Review by LegendaryBacon

"Very fun and friendly, to a mediocre level afterwards."

Oh yes, and here comes Mario with his Red Shell! It's homing onto Luigi, and bang, he spins out! Mario quickly overtakes to snag an item box! Oh, but what's this? Yoshi's put down a Banana peel! Mario's been tripped up by it! Yoshi is now homing on to Bowser, who's well prepared with his Green Shell! Ooh, but Yoshi has obtained a Bob-omb. He's thrown it with expert aim, and… BAM! Bowser's been blown up! Yoshi wins the race!

This is the main idea of the Mario Kart series. Mario Kart: DS is the fifth game to the series, in which it has been upgraded in many ways from the first Mario Kart game, Super Mario Kart for the SNES. The idea of the game is: you race through a certain course and try to beat your rivals to finish 3 laps (there are exceptions, like Baby Park). This sounds very much like today's racing, but Nintendo have added a twist – you are able to pick up Item Boxes which contain a random item, and you can use it to spin your enemies off course. Examples are: the Green Shell, which you can aim and fire at your enemies to make them spin out, or the Mushroom, which gives you a small boost to speed you up. All this plus the ability to choose any of the 12 characters in this game, along with 2 karts for each of them, and a signature kart for each of them to be unlocked later – making a total of 36 great karts. Sounds fun, doesn't it? Well, it sure is.

The place where you start is Mario Kart DS is the Grand Prix – in which you have a choice of 50cc, 100cc, 150cc, and a secret unlockable which makes the game much more fun. I'd like to tell you but it's a surprise. The higher the number before the cc, the faster you will go. 100cc and 150cc are fine, but 50cc is a bit… dull. You move very slowly in the race, and it can take 4 minutes to complete 1 track. Plus the computers are very easy and they don't give you any fun. 150cc is the one that sparks all this up – the computers don't move about at 5kph, but they're actually challenging and provide you with a lot of practice to do to beat them. A downside is that they really do seem like CPUs. They move about the course like they're on rails. This makes it less fun, because if you see a real person play you can see tactics and skills.

There are 32 courses in this game – there are 16 fresh new ones, and you can tell they have a decent amount of thought in them – there's Waluigi Pinball, which is a giant pinball machine. It has incredible graphics and you can tell there is a lot of imagination. This applies with many of the other courses, such as Luigi's Mansion – it has a river of blood outside, plus blackened paths and “spider trees” creating a spooky atmosphere to give it some realism. But old-school gamers will be thrilled to see that the other 16 courses have been taken from the previous games, giving you a taste of old-school Mario Kart and its procedure through the gaming world. Tracks include easy simple ones like Mario Circuit 1 from Super Mario Kart to complex one like Yoshi Circuit for the Nintendo GameCube. Either way this is a fun addition to the game.

Then there comes the actual gameplay. This is what overall affects the game the most. The controls are fairly simple: you don't have to hold down several buttons at a time to do something special, which some of the previous games made you do. But there is one thing that quite annoys me: your thumb really starts to hurt after about half an hour's playing. Your thumb will start to dent and become painful to bend. Thankfully they haven't made the game any harder – the courses and CPUs aren't insanely difficult so that you have to spend years trying to beat them. They are simply hard. This will not make you feel as if it's conspiring against you all the time, but gives you just enough of a challenge to make it fun.

The graphics in this game are pretty good for most Nintendo DS games I have seen so far. The courses in particular – courses like Wario Stadium and Waluigi Pinball are all complete with flashing lights and background tweaks to make it look overall fun and family-friendly. But some courses are blocky and boring – Figure-8 Circuit is simply a grey tarmac track with grass either side, with maybe a few 2-D buildings in the background, while DK Pass is very uneven and bumpy. But most of the courses are okay and they are better than what I expected.

After Grand Prix you can play Time Trials, in which you may play a single course to try and get the fastest time possible to clear it. To give this more of a goal they have had the Nintendo staff try each course and put their ghosts onto the game so that you can try to beat them. However they are a huge challenge and it can take up to a month's practice to beat just one. Overall, the Time Trials are fun at first, but then not really of use afterwards.

