"Gentlemen (And Ladies), Start Your Engines"

Mario Kart DS, the fifth game in the venerable racing franchise, is quite possibly the best entry in the series yet. It follows the same formula as every game in the series before it: choose a mode, choose a character, choose a level. However, MK DS considerably ups the ante on almost every level, taking the best parts of previous Karts, and adding something every Nintendo fanboy has secretly been wishing for: online play. Featuring 32 courses, 3 unique vehicles for all 13 racers, a mission mode, and more, MK DS successfully offers the most entertainment value of any MK to date, including Gamecube's Double Dash!!. Let's go to the breakdown:

Story - There really isn't one as usual, so this score will be negated.

Gameplay - 9
The main strength of MK DS is by far it's gameplay. If you've ever played any of the other games in the series, you'll immediately know what to do, and it's incredibly easy to pick up and play for the first time as well. However, like many of Nintendo's recent forays, there is a lot of depth and strategy under what would first appear to be a shallow layer. Sure, you could say that all you do is keep your finger on the gas and occasionally use an item, but there is so much more. With practice, players will find all sorts of strategies to winning, including turbo boosts off the starting line and drifts.

There's even some strategy to the race, as when a blooper sprays ink on your top screen, seasoned players will simply just switch to the bottom one to drive. There is also a new mechanic to the MK series, which is an odd little boost you can get by driving behind another character for a short period of time. Some may say that it's cheap, but I think it's a clever way to catch up to people more experienced than you.

Speaking of which, the online play for MK DS is spectacular. It's impossibly easy to set up your DS to play with others via WiFi, and once online you have a choice of what opponents you wish to pursue. You can stick to your friends list, or battle strangers that are at a similar skill lvel with you.

The mission mode is also an excellent new addition to the series, creating a great diversion from the Grand Prix and more competitive modes.
Finally, a DS game where the touch screen isn't required to play! I'm glad that Nintendo finally realized that just because one is built in the system, doesn't mean every game must utilize it.

Control - 8
Although the game controls much like any other game in the series, (A to accelerate, B to brake), I have to say that my finger gets very tired of staying on the A button for the entire race. The D-Pad works quite well to steer, proving that you don't need a joystick to move in a 3-D space (though it usually is helpful.) My only other complaint is that both of the buttons used to chuck an item (L and X), are hard to reach while in the middle of a frantic race.

Difficulty - 10
Perfect. Finally, Nintendo gets it right. 50 cc is easy, 100 cc is a good challenge, and 150 cc is wonderfully difficult, yet doable.
The mission mode can get a bit frustrating at times, but again, it is cetainly not impossible. Well done.

Sound - 6
Sound is where the game falters a bit. The music is either stuff we've heard in previous games, or new, repetitive tunes that are anything but memorable.
The sound effects are neither good nor bad, they are just there.

Graphics - 9
The graphics are quite well done, though certainly nothing compared to the PSP's. They are most similar to the N64's Mario Kart 64, though they are actually slightly superior to it. Character models are blocky, as are most of the karts, but the courses are wonderfully done. One look at the course based on a pinball table, and you'll never doubt the DS's graphical capabilities again.

Replay - 10
Online gaming is what will keep gamers coming back to this one. With an endless amount of people around the world to battle, you could never get bored. However, even without multiplayer there are plenty of reasons to pop this one into the DS again and again, whether it be completing every Grand Prix, unlocking every character and kart, or beating Mission mode.

Conclusion
This is, without a doubt, my favorite game for the DS so far, with only Meteos coming even close. I would say that anyone with a DS owes it to themselves to pick up a copy, even if it's only to test out Nintendo's new online service. Although I think they could've picked better courses for the Retro tracks, and I still don't like how awkward the item button is, this is truly the first great game of the holiday season.

Story - N/A
Gameplay - 9
Control - 8
Difficulty - 10
Sound - 6
Graphics - 9
Replay - 10

Final Score - 9
(Not an average)


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 01/13/06


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