Review by Mariodood

"The greatest DS game yet...with..decent online play."

Intro: Mario Kart DS is the fifth (sixth if you count the arcade version) Mario Kart in the series, and the second one to appear on a handheld. Really what makes Mario Kart different from your average racing game is that rather than the way to win mostly being how well your car handles or how fast it goes, it adds another dimension: Items. Using items from the classic Banana peel to the Koopa Shell, you're supposed to either mess up your opponent or boost yourself forward..or both. Mario Kart DS is different from the others in that it adds some new gameplay mechanics, is the first fully 3-D one on a handheld, and, a major milestone for Nintendo and Mario Kart..ONLINE PLAY.

Story
Mario is bored and decides to go racing.

Music
The music in Mario is pretty straightforward, some catchy tunes, most of them are pretty short loops, but at least there's no blips and bleeps like the earlier versions. There are remixed versions of the original Super Mario Kart Mario Circuit 1 themes and some others.

Controls
The controls are spectacular. You might expect it to not work with a 3-D game, but they work well, especially in Mario Kart where you need exact D-Pad controls. The bad parts are, after some hardcore playing, you're going to get a bad case of Mario Kart thumb--there's gonna be a small A imprinted in one of your thumbs, and your other is going to be thoroughly bruised from powerslding. The controls are pretty standard, A for accelerate, B for break/reverse, R to do a little jump for drifting, and L to fire your item.

Unlike most DS games, the touch screen is barely used in this game. You CAN use it to go through menus and stuff, and I think you can even use it to control the Kart, but the D-Pad is just better. You can also use the touch screen to make a decal for your kart, and that's good for just doodling, but if you want to do, say, a game sprite, you're gonna need the D-Pad for that too. A quick note, also, in Balloon Battle, you can push Y to inflate extra balloons, or you can use the microphone.

Gameplay
Mario Kart DS has your standard Mario Kart things--In Singleplayer, you can do Grand Prix Mode in 50cc, 100cc, and 150cc, Time Trials, VS mode (A race against the computers, but not grand prix), one of the more new features, Battle (it's battle mode, but now you can do it against 7 AI players if you don't have anyone else to play with), and Missions. Missions are short objectives that you have to complete in a certain time period. There are 8 missions to a level, and then a boss battle. The point of missions is to improve your skill. There are 12 characters in total to play as (4 are secret) and 32 maps. 16 of the maps are brand spanking new, and 16 are "retro" courses from all 4 of the old games. Some of your favorite courses may be missing, and some may be here, but the shortcuts have been taken out of the retro levels, and they feel a little aged.

Next, we move onto Multiplayer. Multiplayer is how multiplayer has always been-- great. But this time, there's some new things thrown in. The first great thing about the multiplayer is that you only need one copy of the game to play it. That's right. If you have up to 7 friends with a DS but no Mario Kart, they can all download, but of course, there are some disadvantages--downloaders must play as Shy Guy, (different colored), and cannot create a decal. Also, downloaders can only play on a couple of different levels. Still, that's a great feature.

Anyway, more about the multiplayer. There are 3 multiplayer modes--Racing (just racing) Balloon Battle (more on that later) and Shine Runners (new to Mario Kart--more on that later). You can have teams in any of these 3 modes, but the teams system feels kind of stupid, because it's pretty hard/a bother to memorize who your teammates are, so you'll just end up hitting them, which does nothing to them. So free-for-all is where it's at.

Then, Balloon Battle. An interesting twist to balloon battle is that rather than starting with 3 balloons, you now start with only 1, but you also start with four other balloons in your "cache". You have to inflate these balloons with the microphone or Y button, or they won't help you at all. This adds another level of strategy to it, because you can't just inflate things while moving, and if you get hit while doing it, you're interrupted, and...well...hit. Once you lose all of your balloons, you're dead, but if you're the last guy standing, you win. Go you!

Shine Runners. Shine Runners is very similar to the multiplayer of Super Mario 64 DS. (for those who don't know, Shines are like stars, they're from Super Mario Sunshine) Shines will be strewn out over the map, and it's the players job to collect them. Players can hit eachother to steal eachother's shines, and after a certain period of time, the players with the least shines get booted from the game. This continues until there's a winner.

Online Play. Super Mario Kart DS is the first DS game, first Nintendo game, first Mario Kart game, to be officially online. You go online through Nintendo's wifi service, called the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. The top questions people are going to be asking about this is, How much money is it going to cost me?, How hard is this/what do I need to set up?. Well, just know this, the three keywords to the Nintendo Wifi Connection are: Free (No cost other than a DS and a game), Easy (very easy to set up), and Safe (Nintendo's friend system is a big feature of wifi play, basically the idea is that you won't be harassed by 13 year olds who inject curses between every word in their sentences.)