Similar to this is VS. Mode, in which you may select your courses one at a time, instead of a whole cup in one go. Then you can put on the speed you want, so you can be accurate on your practising to the cc in which you are stuck on. You can then choose whether you want to choose the courses, whether you want them in order, or whether you want them random. Then the new addition to the Mario Kart series comes in – you can make teams to play for and against. I find teams rather unfair, though – if you are playing Multiplayer, you can stack all the good people onto yours and leave the other player with bad people.

The Battle Mode has been popular in the past games, for you can play with other people on them. You have the Balloon battle, a popular game in the series, in which you must use items to try and knock people's balloons away. What I was hoping, though, was an expansion to the way you play it, for Nintendo have put in no effort in trying to expand it and make it better. Then there's Shine Runners, in which you must try and grab Shine Sprites off your enemies. It sounds fun, but it's pretty much the same as Balloon Battle, only they are spread around the course for you to collect. Also they have the exact same stages as the Balloon Battle ones. Overall I think Shine Runners was just put in as a last minute thought.

The final one for Single Player is the Missions. This is where you have to do certain things to pass the mission, in which you get a rank. Some are very imaginative, like trying to destroy monsters like Pokeys and Crabs with Bob-ombs and Starmen, while some are just like going round the course in a time limit – very unimaginative. All the missions have been sorted out into six sections, number 1 being easy and number 6 being hard. Then there's the unlockable seventh set, which is insanely hard and requires you to get top rank on every single other mission. If you are a complete Mario Kart addict and never spend any of your time doing something else, you might manage it. But if you are a casual player who plays for fun, then you'll be nowhere near doing it. It's almost funny how something can be so ridiculously difficult so that it seems non-existent.

The sound and music in this game have obviously been well thought-about. You can hear every detail – the engines of the karts, their increase in tone if you speed up and their decrease in tone if you slow down. Then they have the items with their appropriate sounds – Red Shell has a normal homing-in sound, while everyone loves the sound of the rushing supersonic Spiny Shell. You can even hear the most minor of things – the small BUMP of a Bob-omb as it hits the ground, the puffing of smoke out of the back of the Bullet-Bill, the tiny ZAP just before setting off a Lightning Bolt. The music is really good for most of the courses, and suits them like they were jigsaw pieces. Delfino Square has seaside-based harbour music, Waluigi Pinball has a disco-themed rhythmic tune, and Rainbow Road has fantasy-based cheerful music which makes it all comfortable, irritation-free soundtracks which are ear-friendly to everyone. It's obviously the best bit about the game because you can tell there's been a lot of thought.

Now here's something that everyone thought was ultra-cool – Wi-Fi gaming. You can play people across the world! How brilliant! There were a lot of good things about it, but some bad things too. You can choose to play either with your continent or with the world, which is nice. Also you are allowed to choose any of the 12 characters and all 36 karts, even if you haven't unlocked them but the other players have. The connection is almost completely lag-free and almost none of the players use hacking or cheating tools. There is one thing I find quite annoying, though – most players tend to use a tactic called “snaking”. This is power-sliding back and forth over a straight bit of track, which gives you more speed than driving in a straight line. It isn't cheating, but it is still very unfair to new players who only power-slide round corners to play fair. In fact, the only losses I have ever got were from snakers. Then there's the choice of courses. For some strange reason they've left out some courses, including the best ones like Waluigi Pinball and Bowser's Castle. They left us with the simple ones like Figure 8 Circuit and Desert Hills. I have no idea if this was to make the online system welcoming to new players who weren't capable of playing well on the other courses, but this is very annoying to some people. Overall, the Wi-Fi gaming has had a lot of effort put into it, to mediocre results.

The rest of Mario Kart's doo-dads are stored in Settings. Here you can choose a name for yourself in the Wi-Fi world, which will also be displayed in races in your position box. Then comes something which I find really, really cool – emblems. They have given you a 32 x 32 grid to design your very own logo which is displayed on your racing kart and data box for Wi-Fi gaming. There are almost every colour, including a shiny gold, while there is a section for templates like a circle, a square, and even the most out-of-the-blue objects like Mario's head and a spade. I think the emblems idea was very imaginative.

Overall, this game is very, very fun at the start, then down to the level of “OK” at the end. It will provide you with much entertainment for about 6-9 months before dying down, and will leave many players with jolts and an instant preference for the Mario Kart series. Is this game worth buying? I think yes.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 12/26/08

Game Release: Mario Kart DS (EU, 11/25/05)


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