Review by Icehearted

"As a game, Mario Kart DS gets just about everything right. Too bad the online community is full of cheese."

When the original Mario Kart game was released for the SNES I was skeptical. Until that game had been shown to the public I had mostly only seen racing games that essentially had me running in circles. When I had finally broken down and gave the game a try, with it's array of wacky weapons and mode 7 landscapes, I was pretty shocked. I really hadn't expected something so obscure to be so much darn fun. I played it constantly at the time, only able to wrench myself away to get in some action with Street Fighter II, also on the SNES.

This latest iteration of the series continues the tradition of Mario Karts passed, from the masterfully inventive first one, to the high speed action of the Mario Kart title on the Game Cube. Wacky weapons make their comeback, and the tracks, which include among others a Haunted House and giant pinball machine, are a blast to play. You have quite a selection of vehicles, some with better handling, others are faster and so on. Lots of choices to suit pretty much any sort of player.

So what's my problem? Well, the AI is a little fishy. Like a lot of other racing games out there, rather than having the non-player cars challenge you based on good AI and good sense (or mapping) of the tracks they went the cheapy route and preset computer controlled players to run an invisible rail that cannot in most cases be disturbed. It's a bit like racing a man tied to a moving vehicle. You can trip him all you like, but in a few second he'll be right where he would have been otherwise, almost as though he'd never fallen to begin with.

The game includes an online mode, where you can challenge other players to races by connecting to the internet via WiFi. This should have been one of the game's best features, since as good as the computer players may be, a human player should offer a better challenge and more excitement overall. Rather than giving you a good challenge however, a larger part of the game's online community prefers to exploit the game with a mechanic that, while totally usable, breaks the balance of the game play. This dirty little exploit is called snaking, and what it has done to the online player base is discouraged average or casual players from playing the game online altogether.

Snaking involves exploiting the power slide capability offered in the game which allows you to get a small boost if properly executed. As you get to a turn, you use your handbrake button at just the right moment to begin sliding a little bit at a sideways angle. This allows you to get a little more speed and cornering during the turn, and can be pretty satisfying when successfully performed. Power sliding in this game goes a little further by allowing you player to wiggle your thumb quickly in the opposite direction as you are sliding, then quickly back. If done properly you will get an even faster boost. You can do this twice once you begin you power slide to attain maximum cornering and speed during a turn. If successful you will get a small but helpful boost to you speed for a few seconds, and sometimes that can be just enough to get an edge on your opponents. Again, this is pretty fun and rewarding when performed correctly.

Snaking players will do this regardless of where they are on a track. A "snaker" will perform the power slide move by first moving to one side of the track, the power sliding to the other side, then back again. Each time they complete their power slide in one direction they get that aforementioned speed boost before beginning another power slide almost immediately after, thus creating an almost constant speed boost. When done, this will allow them to pass any vehicle regardless of their stats or the player's skill.

So what you get are players that can lap you or win by a wide margin no matter how well you play. The only thing that can beat a snaking player are other snaking players. Honestly though, I just don't see the casual player bothering with such a thing, since it can wear out your thumb and your DS pad (which you use to steer your Kart), and most casual players will find zig zagging all over the place kind of tiresome. The fun can get sucked out of the game pretty quickly when you run into snaking players, and that has unfortunately driven off just about everyone else.

From what I've seen most people will either begin snaking right away, or they will do so if I've gotten a good lead on them. Snakers have been otherwise unable to really beat me regularly, which only further feeds the idea that the only way to win is by exploiting a game mechanic that is clearly not intended to be used in such a fashion. It's cheap, it's annoying, and after about two weeks of trying to eke out some good online fun only to see most of the other players star sliding all over the place I've abandoned the online play altogether.

Don't let this dissuade you though. Mario Kart DS is a terrific game, and worth every penny. I recommend it to any Kart fan, or even racing fans looking for a little bit of something out of the ordinary. Just keep out of the online mode unless you can find a community of players dedicated to play the game without cheating. They're out there, but they can be hard to come by.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 03/27/08

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

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