Review by bluej33

"Who Needs a Car When You've Got a Kart?"

Leading up to its release, Mario Kart DS truly did represent everything that DS gamers could possibly want. In addition to simply having a new Mario Kart game, which is always a good thing, it also sported fantastic hand held graphics and, most exciting of all, online multiplayer! I was slightly skeptical, though -- I was sorely disappointed by Double Dash -- but I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised once I powered up Mario Kart DS.

What you'll notice first upon turning on Mario Kart DS is the jaw-dropping graphics. Despite the fact that it was released nearly two years ago, it still stands up there as among the most graphically impressive games on the DS. Everything runs smooth, environments are crisp and detailed, and items (and explosions) look fantastic. When you place Mario Kart DS alongside the latest handheld Mario Kart game (Super Circuit, for the GBA), you may very well laugh out loud. The difference is astounding, and while I believe that graphics are never a make-or-break point of a game, there's no denying that the fantastic visuals in Mario Kart DS make it that much more enjoyable to play.

One of the reasons that the graphics in Mario Kart DS are so effective is because there's such a wide variety of courses. As you progress through the game, you'll race through haunted mansions, sunny beaches, and gloomy castles. This wide variety of courses in and of itself is quite a feat, and once you consider the fact that on each and every level the graphical quality is astounding, you may begin to understand why Mario Kart DS is such an incredibly done game.

If you've ever played a Mario Kart game before, then you already have a very good idea of how Mario Kart DS is going to play out. At first, only a few races are open to you, on a low difficulty level. However, as you win races, you'll slowly open up more races, more characters, and more difficultly levels.

One rather cool feature that Mario Kart DS sports is that there are two different themes of races: the new stuff, that every Mario Kart needs, but also a ton of retro courses. There are eight cups total in the game; four of them feature all new courses, but the other four feature popular courses from previously released games. Each Retro Cup, as they're called, includes one course each from the SNES, N64, GBA, and GameCube iterations of the Mario Kart franchise.

Unlike many racing games, the focus of Mario Kart is not entirely centered around racing. Of course, going fast is going to help you win, but items play an equally important -- if not even more important -- role in crossing the finish line first. The DS iteration of the popular franchise includes many classic items, such as red shells, blue shells, and bananas, but also includes some new additions, such as Bullet Bill, which will transform you into a high-speed cannon bullet, and the triple mushroom, which provides you with three of the speed-bursting fungi.

The fun of Mario Kart DS comes not entirely from the racing aspect of the game, but more of the battle-like focus of the game. As I've mentioned, making nice turns and avoiding obstacles is going to be important, but you also need to be able to strategize with your items. Try leaving three bananas around a tight corner, or pick off your opponents one by one with triple red shells. Not only does this require some strategy in the game, but it also allows you to customize your game play style to help cater to your gaming strengths.

Another huge customizable aspect of Mario Kart DS is the character which you choose to use. A number of characters from the Mario universe are playable; classics like Toad, Peach, and Luigi make appearances, as well as newcomers, such as Dry Bones. Each character is highly specialized -- there are a number of different racing stats, such as weight, handling, acceleration, and item quality. Each potential karter has individual, specific stats, further allowing you to play to your strengths. Like to be able to make turns easy and drive over rough terrain without slowdown? Try a light-weight racer. Or do you prefer being able to bump people off the course? Try a heavier karter.

In the tradition of just about every Mario game ever created, the music in Mario Kart DS is great. There's a unique soundtrack for every different course in the game, and the vast majority of the music is great. There are a few duds, as might be expected, but for the most part, the music and sound effects do a wonderful job complementing the atmosphere of the course on which you're racing.

Mario Kart DS does a wonderful job of going beyond mere single player gaming. One of the most interesting additions to Mario Kart DS is what is called Mission Mode. In this mode, you essentially have to complete a given task, on a given course, with a given character. There are 7 “worlds” (plus an eighth for people who do particularly well on every other stage), with 8 levels within each “world”. While it's not particularly difficult, it is a really great way to occupy your time, and is a really neat twist on the Mario Kart franchise.

Much to the delight of Mario Kart fans everywhere, Mario Kart DS sports some really great multiplayer. There is single-card download play, but if you're looking for a real multiplayer experience, you'll either need to play with your friends that have their own copy of the game, or you'll have to hook up a router and get some WiFi action going. Download play is decent, at best, but multi-card play is fantastic. Every course in the game is available for you to play, and it's a real blast being able to play up to eight of your friends in any race you want.

WiFi, while flawed in areas, is also a lot of fun. One of my biggest gripes with the WiFi mode is that not every course is available to race in -- a lot of my favorites aren't on the WiFi list, so I feel a bit discouraged when considering hooking up to the internet. Still, though, it's fantastic to be able to play up to three different people anywhere in the world, whenever you want. As with most online games, there are plenty of cheaters, hackers, and disconnecters -- however, if you can overlook these people and enjoy the good races that you get, you're sure to be satisfied.

Overall, Mario Kart DS is, quite simply, a gem. It runs beautifully, there's tons of customization, and it's lots of fun devising a strategy to beat both computers and live players. As the Nintendo DS's first foray into the world of online gaming, it has certainly set the bar high. Races are intense, fun, and annoyingly addictive. There's tons of replay value, ensuring that you're definitely getting your money's worth, tons of characters, ensuring that you can play just how you want to, and tons of people all around the world just waiting to play you. So go ahead, pick up a copy of Mario Kart DS, if you don't already own it -- you won't regret your purchase.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 09/24/07

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


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