Review by DKU_Arich
"Mario Kart DS is severely overrated."
Mario Kart DS was one of the reasons I bought a DS in the first place. Judging by the looks and descriptions Nintendo gave before its release, it looked like a portable version of Mario Kart 64, a personal favorite of mine. A Mario Kart 64 that has missions, 8-player battle, 32 different tracks, and Wi-Fi capability sounds incredibly fun, right? It would be fun, if the game wasn't severely flawed. In my personal opinion, Mario Kart DS is the worst game I've ever had the misfortune of playing, no joke. I loved each previous installment (save Double Dash!!, which I sort of disliked), but this takes the cake. You may think that I'm just ranting about false statements to manipulate your opinions, but sadly, this isn't the case. And since I'm required to write nearly 2,000 words in this review, I'm going to explain the whole game -and why it isn't great at all. Fasten your seat belts; this is one hell of a bumpy ride.
I'll be nice and easy here. The tracks and scenery, for the most part, are done with excellence. Waluigi Pinball, one of the greatest Mario Kart courses of all time in terms of design, is probably the one of the best when it comes to graphics as well. In total, the tracks and scenery are all done great, and they certainly put the DS' graphics to the limit. But unfortunately, the characters' graphics are HORRIBLE. I'll take Donkey Kong for example. Take a look at his mouth! Not only do his teeth stick out 100% of the time, but the rest of him looks downright blocky. Bowser, Mario, Luigi, Yoshi, and the rest of the characters are eye-straining. Most of the karts are also horrible, with the wosrt going to Bowser's hurricane. Some of the scenery in some of the levels are also horribly constructed; billboards and sings being the worst. Some objects are rendered so they look the same no matter what, and it's very poor; most of the time not fitting. In all, the tracks and scenery are mostly beautiful, and if it weren't for the characters, karts, and few objects, I'd have no problems with the graphics.
The music sounds bright and cheerful, but after you have to replay stages a lot, the music can get on your nerves, since it's so cheery and happy. Bowser's Castle theme sounds Bowser-like, with the deep and dark feeling of lava and Koopas. The desert-themed stage barely qualifies as a song, since it seems like a bunch of random notes played on an out-of-tuned instrument. Cheep Cheep Beach's music is mostly filled with steel drums and ocean waves, but even this is well put together. The game's best music is found in Waluigi Pinball, and it fits the stage perfectly. Other than that, I can't recall any music that stood out. Sound is also good, but the engines are rather loud.
Gameplay in Single Player: 1/10
When you start Mario Kart DS, the game requires you to go through a process of customizing your game. First, you're required to create a username unique to that cartridge, different than that of your Nintendo DS. Next, you're required to create an emblem unique to your game, which is actually very enjoyable -probably more so than the racing portion of the game. You're to design a 32x32 pixel emblem with limited tools and colors, in an in-game program similar to MSPaint. After that, you're to start the game -but I sincerely advise you to take out the cartridge and put in something else.
To unlock every character and kart, you're required to beat every track in Grand Prix contains eight cups with four courses each. Before you choose which cup, you're to choose between 50cc, 100cc, and 150cc, which affect the speed of the vehicles. 50cc is much too slow, and it's bound to bore you more than it gives you a good time. 100cc and 150cc? The speed is faster, but for an immense sacrifise, which I will explain later. Why play 50cc when you could skip to 150cc, you ask? To fully beat the game, you have to beat all 32 tracks on every cc. Not only does it get repetitive alone, but the fact that you HAVE to beat every cc makes it something you'll never touch after beating it (which I puzzle why someone would in the first place). To top it all off, there's an unlockable Mirror Mode, which is 150cc with reverse tracks. With the addition of Mirror Mode, you're required to beat all 32 tracks for a 4th time. Sound fun? Of course not. Is it fun? No, it's not only repetitive, but it's bound to keep you away from your DS.
Next on the Single Player list is Time Trials mode, where you drive alone on one of the 32 tracks in attempt to get the fastest time. After you choose your ideal character and kart, you're to pick a track and start your engine. It's a rather fun little diversion, one of the game's few strong points. Time Trials mode saves your best times on each track, as well as a "ghost" of your best time, where your ghost races exactly like you did when you got that specific time. It's an excellent concept in the fact that you can see your best race in action. To complete Time Trials, you're able to exchange ghosts and save them to your cartridge. Unfortunately, this isn't available online, like many other ideal options.
