Review by discoinferno84

Reviewed: 11/21/05

Drift Away...

You’re gripping the steering wheel of your vehicle, the wind whipping past your face and through your hair. It’s been a short and sweet race, and you can just barely make out the black and white dots of the checkered flag at the finish line. You’re nearly there, racing comfortably at first place. Those other losers never had a chance against your mighty skills. You’re so close to the finish line, you can almost savor the taste of victory on your tongue. But just before you cross that fateful line into glory, a blue shell flies in from nowhere, colliding into your cart and leaving stunned in the dirt. In those few precious seconds, a few more racers zoom past, sealing your fate and your apparent loss. You’ve not only lost the race, but a little bit of your very soul as well. As you lay there only mere inches away from the finish line, you realize that you aren’t playing a typical racing game; you’re playing Mario Kart.

It is the game of champions, the competition that separates kids from the gamers. You don’t just play Mario Kart; you live it. A wide variety of characters from the Mario gaming franchise are present and accounted for, each with their own racers and handling techniques. Some vehicles have better acceleration, while others can drift through turns better. Some have excellent control mechanics, while others throw their immense weight around. You’ll have to choose among such factors to find your ideal racing machine. You had better choose wisely, too; the racetracks of the Grand Prix aren’t your typical racing environments. You’ll have to endure countless turns, muddy bogs, downtown traffic, reefs, fire pits, and tons of other nasty little surprises. If you manage to hone your driving skills to perfection, you’ll be justly rewarded with a trophy and even more tracks to experience.

However, the weird levels are the least of your worries. While your opponents may be the heroic characters of the famous Mario franchise, they have no problem playing dirty to gain the upper hand. Not only is their driving remarkable, but their use of items is truly despicable. Throughout the race, you’ll be able to find various pickups, such as Super Mushroom speed boosts, Starmen, Ghosts, Bomb-ombs, an assortment of Koopa shell projectiles, and a few other staple items from the previous Mario games. These seeming harmless items can wreak havoc on both you and your foes, adding a whole other dimension of competitive combat throughout the race. Want to take out that guy that just won’t get out of your way? Send him a Red Shell to smack him into submission. Feel like taking the lead? Use a Super Mushroom to get a little more speed for your vehicle. This wide assortment of weapons serves as an equalizer, requiring skill, finesse, and occasionally dirty tactics to be truly effective. With so much chaos going on, you’ll have to stay sharp to ensure your victory.

Just in case you get bored with the Grand Prix, Mario Kart DS comes with a few other modes to quench your gaming thirst. You can try the Time Trials Mode, which puts your driving abilities to the ultimate test. While these serve little more than bragging rights, you can attain some truly amazing records as long as your skills are up to par. You can also give Mission Mode a shot, which basically challenges you to meet certain requirements, such as collecting items or using certain driving techniques. There is also the VS Mode, where you and seven competitors clash on the track of your choice, the perfect practice for later competition. But if you don’t feel like racing, you can give Battle Mode a shot. Instead of using items to gain advantages on the racecourse, you can use them to utterly wipe out your foes with extreme prejudice. All of these gameplay modes are balanced nicely with the standard wireless multiplayer that comes with most other DS games. With such a wide variety of choices at your disposal, it’ll be a long time before this game goes stale.

However, Mario Kart DS has a trump card, the ultimate ace up its sleeve: online multiplayer. Tired of playing with your inept friends? Connect to the Nintendo WFC, the Wifi connection that will link you to gamers around the world. You’ll be able to search through different regions, pitting you against people with the same wins and losses records, gamers from the same region, or even DS owners on the other side of the planet. There’s even a friends list you can use to keep track of your favorite racers, allowing for more organized races. You and three other racers can compete on the courses of your choosing, allowing for some fun and truly epic competitions. There are a few problems, however. Waiting for another user to appear on your search could take minutes, sucking out the life of your DS’s battery. Sure, letting your DS charge while you wait can solve this problem. But the amount of patience required to start a race may prove too great for some. Also, the occasional lag can screw up the race, allowing for plenty of confusion and chaos. But those problems are overshadowed by an even bigger threat: gamers who disconnect mid-game. Merely opting out will instantly stop the race, bringing you back to the search screen. Not only is this aspect time-consuming, but irritating as well.

But despite the slight drawbacks, Mario Kart DS is indeed an impressive handheld game. Not only does it wield the tried and true gameplay formula of the previous games, but it also looks just as good. The game makes great use of the DS’s graphical abilities, depicting the various contenders in all their glory. Mario is riding high in his fancy racer, Wario’s sleazy convertible complements his notorious grin, and Yoshi’s egg car looks remarkably aerodynamic. However, the detail doesn’t end with the racers; all of the levels are depicted with equal attention. You’ll get to blaze through quite a few levels, ranging from the bleak desert sands to cobblestone streets of Delfino to even a giant three-dimensional DS. You’ll also get to revisit classic levels, like the Donut Plains from the original Mario Kart, Frappe Snowland from the Nintendo 64 installment, and even Baby Park from Double Dash. All of these levels remain true to their origins, complete with bright and vibrant backgrounds, tons of hazards and obstacles, and the classic theme music that accompanies them. Sure, it may not be the prettiest thing the DS can create, but the effort is still impressive.

As a standalone game, Mario Kart delivers, but it doesn’t seem particularly fresh or invigorating at first glance. Sure, it has the characters, the courses, and the gameplay modes that may or may not grow old quickly for you. But it’s the use of the DS’s Wifi capabilities that makes this game truly shine. Not only has it set the new standard for the Mario Kart series, but has finally utilized the system’s technology with excellence as well. The resulting online experience is something that casts both the DS and handheld gaming in a brand new light, creating new possibilities for all who wish to give it a try. This is the kind of stuff that the DS was meant to do. Considering how well this Mario Kart DS turned out, hopefully it’ll continue to do so.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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