Review by Mikaa
"Thank your lucky stars, Kart DS, for if not for Wi-Fi freedom, you would never have won my heart..."
If not for the free Wi-Fi internet play from Nintendo for Kart DS, this would never have won me over. Yes, Mario Kart is a pretty good game, with over thirty levels of courses and at least seven or so battle maps, but truth be told, it just doesn't feel like it should have.
Maybe it's just the multiplayer focus of the game. Sports games live or die on controls, but when you get down to it, the single player experiance has only recently begun to have a larger focus. Racing games (not technically a "sports" genre, given games like "Midnight Club" and "LA Rush") also thrive on multiplayer, though some have adapted to cater to single playing for the majority of the time. Even most fighting games these days have hosts of extras to keep the single player coming back, yet still have to rely on multiplaying to get sales up.
What does this have to do with Mario Kart DS? Simple: ever since the fated release of a certain SNES game (take a guess), the franchise has been dependent on multiplayer action. Never was a game so popular amongst the karate lock inees when I was a kid than Mario Kart for the Super Nintendo. OK, Mortal Kombat 3 came close, but Mario Kart was the only game where people griped when someone forgot the then-required multi-tap. With the colorful graphics, wacky (for the age range and era (as in, pre-PSX)), nice tunes, and a kick-butt game play engine, what was there to gripe about?
So then, with their next hardware release, Nintendo released the expected sequel, Mario Kart 64, which, oddly enough, didn't meet most fan's expectations. I never cared for it, largely because I was not a big fan of N64 racers and the fact that, guess what, I never could find someone else to play me. The game was good, or so I guess from what little I have played, but far from the glory 2D Mode 7 of its predecessor.
Then, to everyone's shock, Mario Kart Advance for the new Game Boy system wowed everyone with its both classic and glorious game play. Even I fell in love with it, and who could argue about playing four player games with one cart? Even I could do it just because only one cart was needed.
Then Mario Kart Double Dash on the Game Cube came, and went. Everyone had silent hopes (like every other group of fans for big releases for the Cube) that the game would push the Cube's internet ability, but never did any such ability appear, and I never got to play it outside of a demo because I knew I would never find someone to play against. True, MKDD was far more complex than prior games, but I couldn't justify the price for a multiplayer heavy game.
So what does all of this have to do with the DS release of Mario's first big spin-off (that I can recall that sold well? Ignore the evil Edutainment...)? For all the good graphics, the good controls, the suprisingly low grade music, for all the cast, and for all the modes, it still comes down to multiplayer.
Had Nintendo released this without the free online play, I would never have bothered worrying about it. Yes, the series is good, but what fun is there when you get bored with a US$35 game and never play it?
As I stated, graphically, Mario Kart DS is impressive, yet far below the grand scope of such titles as Metroid Prime Hunters (either the demo or the new trailer for the final game). To be fair, there are maps from the original SNES game in its original quality, N64 renders from the 64-bit title, several levels from the GBA title, and reworked maps from the Game Cube release (sans the dual character system), as well as a host of new levels. All levels do resemble their origins, excluding the drumed down Game Cube reworks, yet nothing really takes away from them. I do have to say, though, that I was a wee bit dissapointed at the overal lack of classic multiplayer levels in the battle mode. These do look fine, and no one can argue about racing and battling on a giant Nintendo DS map, but the game just doesn't seem to push the DS's graphics one bit. Just look at Viewtiful Joe and TELL me the DS is not capable of more.
Sound wise, I found myself wondering what happened. By now, most players know the DS is capapble of high-quality music tracks, yet nothing really is memorable (except the annoying, Zelda-like tune that plays at the intro to each stage). There are dozens of remixes and classic tracks, but nothing really is remarkable. Not even a sound test, either, though the need for one is not as big an issue this time around.
Controls are spot on, believe it or not. The touch screen controls are limited to managing menu options or custom logos on your racer (^_^), switching the map during races, and that's it, thank heavens. There's a button for accelerating, one for breaking, one for juming for drifts, two for special items, one for triggering the switch of maps (nice to have two options here - the touch screen or the button), and a pause button. Nice, simple, and tight.
Game play, as you might have gathered, is standard Mario Kart, with the usual races, the verses maps, and a few extras, such as collecting "Shines" (presumably from Super Mario Sunshine, I believe), bursting your foes's baloons, and various "missions." Oh, and we have a download multiplayer, a multicart multiplayer, and ONLINE multiplayer.
I will not waste time by reviewing the online abilities of the DS or the menu system, but I must say that it is very nice, very simple and easy to get into, and very fun, assuming more players pick it up and get online. The only real downside is that the optional USB Wireless adaptor is not available yet (at least, in the version I got), which means I have to go to a coffee house to play for free or go pay a few bucks at McDonalds to play. Still, it is very fun, and quite enjoyable to race against others without having to hunt them down.
All in all, were it not for the online play, this would probably have scored a six. But thanks to the free online, it is worth far more, though the single player modes do feel a bit shallow, keeping it from a higher score.
All told, a pretty fun buy, worth its weight in gold coins if you have the ability to play online.
Score: 8 of 10
* Best Features: Classic maps, FREE Online, Cast
* Worst Features: Somewhat limited single player, low-grade graphics for the DS, Music
* If You Liked: Mario Kart Advance (GBA), Crash Tag Team
* Guilty Pleasure: Trying to kiss the store manager's feet when she gives you a free copy to play, and then hearing her tell everyone what you did.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 11/17/05, Updated 11/20/07
Game Release: Mario Kart DS (US, 11/14/05)
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