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Platform

Nintendo DS

 

Genre

Racing

 

Publisher

Nintendo

 

Developer

Nintendo

 

ESRB

E (Everyone)

 

Released

November 2005

 

- Online play is great

- Online play is plenty safe for the youngsters

- Lots of tracks, characters, and power-ups

- The look and feel of the game is infectiously cheerful

 

 

- Snaking exploit in online mode

- Pre-racing setup in online mode is a tad clunky

 

 

Review: Mario Kart: Double Dash (Gamecube)

Review: F-Zero GC (GC)

 

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Mario Kart DS

Score: 9.0/10

 

I’m not going to waste your time with a history lesson in the life and times of the Mario Kart series.  You’ve probably read it and been bored to death by the recount as it has shown up in the introductory paragraph of just about ever review of Mario Kart DS thus far.  Suffice it to say, the series has one heck of a pedigree and even if there are new nuances added to each iteration of the game that fans either love, or could do without, there’s been consistent fun to be had each time.  That being said, Mario Kart DS keeps the good times rolling, doing away with the gunner/driver dynamic of Mario Kart: Double Dash, returning to some more straightforward kart racing found in earlier games in the series.  Best of all, this installment marks the first time the series has gone online.  The end result is a game that throws a ton of fun tracks at players, plenty of unlockables, and tons of people to compete against, continuing the Mario Kart series’ tradition of high quality.

 

mario-kart-ds-1.jpg (40889 bytes)         mario-kart-ds-2.jpg (45993 bytes)

 

Picking a race and getting down to business is simple.  Just choose the race division you want to take on, grab a racer, and start driving.  It’s real simple.  What’s nice about the tracks is that the game offers a mix of new and old.  For single player this may be annoying to fans who have each and every Mario Kart to date, but don’t forget that this game can go online.  That being the case it’s essential that favorite courses through the years appear in this game, not just focus on 100% original content, and it’s nice to see that Nintendo didn’t overlook this fact.  There’ll obviously be some dissenters that are going to complain about this or that conspicuously absent course, but the overall selection is great.  What really stands out about some of the tracks is how alive they feel.  Some of the courses have tons of contraptions on them that players need to take into account, adding some additional dynamics to the game.

 

Not only is there a nice selection of tracks to tear around on, but there’s plenty of racers for players to use too.  The game starts off with the usual suspects available (Mario, Luigi, Bowser, Donkey Kong, Toadstool, etc). However, as players make their way through the game they can slowly begin to unlock various other characters, some famous, and others suspiciously filler-esque.  It’s fun trying to do your best on the various circuits, trying to unlock all of the hidden characters in the 

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game.  Sometimes when you unlock someone new you be sitting there thinking, “Oh…” and likely only race the guy twice before relegating him to obscurity, but there are some racers in there that are very much worth trying to unlock.

 

Adding to the variety is that each character has two different cars to choose from.  Between the pair there are some subtle differences, though they do stick to

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the overall theme of their drivers to a degree.  So if one uses a driver known for slow acceleration, but a vicious top speed, both cars will largely adhere to this setup, but with some subtle differences in handling.  It isn’t a huge difference between the two cars, but they’re the sort of thing that will mostly be appreciated by the true aficionados.  To everyone else, this will all seem a little superfluous, though the cars do look quite a bit different from one another, adding to the style points factor.

 

As with any Mario Kart game, this instalment has a ton of different power-ups to help players along over the course of the game.  Some are classics like the red homing shell, others are newer, like turning into a bullet, or getting a seemingly unlimited amount of turbo.  Depending on how well one is doing in a race appears to impact the quality and variety of the power-ups one gets as well.  When one is out in front, the power-ups tend to be fairly mundane.  There just isn’t much in the way of a wow-factor, which can make these items boring.  The further back one is, though, the cooler the goodies tend to be.  However, whether you are always winning, or constantly being lapped you’ll learn to hate the blue, flying turtle shell.  There’s no escaping this veritable homing missile, and it always seems to come at the most inopportune moment, screwing over players, and crushing souls…though it is kinda fun shooting some other poor bastard in front of you with the thing.

 

mario-kart-ds-3.jpg (43279 bytes)       mario-kart-ds-4.jpg (40884 bytes)

 

But even if you’re getting smoked by blue turtle shells left and right, chances are you’ll do it with a smile on your face thanks to the cheerful presentation of the game.  Sticking with the cute, bright colored visuals that the series is known for, everything has a happy-go-lucky look to it.  The music too, has a peppy, carefree feel to it that will get one’s foot a-tappin’.  Together these help to make Mario Kart DS the sort of game that helps melt away one’s worries, even if only for a short time, and that is most certainly a welcome sight in a time where so many games are about gritty, angst-riddled anti-heroes.

 

Of course, what really makes Mario Kart DS worthwhile is the online play.  It’s a bit of a production getting setup (in a time consuming, “Is all of this really necessary?” sort of way), but once that is taken care of things get fun in a hurry.  Online mode allows up to four players to compete against one another, with about twenty tracks to choose from.  There are more courses overall in the game, but the ones with moving parts have been removed from online play likely to ensure a smoother game experience.  It’s good fun, and playing against other people is a lot more satisfying than going against the computer if only for the bragging rights of improving one’s win-loss ratio.  The only downside to racing online is that there appears to be an exploit in the game which has been named “snaking” where players force themselves into hard turns even on the straight-aways, and use it to get some boost which was only intended for coming out of corners.  Some players have found a way to master this, giving them an unfair advantage.  Aggravating.

 

Parents will be particularly happy about the way that the online component for Mario Kart DS is setup.  Since it’s simply a matter of connecting, finding people to play with, and picking a track, there’s no need to worry about any sort of chat system that could cause junior to inadvertently learn a number of unsavoury words that really have no place in a youngster’s vocabulary.

 

By no means does Mario Kart DS try to go out and reinvent the racing game experience.  What it does, and it does this extremely well, is pluck the best elements from previous Mario Kart games, and implements an online mode.  Regardless of whether one is playing the game alone, or online with a few other people there is a ton of fun to be had with this game, and it should be in every DS owner’s library.

 

- Mr. Nash

(December 23, 2005)

 

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