Review by Arkrex

"Vroom, vroom, boom, boom"

Mario Kart DS is a timeless classic. It has been a good two years since this first-party, multiplayer-racing juggernaut was unleashed on Ninty's nifty "Developer System", but nothing has since come close to providing the same multiplayer thrills - online and/or offline. Placing Mario and his all-star cast within the confines of a go-kart was a great idea at the time (of the SNES era), but it wasn't always easy to grab a couple of friends whenever you wanted a good race. Now, with the advent of wireless and Wi-Fi communications, Mario Kart has been given a new lease on life. The wacky races full of insane destruction by way of classically, comical weapons are back and yes, they are better than ever.

3, 2, 1, GO! As soon as the green light shines, it's time to get the engines running at full blast. Mario Kart is a racing experience like no other. (Of course, there have been numerous clones since its inception.) Sure, the general idea is to place first among the large pack of racers, but rather than relying on elite driving skills alone, power-ups scattered across the crazy, Super Mario-inspired courses allow for a less tactful, but more potent approach to victory. Bob-ombs can be lobbed to wipe out an area in front of you, banana peels can be dropped to cause a spin-out to those that inadvertently cross over them, homing turtle shells can be used to lock-on to persistent leaders of the pack, and when it seems like you're too far behind to catch up, temporarily morphing into a Bullet Bill will see you blitz ahead to bring you back with a fighting chance. There are lots of ways to push through here, and the way the power-ups are (somewhat randomly) distributed means that a tight rubber-banding system is in place; those at the front will tend to pick up items that impede their pursuers' plight, while the laggers will be blessed with more speed-orientated powers. It's one of the most fair-play racing games out there.

Skillful karters aren't given a facepalm for the sake of competitiveness, though. Making good use of power-sliding around tight turns, boosting to clear ingenious shortcuts, and some expert-timing when it comes to power-up placement will see the leaders stay ahead. There are a few highly-advanced skills to utilise too; the infamous "snaking" being one of them. This splits racers into two distinct tiers, and those that can "snake" will always blast past those that can't with 100% success. This can be somewhat disconsolate when it comes to Wi-Fi battles - frequent disconnectors of the sore loser variety doesn't help either - but local wireless Grand Prix are still wonderfully, honest experiences. So long as you're able to race with a homogenised group of racers (either "snakers" or "non-snakers") you're guaranteed to have a great time - and with the versatile multiplayer functions available, it's a breeze.

Solo-racers needn't feel shunned, though. There's enough variety here to satisfy those that can't always take advantage of the multiplayer modes: standard Grand Prix, objective-based missions (coin collecting, enemy hunting, etc.), inventive boss races, balloon battles royal, and more still. Time trial races will provide an extraordinary amount of replay value for the dedicated boy racers, and with a diverse roster of unique characters coupled with an impressive number of tracks to zip around on (32 plus 8 unique battle courses), there's so much crammed into this game that it's actually quite daunting when you first pick it up. But the learning curve is just right. The casual slant on racing (it's no simulator here) and the reliance on power-ups that help even the odds, whilst maintaining a sense of competitiveness, makes Mario Kart DS an easy to grasp, tough to master, all-round solid racer that's fun for everyone - even if you're typically not a fan of racing games.

Chances are that if you've owned a DS since its early years, you'll have already experienced the awesome-ness of Mario Kart DS, and you're most likely still engaging in a few mad-cap races now and again - I know I am. Newcomers: do feel free to jump aboard for it's never too late to enter the fray. With a resplendent amount of gameplay modes and multiplayer options (and a bit of hacking goodness available to those in the know), this is still the best Mario-featured game on the DS. There isn't much else in the world more satisfying than dropping a bomb or banana peel behind you to send a racer riding behind your slipstream into a spiralling heap. Forget that it's genre may seem a bit out of place for a mascot-type character; Mario Kart DS is Mario at his best, DS racing at its best, and it's still the most superlative DS multiplayer experience out there.

VERDICT - 9.0/10 It's madness... it's multiplayer madness!

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 10/08/07

Game Release: Mario Kart DS (US, 11/14/05)

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