Review by GamerJM
"Almost three years old, and it's still one of the best DS games, and the best Mario Kart to date"
In 2005, the DS was in serious need of a killer-app for the hardcore gamers. That's not to say that there weren't good games, and casual gamers had already had their killer-app. But the DS was missing "the" game that defined the console that made people want to buy the DS just to play it. Enter Mario Kart DS, the launch game for Nintendo's Wi-Fi service. With features that evolved the series greatly, even on a handheld front, the game seemed promising. But when it came out, it exceeded most people's expectation. I wasn't sure at first (after all, the previous handheld entry in the series was mediocre at best) but after hearing good things about it, I decided to get it. Later, I found out how great the game was.
Mario Kart DS is a racing game in the infamous Mario Kart racing series. It's a kart-racing game with all of Mario and friends. You use items to slow down the other players. It plays just like any other game in the series. You accelerate, to use items, and when you become more advanced at the game, you start turbo-drifting. The item mechanic (one of the things that set it apart from other games in the genre) basically has you using items to either slow down other players, or to speed you up. In order to unlock everything, you must win every cup (the different tiers of racing courses) on all four difficulty levels. There are also a few other modes. Battle relies solely on the item mechanic, in which you throw items at the other players. Each has three balloons, and the items knock the balloons off. The last one surviving wins. There are several variations of the main mode. One is time trial, which has you trying to beat your own times, and it involves no other racers or items. It's just pure racing. There's multiplayer, which has you racing against your friends. There's online, which has you racing against strangers. There's mission mode, which sends you on random mission that often involve collecting coins on different course situations.
So what sets Mario Kart DS apart for other similar games? What makes it so fun? Well, first of all, the courses are some of the most creative I have ever seen in a racing game. Let's take Yoshi's falls, for example. The course is built mainly along one big turn, so you can turbo-boost throughout the whole thing. There are two ways to "roads" of sorts, to ride it. (Although they're really close to each other, so they're not really "roads") The bottom road is the fastest, but it occasionally gets cut off by water, which means that you'll have to be constantly have to go to the top path. This eliminates the "turbo-boosting-the-whole-time" strategy if you take that path, but the top path is slightly longer. The stage itself is designed very well, and this is just portion of the creativity contained in the games courses. Even the generic courses feel very well designed, as the turns and such make perfect sense, and just the length of each course makes sense. The "regulars" courses that are always in each game (rainbow road) are at their best this time around, and the improvements over the previous versions make a big difference. Rainbow road is no longer an annoying course that you're constantly dying on. These amazing, new, original courses in Mario Kart DS are only half of the courses in the game. There are also sets of courses from previous games. While I know many will argue with me on this point, but I think that Nintendo's selection on the retro courses was ace. From Moo Moo Farms to several SNES courses, the older course course selections were very smart and varied. Also, the courses were changed graphically, but they weren't at all tampered with. The SNES and GBA courses got a graphical upgrade, and nothing changed. The courses from Mario Kart: Double Dash! Are completely changed graphically to fit the DS, but the courses themselves are exactly the same. This is a great achievement in the field of emulation, and it's rare that stages are changed graphically, and the stages themselves are left unchanged. Overall, the courses in the game are insanely good.
Another thing that makes Mario Kart DS stand out is its Kart system. This continues the Kart system from Mario Kart: Double Dash for the Nintendo Gamecube, in which there are three tiers of Karts and characters: Light, Medium, and Heavy. Each character had one kart to use, but any character could use any character's Kart, as long as they were in the same weight tier as the character. While this may sound confusing, it was simple, and it added depth and strategy to the game. When you start up Mario Kart DS, the amount of Karts each character has is two, but the system in which you can use a Kart from any character of that tier is not in this addition. However, as you progress through the game, one of the things that you unlock allows you to use the karts of ANY character, no matter their tier. This adds a ton of depth to the game, and you can spend hours and hours just trying out different character-to-kart combinations.
Mario Kart DS is also the first game created by Nintendo (period) to feature and robust online mode that continues to be supported for years. In terms of online, the game is great. The game ranks you amongst your fellow players with a very user-friendly and simple interface. The regional mode has you kart racing against people in your regional area, while the worldwide mode has you racing against people from all over the world. Rivals have you racing against people as good as you are. Friend mode allows you to race against people you know in real life using the game's friend code feature. While I know several people will disagree with me here also, I think friend codes are great. They prevent child predators from finding out any information about you, and are simple and quick. Slow-down online is very infrequent. Overall, the online is very robust and fun.
There are several other gameplay mechanics that I love. The characters are varied and robust, the amount of depth in the game is huge, the interface works perfectly, the amount of unlockables is huge, and the learning curve is perfect. The list goes on and on. There are a few other things that I don't have time to mention. My main point is that the game had a very high level of polish and depth.
In terms of graphics, the game truly shows off what the DS game do. Mario Kart DS features full 3-D polygons on the DS. While now, several DS games have pulled that off in 2005 it was quite a feat. Even now, the game still holds up graphically. Compared to some games on the PSP, it doesn't look quite as good, but overall, the game looks great. There's not one example that I can really use to describe the graphics. Rather, it's the game overall that looks good. The game can handle several things going on-screen at once, and all of the characters together look good.
The music and sound are both pretty good. While they're not things that I would describe as "great" they're still both pretty good. The music is pretty catchy. The game carries on some of the whistles of double dash are back. The game's music is hard to describe, but it's just kind of catchy. But if you've played Mario Kart before, it's basically what you'd expect. Rainbow Road is still Rainbow Road (and it's a road that we're all gunna go... when we die), Mario circuit is still Mario circuit. The toons are still very similar to those of the Mario Kart games before it, but they're still good and catchy. Similarly, the sound is familiar. It's basically the same "it's a me, Mario" that you've been hearing for the past decade. All of the voices, noises, and sounds just feel directly taken from Mario games that have been coming out for the last few years. While they weren't that good in the first place, it certainly won't hinder your enjoyment with the game in the least.
However, pretty much everything has its share of flaws, and Mario Kart DS has its own share. The mission mode, while is a good concept, fails in the end. All of the missions are either too hard or too easy, so no one can really enjoy them. This is a shame, but the missions had potential. The main mode is also way too easy. The AI just isn't good enough, and it feels poor overall. While these flaws do hinder your enjoyment with Mario Kart DS, they are both pretty minor, and don't hamper your overall enjoyment with the game.
Overall, Mario Kart DS is a great game. It's rare that the handheld version of a game actually exceeds the console version of games, but that's exactly what Mario Kart DS does. It improves the console version of Mario Kart. It's currently the best version of Mario Kart available (including the Wii version of Mario Kart). It's surely the DS's killer-app, and it does not disappoint at all.
True overall score: 9
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 09/08/08
Game Release: Mario Kart DS (US, 11/14/05)
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