Nintendo DS Review: Mario Kart DS
The immense popularity of the Mario Kart series made it a no-doubter to appear on the Nintendo DS. Mario Kart DS has just about what you would expect to see, great racing along with large doses of entertainment.
Mario Kart DS is also the first game to use the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, allowing you to connect online to challenge your friends or other racers around the world. There are an abundant amount of features in Mario Kart DS, including the traditional Grand Prix, Time Trials, VS, battle, and the new single player mission mode.
The Grand Prix is familiar to most Mario Kart veterans, allowing you race in different cups from 50cc to 150cc in addition to the mirror mode. The VS mode is great for quick gaming on the go as you can select any character and course that are unlocked, and allows you to race against seven other computer racers. The battle mode features shine runners and the balloon battle, both imported from the GameCube version of Mario Kart. The mission mode is an interesting addition, it's a pseudo-adventure mode using karts to complete tasks, many of the tasks are challenging (sometimes even tedious), however some may find it fun to play.
A combination of new and old tracks are included in the game, 32 in all, 16 brand new ones, and 16 coming from the previous Super NES, N64, Game Boy Advance and GameCube Mario Kart games. The SNES and GBA tracks are recreated in 3D form, while the N64 and GameCube tracks are for the most part equivalent to the old versions. It's quite entertaining reliving the tracks that you've played in the past as Nintendo included four tracks from each previous Mario Kart game.
Unlike Mario Kart: Double Dash, the DS game is returning to the traditional one character per kart play. However, just like Double Dash there are multiple karts to choose from with varying top speed, acceleration, weight, handling, drift and items. Karts can be unlocked by playing further into the game. However, the standard go-kart is often not a bad choice for traditionalists that don't like to try something new. Using different karts requires adapting new strategies which makes for interesting races.
Items also play a significant role and can greatly affect races. Often when leading races, blue spiky shells will launch towards your direction, if this happens near the finish line, the second-place kart can easily win if it avoids the bomb from the spiky shell. It can be helpful to avoid these shells by letting your opponent go into first place, or simply holding up and let them pass you while the shell arrives. Race leaders will usually get items such as bananas or green Koopa shells, those that are behind will get the more powerful ones to help them catch up. In the more difficult races it can be hard to win races as items can impact the results severely, on occasion giving cheap wins to your opponents.
The control in the DS game is more tight compared to the previous GameCube release. In a way it feels more realistic because in Double Dash, the kart often tended to swirl around on the screen. There are two keys to success in Mario Kart DS, that is drifting (also known as power sliding) and drafting. Proper drifting around turns give the kart a little speed boost and they can easily to add up to valuable seconds in your race. Compared to past Mario Kart games, they are a lot easier to do. In fact, they can even be easily used on straightaways to get boosts! Drafting is a new feature in the DS game, following directly behind another kart for a period also gives a boost to your player. This is more risky as the other kart can easily release an item to hit you. However it may be worth it to try on the final stretch to push towards the finish line.
The 3D graphics are rendered quite well in Mario Kart DS. Although the characters and karts do appear "boxy", especially compared to current generation video games, the presentation is very sharp and the animation runs at a smooth frame rate without noticeable slowdown. The display is very bright and vivid, and this can be especially be noticed when one plays on a Nintendo DS Lite. The audio is also great, and there are a lot of Mario-like tunes and sound effects, along with surround sound that can be felt when playing with headphones.
Since Mario Kart is a racing game, there isn't much that could've been done to use the touch screen and stylus of the Nintendo DS. There is a feature to allow you to draw your own emblem that is placed on the front of your kart, and also used in online races. The racing is focused on the top screen, while the bottom screen shows an overhead view of the track, with the karts, items and also hazards. If an opponent has an octopus and uses it to release ink, the top screen becomes blacked out for a few seconds, at this time you have rely on the bottom screen to guide yourself through until the view clears. Although this isn't a significant feature, it does add some value of the DS hardware into this game.
Mario Kart DS allows link play with 8 players. For online play through the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, you can play with up to three others. Playing online is pretty straightforward, if you want to play with friends you would have to exchange friend codes with each other, otherwise you'll connect on with random players on the network. Once connected, players will select their characters and karts, and their track of choice. In each round of online play there are a set of four races.
There are some flaws with the online play; the game assumes that you will play with a total of four players. If there are less than four players, a certain period of time must be passed before players can continue. There is no way to simply bypass the waiting and play without the maximum. Also, unless there are friends involved, the only play is anonymous and unfortunately there is no way to communicate with the other players. Presumably this is to protect the privacy of players, but for exciting races it would be nice to meet up again for a rematch.
The new features and increased strategic racing make Mario Kart DS a very entertaining game to play, and one of the best titles released so far on the Nintendo DS. Those who have played Mario Kart before will know what to expect, and this game certainly won't disappoint, those who haven't played before easily pick up the basics. Go-kart racing is fun, and Mario Kart DS certainly demonstrates it.