can purchase a Nintendo USB adapter that transmits a wireless single. This can be purchased from Nintendo?s website. In addition, you can stop at over 6,000 McDonald?s and hook up to the Nintendo WiFi network for free. Connecting online is easy as the game walks you through all of the options. Even if you do not know anything about wireless networking, you will still be able to hook up your DS to the WiFi function.
Personally, I had a little bit of trouble connecting with my Netgear wireless router. I didn?t understand why I couldn?t connect even after checking to see that my model Netgear router was displayed as ?fully functional? on www.nintendowifi.com. After doing research on nintendowifi.com, I realized I should probably turn down the encryption level. Changing to a 64-bit encryption level from a 128-bit fixed the problem. For any problems, use www.nintendowifi.com. There is a nice list of compatible routers, it is easy to do a search on error codes, and there are many other helpful Faqs.
Mario Kart DS is a nice compilation of all the Mario Kart games because it combines so many elements into one. Besides adding new tracks and a couple new weapons, all the old weapons and many tracks from old Mario Kart games are available for play in the DS game. Classic green and red turtle shells, banana peels, and the almighty spiny shell all make a welcomed come back while the new Blooper ink splatter and bob-omb serve new purposes. Blooper?s ink is flung onto opponent?s screens, hindering view. Originally, the player was going to have to wipe these black spots away with the touch screen, but the game play takes place on the top screen and taking your hands off the controls is too awkward. Instead, the ink will eventually fade or get blown off if you hit a burst of speed. The bob-omb can be tossed ahead or laid behind, causing a massive explosion that can stop many racers at once.
All the new tracks fit very well with the Mario Kart non-realistic theme. Bowser?s Castle and the Pinball level are just some noteworthy tracks. But tracks from every Mario Kart before it make up the Retro Cups. One track from each of the previous four games make up one cup. It is really cool to see levels from the SNES Mario Kart and the GBA Mario Kart in full 3D. Mario Kart DS is not a Mode7 racer. Everything has been produced by a 3D engine.
The graphics are incredibly well done for a DS. The framerate rarely drops below the smooth 60fps, even when playing online, ensuring smooth visuals all the way around. Each kart and character models are also very well animated and look great coming off the back-lit DS screen. Environments are detailed by producing many particle effects and interactivity. And when playing in any multiplayer mode, the player has the option to create their own custom avatar via the touch screen using a easy to use pixel editor similar to Animal Crossing?s. Fans of all Mario games will appreciate the fact that each kart directly corresponds to the character. For example, DK rides in his Rambi Rider, a nod to Donkey Kong Country (nothing like a gorilla riding in a rhino). Luigi rides on his vacuum cleaner that he used in Luigi?s Mansion. And Yoshi cruises in a classic green and white egg mobile. However, the game?s box art seems a little bland and tasteless, unlike any usual Nintendo made game.
The music is also a nice mix of new and old tunes. The remixed tracks from the SNES version are also particularly well covered. I only wish that each character used a little more voice work. It is always fun to hear a character yelp when they get pummeled by a heat-seeking red shell. And the Select button doesn?t do anything. It should make each kart honk its honk, like in the GBA version. Although it is not really that big of a deal, it still should have been in the game.
There really aren?t too may bad things to say about this game. The biggest concern is lack of significant options during the online mode. Contacting friends can be a pain, and sometimes it can take minutes to hop into an online match. Mario Kart?s online play is actually well done for a handheld game, but Xbox Live player?s may be too spoiled and will probably hate the interface. Also, the coins that were in the SNES and GBA versions are gone. This can be seen as both a blessing or a curse depending on who is looking at it. Personally, I think the DS benefits from having the no coin type of gameplay as it could have brought a little bit too much to each race. The ?R? button hop and power slide is a great feature to the game, but running into walls is also a bit unforgivable. Unlike other Mario Kart games, if you bump into a wall, you pretty much come to a dead stop. You do not bounce off. This makes power sliding and turning in general all the more important to keep up with the rest of the group. The boost of speed off the starting line has also changed. Usually the accelerator button must be pressed just as the final green light appears. However, the DS version uses a countdown meter 3?2?1 system. Instead of hitting the gas when on ?1,? the player must warm up the engine at ?2? in order to gain the burst of speed. This initial speed burst is also very important when playing the Mission mode where each tenth of a second counts. And why was this racing game made without a speedometer? Strange.
Also, the player seems to drop items way to easy. Even if the game is still randomly scrolling through an item and you get hit by a lightning bolt, you will still lose your incoming item. The game could have been a little more forgiving. And it still sucks that you only get the really cool items when you are in last place. But that is what brings balance to the gameplay.
If you own a DS, you need to own Mario Kart DS. This is the kind of game you shouldn?t have to give a score too. Just go out and buy it. After you purchased your copy of the game, it then becomes your job to order all your friends to buy it. And if they don?t agree, it is time to find new friends. Mario Kart DS will please retro fans of the series with its kart hoping, power sliding, classic tracks, unforgettable weapons, and high edge competitive gameplay. But they will also love everything new about the game. All the new tracks, weapons, characters, and karts will keep players entertained for hours. The amount of things to unlock and online play will keep this game in your DS for a long time. Go out and buy this game right now. I will see you online.