With that said, Mario Kart's online is pretty easy. To set it up, all you need is pretty much a wireless hotspot, and of course a DS and a game. You may be lucky enough to own one of these (just a compatible wireless router),or your neighbor may have one. If you have high-speed internet but no wireless router and want to play online, you can buy Nintendo's Wi-Fi Adapter to turn your computer into a wireless hotspot, or you can go to a place like McDonalds where they have it set up. Keep in mind this is all happening wirelessly. After being near a hotspot, tell your DS to find it. If it finds it...that's about it. You just click connect and you can click to play a "friends" match, a "regional" match, a "rivals" match (people with a similar skill level to you), or a "worldwide" match.

The kind of sad thing about Mario Kart DS is, the game is so polished..save for the online. The online seems like a great idea, and fun, at first, but after a while it just seems to disappoint you. How disappointing? Let's put it this way. Take whatever you're expecting and put it a notch down. I mean, it's not awful, but it doesn't really live up to how it should've, and could've, been done. To start, Mario Kart DS only has 4 players online at a time. That's not THAT bad, but it kinda feels lonely sometimes, but they did have some technical limitations. But onto the worser problems:

Let's start with actually doing it. There are two ways to battle online, the first being to use friend codes. Friend codes are 12 digit codes that you can trade with friends. If you both have eachother's friend codes, then you can just select friends and play online if you time it right. If you get 4 friends and all trade them, then walla. You got yourself a game of Mario Kart. There's some bad things, though--you can't pick which friends to play with. If your friends are on, a small blue icon will appear on the top screen saying they are--not which ones, mind you. But let's say you have 5 friends online, and they are all looking for a match.

There are two groups of friends, you and 3 of your friends, and you and one of your friends, (thus making 5 people) and your one friend doesn't have your other 3 friend's codes. Now, let's say you arrange with your group of 3 friends to play online. You'll all click friends, and it'll start searching. With this, there are 3 lights that will light up when your DS has found someone to play with, but there name won't show up until it establishes a good connection. What may happen is, the 3 lights light up (your friends) but suddenly they'll go out. What the!? Welcome to Nintendo Wifi Connection. What NWC does is it tries to make everyone happy, so if your single friend is searching for someone and has no other friends, you'll automatically be transported out of your game with your buddies and into his game. This can get seriously annoying, and basically makes it BAD to have a lot of friends.

But let's say you haven't found any Wi-Fi ready friends yet and you just want to do some random matching up. Well, you can pick Regional, Rivals, or Worldwide. But here's a big problem. Let's say you click any one of those. What'll happen is, the 3 (or less) lights will light up, saying basically, "We found 3 players to play with! You'll be playing in a second!" If they don't find 3 players, after waiting for a while, it'll rush into the game. Anyway, so 3 lights will be flashing, and just suddenly..they'll all get cut off. Just get cut off. And it's not like this is a once in a while thing, this actually happens.. a lot. Moreso with rivals and worldwide than regional, but it's still a huge problem. After all 3 are cut off, it'll go into "start the game quickly" mode, and in that time, about one person will join..and you have yourself a 1 on 1 match. Not that fun.

Now, let's say you do get a match with 4 people, there are still some drawbacks. There's no chatting in Mario Kart's Online. This is usually okay, because you can't really chat during a race anyway, and if you're playing with your friends, you could easily set up some outside-chat source, like AIM, for example. But if you want to talk to a random person, you can't, nor can you add them to your friend list or anything.

Next, only 20 tracks are playable online, out of the total 32. This happened for multiple reasons, partly because most of the left out maps have a lot of things going on in them (one example, one level is like a giant pinball table. There are moving flippers, the camera moves, there are blasters, and of course, tons of pinballs.) But those levels are usually the funnest.

Next, a huge gameplay drawback which is arguably a mistake. In Mario Kart DS, you have a win/loss record. Let's say you have 4 people. After 4 races, the match will be over, and wins/losses will be counted. People will get a win for each person under them, and a loss for each person above. So the guy in fourth ultimately gets a nice chunk of 4 losses on his record. This basically discourages to keep playing the game if you're losing, because--and this is genius--there is no penalty for just turning your DS off in the middle of the race. So you can get 4 losses on your pretty much permanent record..or you can drop out of the race that you were losing anyway.

But other than that, if you can get 4, good friends who won't disconnect, you can have a great time with Mario Kart's online. If you're expecting an XBOX LIVE type experience where you can set up tournaments, clans, etc, and you plan on buying Mario Kart just for that, I wouldn't..but if you're someone with a DS who isn't in it for only the online, then just go get Mario Kart. It's way too great to miss out on.

Bottom Line: Mario Kart DS is THE must have for the DS, but those who were expecting some amazing online play will be disappointed, as the main purpose of the online play is to provide multiplayer for those without friends with DS's. The REAL great multiplayer experience is just 8 DSes, as you can play on all of the maps, no drawbacks, and just have some good fun. Mario Kart DS is Nintendo's first online game, and it's a great one, but between the DS' technical limitations and the rush to get this out for the holidays, a lot of stuff seems to be missing that will definetly be improved with future NWC games.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 11/17/05


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