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Mario Kart DS
Reviewed Dec. 2005 by Tony Peak
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Release Date: November, 2005
ESRB Rating: "E" for Everyone
I don't think I need to go in to too much background this
time around. If by now you haven't played the classic Super
Mario Kart of '92, Mario Kart 64 in '96, or even its GameCube
and GBA editions, you're probably not interested in this game.
What you should know, however, is that Mario Kart DS is the
best of both old school and new school. It's back to the roots
at the core, yet jazzed up with concepts and levels from many
of the later games. Fans that were put off by the changes in
Double Dash need not fear Mario Kart DS.
Mario Kart DS plays like a real evolution of the series, incorporating
all of the best old racing mechanics, items, levels, and modes.
On top of this are new tricks like drifting, drift turbos,
kart statistics, fun new items, new levels, and even plenty
of new modes. Add online play to the mix and you easily have
one of the most complete Mario Kart packages to date, on any
Grand Prix works much as you'd expect, 3 series featuring
50cc, 100cc, and 150cc, four nitro cups and four retro cups
per series, and each cup uses four tracks. So that's 32 tracks
repeated at four different speeds, which represent four different
difficulties. To unlock everything, you'll have to race all
128 tracks and take gold on each cup, and then some, as you'll
eventually unlock a mirror mode to boot! Featuring 16 new tracks
and 16 retro tracks from the SNES on, you'll be racing for
a long time.
On Mission Mode, you'll play 6 stages and a hidden 7th stage
of challenges, each stage featuring several levels and a boss
challenge. While the stages are tough but fun challenges like
collecting coins or driving through gates, the boss challenges
are spectacular. I must say, they're something I completely
didn't expect in MK DS. We're not just talking outrace driver
X, but actual Mario Kart 64 style boss battles.
Time Attack mode is the underdog that in so many games is
a good feature, but ultimately underplayed here. While Mario
Kart DS goes the extra mile with ghost data (a personal favorite
of mine) and the ability to swap ghosts wirelessly with friends,
the real surprise kick here is that each track features the
hidden ghost data of the Nintendo staff that made the game!
By getting close to their time, you'll unlock the ghost and
be able to literally race against the staff's (very difficult)
best times. Quite a nice feature!
Battle Mode is much like previous games, except now you're
free to not only battle friends, but CPUs as well. The CPUs
add a real value and longevity, if you don't know enough people
to get a good local battle going. The shine mode features a
new mechanic where you attempt to gain and steal shine from
the other players, yet another effort to stuff as much as possible
in this little kart.
Unlocks are part of what makes Mario Kart DS such a joy to
play single player. Your wins are rewarded, and your progress
feels like more than just doing the same thing with a different
kart. With the increase of cc class the difficulty gets noticeably
higher, from simple on 50cc to quite challenging on 150cc.
Getting 1 star on every mission unlocks a whole new level of
missions, and as said, the unlockable staff times are really
something I'm giddy about.
But let's face it, as well fleshed out as the single player
is, multiplayer is where it's at. Mario Kart DS delivers here
yet again, both local, and amazingly, online. Locally, on a
single game card, you can race up to 8 people! Yes, on a single
game card! All your opponents need is a DS. Although such players
limited to only a special Shy Guy racer and not all the tracks,
it's still an absolutely incredible value that's sure to be
a real crowd pleaser, literally.
But, what if you don't know enough people with the DS system?
Or, what if you want to play at 3AM and everyone else is asleep?
What if it's snowing outside? Well friends, we finally have
a natively online Mario Kart. While it's been done with various
methods before, none are anywhere near as satisfying or dead
simple as Mario Kart DS. Although you can only race 4 people
in prix mode, and only 20 of the tracks with no dragging style
items, it just works. It just works, and I'm overjoyed. I've
raced everyone from forum members and fellow reviewers, to
Nintendo of America staff, and had a blast every time. It's
simple, no hassle, and it works.
Graphically, Mario Kart DS actually looks quite a bit improved
from past titles. If you're coming from the GBA, N64, or SNES,
you'll definitely enjoy the polygonal karts and items. It's
simple, but it makes a world of difference in practice. The
tracks are huge, detailed, and entire sections are teaming
with motion. Thanks to such a large collection of tracks, there's
a beautiful mix of both straight racing, and kart style gimmick
tracks like a giant pinball machine. Perhaps easily the best
looking track is one of my old favorites, Rainbow Road. Still
as deadly as ever, especially with drifting mixed in.
