Mario Kart DS Nintendo DS Review

Mario Kart was the beginning of an entire wealth of games in the kart racing genre. Its roots on the SNES as a fast paced, item staged free for all competition have inspired many clones, but nothing yet has come close to what Mario Kart is. At its peak, excellence was demonstrated by the 4 player capabilities of the Nintendo 64. Even in its darkest hour, the series provided a fun, fresh, co-op inspired offering on the GameCube. And on the run, Super Circuit provided that SNES styled kart action. Now, a new addition adds to the formula, drawing from the successes of all previous titles, along with its own contribution to the series. Let the race begin.

The game itself is a complete revamp; it is not using any sort of modified engines. It is its own game. Complete with trimmings such as items, karts and characters with their own abilities and stats. But this is taken further. Now, characters and their karts have more detailed stats, such as acceleration, top speed, items that can be obtained, handling etc. These elements help to build a deep, involving and strategically balanced racer.

There are three main gameplay modes; Single Player, Multiplayer and Nintendo WFC. These are then divided up into sub categories. Single Player is made up of Grand Prix, Time Trials, VS, Battle and Missions. Multiplayer is made up of VS, Balloon Battle and Shine Runners while Nintendo WFC consists of 4 player VS competitions in four classes, Friends, Worldwide, Regional and Rivals. Nintendo has finally allowed for single player Battle and Versus with the use of ‘bots’, which is good for practice, especially when finally meeting up with human players. When playing multiplayer, up to 8 people can play simultaneously, with or without multiple game cards.

Grand Prix is the same old formula; Compete for the most points, and racing well all the while using items, and dodging them, along the way. With three classes (50cc, 100cc and 150cc) and eight cups in each class; Four for Nitro Grand Prix and four for Retro Grand Prix. Nitro consists of all new levels (16) and Retro returns gamers to some of the memorable tracks of past titles, of which there are also 16.

Battle is also the same, utilising balloons, but with a difference. You start off with only one, off a possible three at a time, with a total of five. You can inflate a new balloon by stopping and blowing into the Nintendo DS microphone. When you no longer have any balloons left, you lose.

Shine Runners is different to the Shine Chase on GCN. You must collect the most Shines, steal from other characters, and the one with the most at the end of the match is the winner.

Missions allows the player to complete certain objectives in different courses until they reach a boss stage. It’s a creative addition that adds to the depth of the single player experience.

However, perhaps the most anticipated aspect of this title is its much hyped Nintendo WiFi Connection ability. It’s not that this feature is at all bad, it is really a nice addition, but you shouldn’t allow it to be the main reason to buy this title. There are restrictions. Only four people can race at a time, you cannot select your opponents, and in order to play against someone you know you must enter a Friend Code. Even then, if more than three of your friends are on, the ones you play against are selected at random. Nevertheless, it is a nice feeling to know that the person you are playing is a human and not a computer, and so, they are unpredictable, which provides for more intense competition, and cursing.

To add to this, the title allows for unlockable content, such as characters and karts, providing incentives for people to play. These characters, much like the readily available ones, have their own unique abilities and karts. The single player element is quite long already in any Mario Kart title, but unlockable content, along with missions and new objectives proved for an extended level of gaming. On top of this, multiplayer will ensure that countless hours will be had playing the title, even with friends who don’t own the game. Or then perhaps none of your friends are around. No problem, log onto Nintendo WiFi Connection, and there is always someone waiting to play, anywhere, anytime.

Handling is brilliant, and could not have been done better without the use of a joystick. The D pad controls the direction, A is accelerate, B brake and reverse, R jump, L is item execution while Y changes map type (tapping the screen does the same thing). In order to excel, you must look at both screens strategically in order to dodge items approaching from behind, as well as selecting the right time to use your own. Those who fail to use the map effectively will fail themselves.

In terms of visuals, the game is slick. It is far better than any N64 version, with fully detailed character models, backgrounds, tracks and effects. It is quite stunning to be able to play 8 player Mario Kart on the Nintendo DS, and it does so effortlessly. There is no lag locally, and very little online. It might be a little detail, but when you look at the wheels and bodies of karts and see how well rounded they are, it is amazing that the system can pull off eight at a time, AND be communicating wirelessly, all the while maintaining constant frame rates and performance. This establishes the capable system that the Nintendo DS is.

Each character is personalised with their own voice work, sound effects and calls. In game music is crisp and clear, albeit midis. Tunes that really bring out the competition in people due to the catchy beat of the soundtrack help to build an immersive environment for racers. To better this, Nintendo has made Mario Kart broadcast in the Nintendo DS’s virtual surround sound. It can distinguish; from which direction a racer is coming up from behind, where they are in front, as well as the various sound effects from bombs exploding and the gush of the Blue Shell as it approaches and passes. These elements help to build the Mario Kart experience, ensuring that enjoyment for the gamer is paramount.

Overall, Mario Kart DS builds on the already successful Mario Kart composition. It brings to the DS the best-to-date multiplayer experience, more modes, higher detail and of course, online play. The single player modes are deep and inviting, with positive additions such as Battle and VS without the need for friends, while the online mode calibrates the DS with online play, and a window of the service Nintendo is yet to provide. With unlockables, over thirty tracks, a wealth of items and other minor add-ins, Mario Kart DS is the killer app for the DS this holiday season.

9.3 out of 10