VS mode is next on the list. In VS mode, you're to choose your character and kart, the class (or cc), the AI difficulty, whether or not to include teams (if a team member gets first, you also get first) track appearance (whether it's random, you choose, etc.). Creating teams doesn't do anything in the long run; any item can be used against any player, a legitimate flaw in Mario Kart DS. Aside of that , VS mode is basically Grand Prix, with the option to choose your track instead of choosing a cup with that track. Grand Prix is slightly better in the fact that you're able to unlock stuff, but after you beat the game, VS mode is the better choice. Of course, if you feel like playing Mario Kart DS after beating it, that is.
Battle mode consists of 2 options: Balloon Battle, and Shine Runners:
In Balloon Battle, you're supposed to burst your opponents' balloons with items. Since you're versus 7 AI players, they're bound to be not-so-smart. Well, in this game, that's true, but it's as if all 7 players are against you; you're pretty much guaranteed to get hit by constant items, while the AI players completely avoid each other. When you start Balloon Battle, you start off with a balloon behind your kart, 4 more in your possession. To inflate more, you have two options: blow into the MIC slot on the DS, or hold select. Select takes roughly 8 seconds to inflate a balloon, so if you want to win, you must blow into the MIC -and fast. You don't want the game to be over in 3 seconds, do you? Well, if you don't inflate your balloons fast enough, you can say, "Good-bye" to that round.
In Shine Runners, you're to collect as many Shine Sprites (star-like tokens) as you can in limited time. You can either pick the Shine Sprites off the floor, or attack others with items to steal theirs. After 45 seconds or so, the players who are losing disappear, and the remaining players continue. The AI players are probably the least intelligent in a video game. 90% of the time, they'll drive right past a Shine Sprite, giving you a perfect opportunity to grab them. since the AI lacks intelligence, and merely follow the paths, when Shine Sprites sometimes morph into obscure places that only human players would reach. Unfortunately, Shine Runners is a rather simple mode, and it's incredibly difficult to enjoy it without getting bored.
Finally, you'll find Missions mode, which is entirely new to the Mario Kart genre. In Missions mode, you're to play a race in a new way. Starting at Level 1, you're to complete different tasks, whose objectives range from collecting coins, defeating enemies, driving through hoops, and much more. After completing a mission, you're ranked based on your performance, given from one to three stars if the task is completed by a certain time. In order to advance to the next level, you're to complete a "boss" task, which is unlocked after all eight of a level's missions are completed. Completing all missions in Level 1 through 6 with a 'one star' rating opens up a secret Level 7, with more challenging missions to complete. Unfortunately, most of the missions are incredibly easy to complete, and the more difficult ones are frustrating, if anything. While there are quite a few missions that are completely original, most of the missions are repeating others; out of the 56 normal missions, there are 12 that require you to drive through hoops to complete it. That's just one example.
Gameplay in Multiplayer: 2/10
For those who don't have the cartridge, you're required to download the data via DS Download Play. Due to the seemingly limited capabilities of Single Card Play, the host gets to choose between Battle mode or VS mode. In Battle mode, you can choose between 3 of the 6 tracks. In VS mode, 8 tracks -or 1/4 of the total tracks in the game- are playable. In addition, the players who download the data have to be character Shy Guy, which isn't fair, since the host can choose the character of their desiring. In all, the Single Card Play is severely limited. It's not a fault of the system, since many games -even DS racing games- have been able to surpass Mario Kart DS's incredibly limited Single Card system.
For those who do have the cartridge, you're able to play VS mode on any racetrack, or Battle mode on any of the 6 Battle arenas, with any vehicle and track you choose.
Wi-Fi, however, is very limited. You simply go into a "Lobby", where you don't interact with anyone -you simply search for people. The game matches you up with random players, and you're off to play. Unfortunately, you're limited to a mere 20 tracks, and generally, they're not good, since the more-active tracks can't come online for "technical reasons" (when other games have given loads more than Mario Kart DS offered). Battle mode also isn't available online. If you wish to race against a friend, you have to input their 12-digit "friend code", which is unique to each game, and they have to do the same. After exchanging friend codes with another, you're to connect to Wi-Fi and search for them in "Friends" mode. This often takes a long time to do, and it isn't rewarding in the end.
