Review by horror_spooky

Reviewed: 11/02/07

Don't Do Shrooms and Drive

When I was a little kid, one of my favorite games for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System was the original Mario Kart game, simply titled Super Mario Kart. The game was an amazing achievement for the system, and is often hailed as not only one of the best racing games on the SNES, but one of the best racing games ever for a reason. The game tried new things, and introduced many elements that to this day are being copied by other franchises trying to convert into the racing genre. Mario Kart DS is the latest title in the Mario Kart series and it does not disappointment at all.

In most of my reviews of the DS titles, I complain about the lack of features that the games should have. Well, Mario Kart DS has one on its predecessors by being packed with features and still managing to maintain more than decent graphics for the handheld. The main feature is obviously the Grand Prix mode where you race on three different difficulty settings (measured by the power of the engines) in cups that have four levels each in them. You race through each level (which are levels modeled after various settings in the Mario universe) and depending on what place you get you are awarded a maximum of ten points. At the end of the four races, if you have the most points, you win the cup. This mode has decent enough gameplay, but it doesn’t really provide anything new or exciting to make the game truly excel. Also, there is a set CPU that is always doing exceedingly better than the others during the cup which makes you feel like the game is entirely more linear than it probably should feel, be a racing title and all.

All the old Mario Kart familiarities are present in Mario Kart DS. By racing through item boxes you can obtain items that are used to either give you extra speed or to hinder the other racers’ performances. These items are usually implemented to gain an upper-hand, but by getting in first place you leave yourself open to a very annoying blue turtle shell that automatically hits you and it may cost you the race simply because you were winning. The grand old racing secret of holding down the acceleration two seconds before a race starts is present in Mario Kart DS as well.

By racing behind an opponent closely you can gain an extra boost of speed, which can be very helpful in the Grand Prix. There is also a new feature where you can get an extra speed boost around corners by holding the jump button (yeah, a racing game with a jump button, what of it?) and pressing the left and right d-pad buttons in quick succession (similar to starting a manual in a Tony Hawk title). This feature, however, is rarely useful offline…I’ll get to what makes the feature so useful online later (the usefulness greatly butchers the Wi-Fi online experience, however).

Time Trials are a must for a racing game nowadays. The Time Trials in Mario Kart DS, however, are just used as an excuse to give the game more play time, which it fails at greatly, since the Time Trials aren’t very entertaining at all. However, there is a feature that works somewhat like a Time Trial in Mario Kart DS that is actually fun for a while. This is the ability to race against the “ghost” of one of the game’s developers. This feature, while nearly impossible to complete, is somewhat fun. You can record your own ghosts and send them to other friends that have the game, too, via wireless play.

What makes the single-player experience the most interesting is not the main Grand Prix mode. No, it is the Mission Mode, which basically forces you to play as a certain racer and gives you a special task to complete. I know this sounds somewhat mundane and boring, but I assure you, this mode is extremely fun. There are even boss battles in this mode, though I was disappointed that these bosses were basically recycled from other Mario games, but they are still fun to defeat (usually by knocking them into water).

There is also a Versus and Battle Mode available for single-player, but these modes aren’t really fun at all unless you play them in multiplayer mode. What really irritates me about Mario Kart DS that definitely cost the game any chance at earning that perfect ten was the fact that you can choose the level you wish to play for Battle Mode in single-player, but you cannot choose the level you want to play in multiplayer. I just can’t wrap my head around why Nintendo would do this. That being said, the levels for Battle Mode are pretty interesting, and my favorite one is a giant DS floating in space.

Mario Kart DS, thankfully, supports single-card download play, but the other players without copies of the game are forced to play as Shy Guy, which is a major disappointment. Would it have seriously been that big of a deal to allow the other players to choose their own racer? Of course, over wireless play, this is not an issue, but that means you better have other friends around with both a DS and a copy of the game. Racing with friends really isn’t that fun, but playing Battle Mode with friends is extremely fun.

There are two games for Battle Mode. The first game is called Balloon Battle, and this mode actually takes advantage of the DS’s unique features. This game is, obviously, a battle mode where the goal is to hit your opponents with items in order to pop their balloons. You start with three balloons connected to your racer, but you can blow up more by softly blowing into the microphone. Sadly, the microphone is unresponsive to this, but thankfully you can also blow up balloons simply by pressing the select button. The other mode is Shine Runners where the goal is to collect as mine Shines (those things you were supposed to collect in Super Mario Sunshine, remember?) as possible while avoiding your opponents because they can hit you with items and steal your Shines.

The microphone wasn’t the only unresponsive mechanism for Mario Kart DS. Sometimes you’ll have to tap the X button two to three times just to get an item to deploy, which may even cost you a race or two.

One of the main reasons that people purchase Mario Kart DS in the first place is to play the game online via the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. Well, that’s all good, except the online world of Mario Kart DS is filled with cheaters. There is a glitch that people exploit called “snaking” which is where you do turbo boosts repeatedly, causing your racer to glitch so far down the track that it’s nearly impossible to catch up with them. So gamers that decide they do not want to cheat will be in for a real bummer when trying to play online. Also, the online mode has nearly zero customization options and Nintendo’s insistence on using Friend Codes really butchers the experience of playing across the globe. The game’s lack of any form of chat is also a real downer.

If graphics are what catches your fancy, then Mario Kart DS will not fail to impress you. So far, I’ve played quite a few 3D games released on the Nintendo DS, which is the first Nintendo handheld to truly dive into the realm of 3D gaming. The graphics usually rival that of the Nintendo 64, but I believe that Mario Kart DS has superior graphics. I used to believe that Tony Hawk’s American Sk8land had the best 3D graphics the DS had to offer, Mario Kart DS easily takes that position.

Audio-wise, all the classic Mario Kart tunes are present in Mario Kart DS. However, that’s exactly what hurts the audio quality in this title. I usually find that the licensed soundtracks of sports-related video games are one of the main reasons to play them. Sadly, Nintendo usually focuses on its original scores, and the soundtrack for Mario Kart DS, though memorable, is particularly bland. Hopefully in the future Nintendo will start using licensed songs for their sports games, but that is a very doubtful hope.

Mario Kart DS is sure to provide hours upon hours of gameplay, but the Grand Prix mode just isn’t expansive enough to really give you motivation to play through it multiple times. There are some characters to unlock and the multiplayer features give Mario Kart DS some extra muscle. You can also edit the logo on your Kart to show off to the world (that is if you can stand the constant cheating) via Wi-Fi, and this feature is exactly pretty entertaining to fool around with, especially since it takes advantage of the touch-screen. However, I did find sometimes that the touch-screen had trouble reading what exactly was going on in this feature, and the stylus was pointed maybe a little too wide to pinpoint any totally specific features.

Most of the time, I feel that racing games are rather bland and dull, but the Mario Kart series is one of those racing series that constantly provides entertainment with every installment. Perhaps Super Mario Kart or Mario Kart 64 provides for a more entertaining experience, but Mario Kart DS does have some unique features that surely make it stand-out among its wave of predecessors and its upcoming successors.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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

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