Review by scarlet_puppy

"Easily the best handheld racer ever."

Mario Kart has, since 1992, been the unrivalled king of kart racers. It was the first game to prove that popular characters racing was fun, and since then countless clones of the game have been produced. Some have been good, some not so good, but this game has always come out on top. So when I saw this game on the DS, I figured it would be worth buying, and boy was I right.

The basic premise of the game is the same as it has been for a decade and a half: pick a character and a vehicle, and then race across several different tracks to see who's the best. The controls in the game are very simple: you have a button for accelerating, a button for braking, one for turning and another for drifting. Anybody can learn the rules and get stuck in quickly.

So what makes this game so much better than every other racing game out there? Well, there are several things. As well as the simple but effective controls, there is also a huge variety in the amount of characters and karts you can pick. Once you've unlocked every character and kart, you'll have a dozen characters, and each character has three unique karts, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. And you can also make it so that any character can ride in any kart!

But how are the tracks? If I had to describe them in one short sentence, I'd say this: ‘They're flipping brilliant!' There are eight cups within the game, and each cup contains four tracks. Four of these cups contain brand new tracks designed for this game, whereas the other four contain tracks from past games in the Mario Kart series. Every Mario Kart game has some of its tracks represented here. Not only is this a massive amount of tracks in the first place, but they're also extremely well designed. They aren't too long or too short, and they contain many imaginative hazards, twists and turns to challenge your racing skill. Obviously there will be one or two that you don't like, but otherwise the courses that you race on are fabulous.

While you're racing on these courses you'll be looking at what are some of the best graphics on the Nintendo DS. The character models look vibrant and detailed, and the animation isn't bad either. Some of the bigger characters look a bit chunky, but overall the character models are well designed. The vehicles you ride in look even better than that. No jagged edges or lack of detail here: every kart looks completely unique and sometimes downright wacky (the car shaped like a mushroom makes me laugh: in a good way.) Yet even though they look good, the courses that you ride on are nothing short of spectacular. Each of the new courses have been immaculately designed, with many small details that you can notice if you look at it for long enough. And all of the new courses have been updated so that they don't look outdated, and I must say Nintendo did a great job at it.

The sound is also great, just like the rest of the game. All of the music has been very well composed, with brilliant brand new pieces accompanying the new courses, and classic tunes being coupled with the old tracks that they first appeared on. The sound effects are also pretty cool. They are some basic sound effects that you can hear when you use an item or when you finish the race, but the highlight of them has to be with the engine sounds. Each character has a set of karts with a different engine sound, and I think that it's a very nice touch. The voice acting is the sort of thing you'd expect from a racing game; nothing special there.

But when you're playing through this game, don't think that you can only race and that's it. That couldn't be further from the truth. One addition that I think more kart racers should adopt is mission mode. Each character has a set of missions that you can try to complete. This may involve finishing a race before a ghost, or going through rings in reverse, or anything of that calibre. Personally, I think that this mode is quite good fun, and it'll be a long long time before you complete every single mission.

Likewise, there is also battle mode to keep you busy. There are two different types of battle: balloon battle and shrine runners. In both of them, you must pick one of six grounds on which the battle takes place. This ranges from a set of block forts, to a giant Nintendo DS, to the top of a cake (?!). In balloon battle, you are armed with five balloons, and two appear above your head, while the other three are ‘banked'. The aim of the game is to throw various items at your opponents to make them lose balloons. If you lose a balloon, you blow into the microphone to blow up another. If you run out of balloons, then you lose. Last man standing wins. In shrine runners, it's a similar principle, except there are shrines instead. There are several shrines that you must collect, and from there you must hit each other with items to make people lose shrines. The person with the least shrines after a set time limit is knocked out. These battles are great fun, even against the CPU (if you set it on hard difficulty).

Despite how far in we are with the review, I still haven't told you about the WiFi capabilities of this game. By connecting onto WiFi, you have a choice: you can play friends online by trading friend codes, or you can battle random people across the continent, or even across the entire world. Yet despite this, there is almost no lag throughout the races. Some people complain about snaking, but I think that it's a perfectly legitimate strategy which requires skill to perform. Although the online could ultimately do with some improvement (like when it comes to selecting tracks), overall it's just as good as the rest of the game is, and extends the replay value of this game greatly. If you don't want to go on WiFi, you also have the choice of playing wireless with people close to you. What's cool is that you only need one copy of this game to play, and from there you can easily get stuck in.

Since this is a Mario Kart game, obviously there will be lots of crazy items available for you to use on your opponents. Red shell homing missiles, lightning bolts that shrink people, mushroom speed boosts and many other items are all made available to you. Most of these items are well balanced and aren't used too much. Notice that I said most, not all. There is one item that quite frankly is possibly the worst item I've ever seen in a racing game, and that item is the blue shell. Introduced in this game, an opponent sends a shell, and it aims directly at whoever is in first place. There's no way to avoid it, and it launches you into the air and leaves you stunned, meaning you have to wait ages before you can move again. If you stay in first place a lot, expect to get hit by at least three of these shells throughout the course of the race. And you can imagine how frustrating it is to get hit by one right in front of the finish line.

However, if you can look past the blue shells, a comparatively minor flaw, this game is brilliant, magical, and above all, fun to play. It has tons of tracks, tons of modes, tons of karts and tons of more or less everything good in a kart racer. There's a reason that Mario Kart remains the king, and this game shows us what it is. Unless you hate racing games more than any other genre, then this game is a must-have.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 10/20/08

Game Release: Mario Kart DS (EU, 11/25/05)

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