Review by L255J

"The Greatest Jump in the Series"

Introduction

Most of the games from the Mario Kart series have generally been average games. Nothing stellar about them no matter how you saw them, until this game. Implemented into this game was an improvement in about all possible categories of its gameplay. I am happy to see Mario Kart finally pull out of the average.

Gameplay

Most racing games tend to have uneventful action. If your vehicle is faster than the other car, you win, but not in this game. Compared to the previous Mario Kart games, this game requires much more skill out of the player while still allowing those who do not have the best fine motor skills to still be able to enjoy it. The two elements of the racing experience that differentiate between the novice and the expert is how you use the items you pick up along the racecourse and how you take your turns. That would be knowing the time and place for everything and knowing when to begin and end a drift. By simply gaining experience through playing will get anyone good at the game. Thankfully, the game did not have to provide wicked racecourses with hairpin turns to make the gameplay interesting.

The Mario Kart games by nature are rather short, and while there is no change here, there is still a considerable jump in things you can do this time around. Among those things would be a series of missions, where you are set in a particular course and are asked to do something such as driving through x number of gates in numerical order or collect all 20 coins along a track. The Missions are a fairly enjoyable, though brief, part of the game, though nothing but satisfaction is gained from playing them.

Unarguably the greatest addition to the series is the ability to play against others from all over the world—on-line! The game uses WiFi to connect to the Internet where you may race against people from your region, from all over the world, or from just your friends. The only way this game was able to maintain an ESRB rating of "Everyone" is that the game prevents all communication between those racing. This part of the game has its ups and downs, but the pros outweigh the cons considerably, as I personally would rather not have to deal with the rougher persons out there in exchange for plainly not being able to talk to anyone. When playing on-line, you may not choose from absolutely all of the tracks, as some are too large for the game to handle on-line, and you cannot do battle mode, as the drastic increase in the weapon items flying around the arena were too much for the game to handle on-line.

What the game provides is the typical Grand Prix mode, where you and seven computer-controlled characters race in the games tracks in four different difficulties. The differences between the first three difficulties is the AI of your rivals and the speed of your cart, which gets faster as you go up in engine size, and the difference between the third and fourth difficulty is the fact that the course is flipped horizontally. At the end of each set of four races per cup, you get a place and a rank. There is little difficulty even for the inexperienced to place first, but the real challenge is getting ranks in the upper-end of the C, B, A, 1-star, 2-stars, 3-stars scale, where 3-stars is your best rank. Battle mode gives you two options—Balloon Battle and Shine Runners. In Balloon Battle, your cart starts off with a given amount of balloons, and your objective is to use the items laid around the arena to hit your opponent enough times, one hit per balloon, until they no longer have any balloons and cannot participate any longer. Versus Mode in this game plays exactly like another game's Practice Mode, where you race courses you have earned the way you want to race them. Unlike the previous Mario Kart games, in this game's Time Trial mode, when you unlock a Staff Ghost (the developer's best times on each course before it was released that are unlocked by racing a time near theirs), you get to keep it and race it as much as you want, although nothing but bragging rights is achieved from that. In this game, you can also transfer between Mario Kart players your ghosts wirelessly so you can compete against each other's best times. You may save up to ten of others' ghosts.

The gameplay in general, and due to some minor tweaks from the last 3D Mario Kart game, has overall improved, turning out to be a much greater experience.

Audio

No game in the Mario Kart series has had extraordinary music, and nothing has changed. All previous games in the series have had music come straight off of the electric keyboard, and this game is no different. The music is decent at best, though at least it is an improvement over the last game's soundtrack, which had a whistling motif in almost each and every song, from the menus to the racetracks. For some of this game's Retro courses, that whistling motif has carried over, though thankfully to only a couple courses. The sound effects three games ago were already realistic-enough, and as nothing has changed including the sound effects, that remains to be plus for this game. The music is appreciably different across the different tracks, and fit the themes, but as with most action video games, could be better.

Value

The content provided has also increased from the last game. The previous installments gave you 16 tracks to choose from, and four battle arenas. This game has 16 original racecourses, and 16 more from previous games; four original battle arenas, and two of the very best from the previous battle arenas for a total of six. Such content alone should make this an instant-buy for anyone. The difficulty of the game is nonexistent. When you first play, and I would assume you would choose the lowest difficulty, if you have played any Mario Kart game, or you get the general idea of racing games, you will have little trouble coming in first. Once you have raced all 8 cups in that difficulty placing first, you are then probably ready to take on the next difficulty level, etc. The only real difficulty is racing against others on-line and making a high rank on those cups.

One superb aspect of the game's content that has improved (which I thought was impossible to do) is its multi-player mode. You may choose from all of the game's 32 courses if the leader has unlocked them and from the start, all six battle arenas. For the first time ever, you can make your own teams. Although you cannot make the teams unequal, it is a nice start. The wireless range, I believe, will practically cover players in most households and through walls okay. If you plan to play with a wall between you and your friends, at least make sure your DS's are generally pointing at each other. Even if your friends do not own a copy themselves, you still have access to a fourth of the game's tracks, which is an amount that is half of the past games altogether, and half of the game's battle arenas, which would have been 75% of other games. If your friends choose to play this way, they won't have the option of choosing carts or racers, which will be a drawback only while racing—does not matter in battle mode.

Visuals

Keeping in mind that this is a portable game, I can give this game nothing but praise of its visuals. The game sports gameplay in three dimensions, and only one other Mario Kart game has had you play as a 3D sprite—yes, in Mario Kart 64, you were a highly detailed 2D sprite in a 3D environment. The game gives you 36 different carts, though twelve of which are the same thing with a different color, the one with different colors and the other 24 have much detail from the polygons of the wheels to the textures of the kart bodies. The courses are distinct and are detailed somewhat decently. The only visual complaint that I can come up with is the amount of polygons for the characters, which is rather low; Bowser is blockier than first appearance in 3D in Super Mario 64, which is tough to beat. The HUD (Heads-up Display) displays enough valuable information without getting in the way too much, so know beforehand that will not be an issue.

OVERALL: 9/10

This sequel is the greatest jump in quality I have ever seen since I started seeing sequels following the very first Mario Kart game. From the greater-than-doubled content to the very improved gameplay and presentation, this game is a winner. While the on-line mode could have easily been better, though it may have been limited simply due to the DS's RAM, it was a significant and giant leap for the game series, especially the fact that this game is a portable while still on-line–compatible. Otherwise, my only other complaint is that Nintendo chose the weirdest courses to transfer for the Retro races, though that may be my personal preference. What's neat is that they could not have chosen a better 2 battle arenas to transfer, and that makes a huge difference when you are trying to get your friends to play battle mode with you wirelessly. The game can be as simple or as technical as you are willing to play it, which is an amazing quality few games are privileged to have.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 09/25/06, Updated 09/05/07

Game Release: Mario Kart DS (US, 11/14/05)


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