Taking it to the roads: 1/10
Like all Mario Kart games to date, Mario Kart DS features wacky racetracks and an item system.
While most of the tracks are good, I can't say the same for the item system at all. But first off, I'll get into the actual racing portion of the review: The actual racing is fair. The drifting, physics of the karts, and more are all done great, and it's excellent while in Time Trials mode. But when you're racing against the AI...
The gameplay fails with the AI system, which literally cheats. To start off with some non-cheating talk, 3 random AI members are given a place ahead of time, and they're programmed to keep that place unless you pass them. That means you end up racing only the top 3 characters, and additionally, the others don't really matter. You may not notice this in 50cc, since it's very slow. It's a tad bit worse in 100cc, but it's atrocious in 150cc: The AI, like I mentioned above, literally cheat. For example, let's say that you pass Yoshi on a flatland with no items. Suddenly, Yoshi gets the ability to drive twice as fast as you, the human player, can go. They may have implemented this so you wouldn't get bored, but it's generally unfair. All of the AI players are able to turn corners tighter than possible, use items at impossible times, and avoid items in general. Speaking of items...
Most items take absolutely no skill to use, are generally way too powerful, and are completely impossible to avoid without the necessary item (which every necessary item is impossible to get in 1st Place, so you must have saved it to possess it). First of all, I'll mention the more fair items. Bananas act as obstacles, and hitting one makes your kart spin out for a second. Green Shells act as missiles and can bounce off the walls, causing a bit of mayhem for unfortunate players. Red Shells act as homing missiles, targeting the player ahead of you. A Mushroom gives you a tiny boost, additionally allowing you to travel through water and off-road terrain with ease. Starman gives you temporary invincibility, additionally making your kart go faster. However, those items are a walk in the park; there's even more items that are completely unfair. Items like the Spiny Shell used to be very rare in the previous Mario Kart games, but now, they seem to show up over 3 times in a single race. They Spiny Shells only help out whoever's in 2nd, and do nothing for the players who are way behind. Why not break? More often than not, that just makes things worse, because the other player might pass you and you'd still get hit by the Shell. You should be able to block them somehow (like with a Banana). Another powerful item is the Lightning Bolt, comes completely without warning, completely screws up power slides, and causes you lose your item. Items like the Triple Mushroom give you boosts, and you can use them to your advantage. On some tracks, using Mushrooms let you cut out great amounts of track by driving off course, but getting hit by a Lightning Bolt ruins that. Not only do you get smaller, slower, and weaker, you're off the road by a long shot, pretty much causing you to lose that race. In all cases, both the Spiny Shell and the Lightning Bolt both make you lose your item (why punish people who wait until the right time to use items rather than blindly hammering away at the X button? Because the former uses actual strategy, which Mario Kart doesn't seem to like). The Bullet Bill... what a nightmare. If you're in 7th or 8th, the game may grant you a terrible item called the Bullet Bill. Using this autopilots your kart with immense speed, is invincible to every situation, and propels your kart for 1/2 a lap, knocking all of the players unfortunate to be on mighty Bullet Bill's turf. I actually don't mind so much that this game makes it possible for someone in 8th Place to get into 1st, but I despise the fact that you get hit by tons of items in a high rank; enough to send somebody from 1st Place all the way back to 8th. I think the only "help out sucky players" item that should exist is the Golden Mushroom. I don't mind Starman either, but you should be able to get them no matter what position you're in. In all, the item balance is very unfair in this game, and you'll usually experience 3 or more Spiny Shells in every race.
There's a tactic in Mario Kart DS called, "snaking", where you power slide and boost your way back and forth through an entire race, making it possible to go faster then if you just raced normally. In my opinion, it takes away from the fun. I recommend using it, since you're probably not going to beat 150cc without it.
As you can see in my review, I find this game terribly overrated. While there is some good, most of it is bad -and it's safe for me to say that it's the worst game I've ever played, in total. The item balance has a huge flaw, the AI cheats, Multiplayer mode is sadly disappointing, and the game in general has practically no replay value compared to other games on the DS, racing games included. I recommend you save 35 dollars and buy another game instead. If you're in the mood for a racing game, Diddy Kong Racing DS is worth a shot.
Reviewer's Score: 2/10 | Originally Posted: 02/26/07
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