The second screen is, for once, used to great advantage
here. Although there's very little to do with the stylus, you wouldn't
want to have to use it mid game anyway. It does, however, make wireless
setup trivial, and makes drawing your custom decal more fun! The
main use for the second screen this time around is a very good one,
a live overhead map. While you may think a map is no big deal, this
one is detailed and zoomed in enough that if you wanted or had to,
you could race an entire lap using nothing but the map. You'll see,
at a glance, everything from player race positions, the exact locations
of other players on the map, and even shells and traps. Your situational
awareness is definitely unmatched in MK DS.
Great music, great sound clips, voices, and
background sound all put this game pretty high up there. The little
victory animations and voices whenever another racer gets hit by
one of your items provide great cues to your surroundings. Everything
a Mario Kart DS game's soundtrack should be.
Sadly, I must say that online play is not
perfect quite yet. While I'm simply thrilled that it's actually
there, and that it actually works, there are still improvements
to be made. Aside from the limitations mentioned above, Nintendo
choose to limit you in some very, very strange ways. First off,
there's absolutely no online chat in any way. You can't even trade
friend codes. Bummer. Though to dispel the "AI" feeling,
you'll see their handle and custom decal floating above their head,
and it really does work. Driving against humans, even strangers
you can't talk to, feels completely different than AIs.
Secondly, while finding a game is drop dead simple due to MK DS
finding open players and automatically matching you up without rooms
or lists, you have very little control. For example, although you
can use codes to keep a friends list and race people only on that
list, you can't see which friends are online, or even choose a group
of friends to race. A real shame, Nintendo. If you can manage it
though, playing with friends while running voice chat over the PC
(or cell phones), is simply amazing fun.
And finally, while finding an open game is
dead simple due to the automatic matching, it takes far longer
than it should and is not by any means guaranteed to work. After
waiting to find players and finally getting in game, it's a dang
shame when players start dropping because they're losing. Though
I believe at the time of this writing you'll get a win if you stay
in, it's little consolation in the long run. So, it's both an incredibly
simple "just works" system,
and at times, a very frustrating one.
All that said, if Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow hasn't sold you a
system yet, this ought to. If you've ever been a fan of the Kart
series, you need this title in your collection. We're finally starting
to see the real power of the DS at work, and all the promises made
at launch are coming true. It's been a long wait for Nintendo fans,
but if the quality of games of late says anything, the DS is truly
the successor to the GBA. Likewise, Mario Kart DS is truly the successor
to its great series.
Playing Hints and Tips
- Always keep an eye on the map. Knowing where everyone else is
and seeing any tight turns or traps ahead of time will get you that
- Drift often! Drift every chance you get. Start your drifts WAY
early and slide completely sideways into the turn for the sharpest
cornering possible. Watch the ending animation for an example of
this. Furthermore, be sure and hit as many drift turbos as possible
in each lap by hitting left and right while holding the drift key
until the wheels spark red, then release the drift.
- When you're behind, you'll get far better items. When you're in
front, you'll have to make due. A well placed shell or peel can still
be a formidable weapon though. And don't forget, pressing down and
L will drop an item behind you, rather than launching it forward.
Use for deadly effect with the bombombs!
Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):
The polygons are really put to good effect
here, as everything simply looks great. The karts are well
detailed, true to style, and fun to use. Old tracks are brought
up to modern standards with just enough polish, while new tracks
look absolutely amazing. The maps are absolutely huge and detailed,
and not a single track sticks out as a lesser quality design.
Great music, great sound clips, voices,
and background sound all put this game pretty high up there.
The little victory animations and voices whenever another racer
gets hit by one of your items provide great cues to your surroundings.
Everything a Mario Kart DS game's soundtrack should be.
This one's off the chart. Online play,
8 player single cart wireless, staff ghost data, tons of unlocks,
and a mirror mode really just push this over the edge. From
the simple prix to the battle modes to the missions, you'll
be having a blast. There's just nothing like playing online
against fresh opponents.
Aside from the vast amount of unlocks,
the 32 amazing tracks, and the multiplayer, the online play
will keep this one glued inside your DS for a long time to
come. Even if by some chance you can't get online, or some
day the players move on, the single player and wireless play
will keep it in your collection.