Review by SuperPhillip
Let's Kick Asphalt.
Ever since its birth in the early years of the Super Nintendo, Mario Kart has appeared on every Nintendo platform since with its competitive combat carting and wealth of multiplayer bliss. There's been three Mario Karts since the original, each bringing its own little variances to the formula, and Mario Kart DS appears to be the most revolutionary of the bunch. But can it keep up with its console predecessors?
Like most Mario Karts before it, you'll spend the most of your time taking on the computer in the Grand Prix mode. This is a series of cups spanning four races each with the winner being determined by who has the most points by the duration of the cup. Most Mario Kart fanatics would have been satisfied with just sixteen new tracks, however, Nintendo decided to beef up the amount of tracks by adding sixteen retro tracks-- that is, tracks from previous Mario Kart games. While the selection of returning tracks is debatable to some, there's no contesting that this title's Grand Prix will give you the most mileage because of them. And it's great being able to revisit old friends like Double Dash's Mushroom Bridge and Mario Kart 64's Banshee Boardwalk. As you complete each cup you earn new characters (bringing the total to 12 in all), karts, tracks, and higher speeds and difficulties to race with. And if competitive racing isn't your cup of tea, there's always the time trial mode to best your greatest times all by your lonesome.
Aside from the standard GP and Time Trial fun, there's an entirely new set of challenges to test your racing mettle known as Mission Mode. This mode puts players in a variety of objective-based challenges such as precision-based coin-collecting and gate-passing exams. After completing a set of missions, you take on that level's boss. Yep. Boss battles... in MY Mario Kart?! You got it. These familiar foes ranging from a Big Bully to a giant Wiggler require you to either bash them off the arena or just beat them in a race a la Diddy Kong Racing.
And what would a Mario Kart game be without a battle mode? A handful of new and returning arenas make up Mario Kart DS' Battle Mode which can be played with up to four players locally. The only difference between this battle mode and others is the gimmicky blowing into the mic to blow up deflated balloons-- the lifeline of Mario Kart battle.
Well, of course Battle mode is offline. It's been like that in every Mario Kart game, and it should be no different because this game is completely offline, too, right? Right? RIIIIIGHT?!!
Wrong. Mario Kart DS launched the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection and Nintendo's first foray into online gaming. While it's a welcomed addition and a happy feeling to know that Nintendo has stepped up from the nineties, the online system is bare-bones at best-- even for the time. You can play with anyone or with friends online. Anyone isn't recommended as you'll find people who use the boring technique anyone and their mom can pick up and not have any fun doing it in snaking, or you'll race against a sore loser who will disconnect at the first sign that things aren't going his, her, or its way. Plus, there's emblems that are displayed by your online name and on your kart. Yep, enjoy seeing cartoon depictions of wieners and German dictators. What a duo! Whether you play with friends or with strangers, there's only twenty of the thirty-two tracks available to race on which is unfortunate. Though you can use Action Replay to play them online illegally. Races are chosen via election with the race chosen by majority vote or (when it's a tie) randomly. Which goes to another hitch in Nintendo's online plan-- friend codes. The only way to play with a friend online is for you and your friend to exchange codes, your sixteen digit proof of existence in Nintendo's online kindergarten. Regardless of Nintendo's online infancy, Mario Kart DS is still the most complete kart racer to date, and the inclusion of online is just another spice to Mario Kart DS' soufflé.
Those familiar with Mario Kart's mechanics will be able to instantly settle into a groove, wiggling the D-pad on corners and turns to power-slide. Even newcomers can sit down, learn the ins and outs of Mario Kart DS, and find their own niche in the game. Two screens mean two points of view. The top screen is your standard hud while the bottom screen acts as the race standings as well as map which can be zoomed in or out to give you a sense of items dropped on the course. And without items, Mario Kart just wouldn't be Mario Kart. There's a few new ones in addition to the already known invincibility Starman, red and green shells, banana peels, and boost-inducing Mushrooms. There's a bomb (or Bob-omb) which is used for the first time by someone other than Wario or Waluigi, that you drop behind you and hope someone gets caught up in its blast radius, a squid (or Blooper) that gushes out black ink all over your opponent's screen, obstructing their view, and a Bullet Bill which basically puts you on auto-pilot while it plows over racers ahead of you. The new items are fun, and they keep that addictive sense of balance that MK is infamous for overall.
One of my favorite parts of the Mario Kart series are the incredibly designed courses, and Mario Kart DS isn't any exception. While there are some boring ones (mainly the first two Mushroom Cup races, Figure-Eight Circuit and Yoshi Falls), the ones that stand out are numerous. Riding across the gears of Tick-Tock Clock, racing through the intense action of a pinball machine, or driving through the hallowed, haunted halls of Luigi's Mansion-- there's so much variety and some great themed tracks. As aforementioned there's sixteen returning tracks which should fill that gap of nostalgia that many Mario Kart faithful were needing to fill. While the choices aren't the best, there are some that bring back fantastic memories.
At the time Mario Kart DS was one of the most graphically impressive DS titles available, and while it's been surpassed by other titles such as Metroid Prime Hunters and Final Fantasy III, the graphics still hold up remarkably well. The online infrastructure which was considered ancient then is still pretty unremarkable. Regardless, Mario Kart DS, at this time, is not only the best Mario Kart to date, but it's simply one of the best kart racing period.
Graphics: In 2005 they were the DS' best. Since then, they've been eclipsed, but they're still quite good.
Gameplay: Karts, tracks, items, power-slides, and boosts. It's Mario Kart at its finest.
Sound: Good voice clips, but the music is some of the worst of the series. It sounds tinny and uninspired.
Replay Value: Online adds a whole new dimension to the time you'll be spending. Just play with friends (even with the archaic friend code system). You'll be glad you did.
Overall: 9.5/10 - Sweet. Excellence in a kart zooming around at the speed of awesome.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Mario Kart DS (US, 11/14/05)
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