Review by ShadowGuardian9

"Momma-mia!"

Mario's extensive amount of hobbies and skills is reimagined for the DS. Mario is back behind the wheel with the DS version of the addictive and fun Mario Kart series. With double the screens and a bunch of unique hardware, Mario plans to make this kart-racer the best in the biz. And this time, he's entering the wonderful world of online play. Does Mario Kart DS deliver the daring driving we've come to expect from Mario Kart?

Graphics 8/10

Mario Kart has been about bright environments, colorful characters, and excellent effects, and this Mario Kart is no exception. The characters themselves do look decent enough, but don't seem to have the polish that they did in, say, Super Mario 64 DS. But, each character is animated well enough. The environments are still colorful and diverse, from the spooky tracks of Luigi's Mansion to snowy peaks of DK Pass. Each environment has enough character and antics to keep the game from getting too boring. Not only that, but old-school Mario Kart tracks return with some polish. The item effects are still beautiful and chaotic. The burst from a Spike Shell or the shock of a Thunder Bolt are great, especially for the DS. The game has a good frame rate and the overall experience is good-looking. Sadly, the lack of advances makes the game feel a bit dated.

Audio 8/10

There isn't really much of an advance here at all. Mario and his crew have some small voice clips that are well done, and the race music is still classic Mario tunes that we cherish and love. Effects are hard-hitting and have a solid impact on gameplay. But we've been down this road MANY times before. As great as Mario themes are, there isn't much of an upgrade. Good audio, but it's wearing a bit thin.

Gameplay 9/10

Mario does many things right in gaming, and outside of platforming, the plumber knows how to race. Mario Kart DS is less a sequel to the game, but more a tribute to the Mario Kart games of the past. Many of older tracks appear, with a few new ones as well, but the game still feels more to presenting the past successes in a new light, and it works.

Controls are essential to a game such as Mario Kart: simple enough to be accessible, but deep enough to keep you coming back. Moving from a console with an analog control style to a D-Pad handheld was a pretty noble feat that, despite a few errors, remains solid. Hold A to accelerate, B to brake, X or L to use items, R to drift. The simplicity of the controls makes the game easy to get into. The D-Pad, however, offers a small problem in execute a Drift Boost. In past Mario Kart, while drifting, you could tap on the analog into a turn to gain power, then release the power with a short speed boost. The D-Pad execution of the Drift Boost is a little complicated. You must instead press into the curve, then out of it to gain power. This is a little challenging at first, but in the end, effective. Controls remain solid in Mario Kart DS.

Mario Kart DS has many distinct modes to choose from. The competitions, a staple in past Mario Kart games, are divided into two categories: Nitro and Retro. Nitro offers some new tracks for veterans to explore, each one relating to Mario's world. DK Pass, Luigi's Mansion, and many more are here. Retro is a clever bit of nostalgia to anyone who played past Mario Kart outings. Tracks from the SNES, N64, Gamecube, and GBA versions of Mario Kart reappear updated for replay. This inclusion of past tracks is a brilliant idea, as any Mario Kart veteran will be happy to play the old tracks again. Both styles of competition have multiple difficulties in CC, providing a good amount of replay value for the Mario Karter in all of us.

Some new additions to gameplay also make Mario Kart DS new. Two new items appear to use in the game: the Bullet Bill and Blooper. Bullet Bill is a speed boost with punch, that will knock opponents out of the way. Blooper, one of the most clever weapons, splatters an opponent's screen with ink to obscure their view. Though Blooper won't help too much against CPUs, human opponents will be affected by Blooper's ink attack. A new ability for all players, drafting, involves tailgating an opponent. By consistently staying behind an opponent, you will build power until the power is released in an aura-like boost. An interesting new tactic is during Balloon Battle. To make more balloons, a player must use the DS microphone and blow into it (The Select Button can also be used, but isn't in as good a position and doesn't have the quick access that the microphone provides.) These small additions make a big impact on gameplay, making Mario Kart DS seem new.

Mario Kart DS offers many modes outside of the competitions. The Time Trial returns, so any speed demon can test their skills. The Battle Mode also returns, one of the most fun modes in the game. In the areas, players can battle against each other. The Battle Mode is chaotic and frantic, and some of the levels demonstrate it thanks to their scope. A cool new addition is the Mission Mode. The game gives you objectives and you must complete them. Some of these missions are extremely clever, including boss battles. This is a great mode which hopefully will be used again in future Mario Kart games. The single-player mode is covered with Mario Kart DS. Excellent.

Multiplayer is some of the best parts of Mario Kart, and with new wireless hardware, the DS is ready to expand the Mario Kart universe. Local wireless multiplayer allows for download play and multi-card. Despite the minuscule amount of options with download play, there is enough content to keep players happy. The multi-card play is expansive, using many characters, levels, and modes. The big draw this time around though is online play with Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. Mario Kart is hitting the online world. Online play makes the game much more in-depth, although rivalries by skill level are a bit confusing and you can't play with as many people online as you can locally. Mario Kart DS's multiplayer is staggering and makes the whole Mario Kart experience even more staggering than before.

Mario Kart has called for some serious skill during the game. However, the item distribution is determined by what place you're in during a race. This makes the game a bit focused on luck as well. There's nothing more painful than being bombarded with a Spike Shell or Thunder Bolt while in first place, then losing because of a single attack. This bit of imbalance does make the game more accessible, and when you're the person who gets the first place, you do enjoy it. But the imbalance doesn't improve on the game, and it gets a bit problematic at times. Also, the game's difficulty doesn't get very close to challenging until a few more levels up, and since many of the unlockables require completion, this becomes a bit of a nuisance. Mario Kart DS is purely fun, like the other Mario Karts, despite these annoyances. Once you get over these imbalances, you'll find one of the most purely fun racing games ever made.

Replay Value 10/10

Mario Kart DS has many, many modes, both single and multiplayer. The Time Trial, Battle, and Mission modes will keep you coming back, even after every race is won and competition is complete. Multiplayer is as good as ever, with Vs. Race and Battle, and the inclusion of online play makes the entire package so much more expansive. Mario Kart packs on the content while providing a thoroughly fun racing game. Prepare to be addicted to Mario Kart DS.

Final Verdict 9/10

Mario Kart DS is a brilliant collaboration of everything gamers loved about Mario Kart, along with some new additions that only add to the madness. New items, tracks, modes, and characters make the game much bigger than past installments. The inclusion of online play is what gamers were asking for in Mario Kart, and thanks to its smooth execution, it works and makes the whole experience better. Mario Kart's recurring flaw does make the game a bit worse than hoped, but the core of the gameplay is fluid and purely entertaining. Mario Kart DS proves, once again, of how fun this franchise is. Frantic, addictive, and full of things to do, Mario Kart DS is a DS must-have and an excellent reason to buy one in the first place.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 01/16/06


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