Is it that time again? Yes, Nintendo have released yet another instalment to their highly successful Mario Kart franchise. This comes in the form of Mario Kart DS exclusive of course for the Nintendo DS portable gaming system. Of course, it comes to nobody’s surprise that it was going to happen, I mean releasing this game can practically call out to all kinds of audiences young and old, gamer and non gamer alike because let’s be honest: There aren’t an awful lot of you guys out there who will read this review whom have never played a single Mario Kart game before, whether it was on the SNES, N64, GBA or GC. So what better way to sell a partially failing handheld device than to release one of your company’s biggest selling franchises of all time? It’s a smart move and quite frankly, not just for Nintendo. You see, this game is finger-licking good.
For those of you unfamiliar with the title, for whatever reasons, here’s what you’ve been missing out on:
Back in 1992, Mario Kart was first released on the Super Nintendo and immediately was an instant hit with Nintendo fans all over the globe. Not only did it feature that little plumber and his friends that had already proven fan favourites, it put them in little Karts and forced them to race and battle it out in a highly addictive and exciting racing game rarely seen in the early nineties. For the next 10 years or so, the game would go through numerous incarnations on all of Nintendo’s hit consoles over the time, leading up to their latest Mario Kart: Double Dash released in 2003 for Nintendo’s GameCube. Aside from being an inclusion of all that Mario Kart had come to be from the past 10 years, MKDD also added new features such as a team based operation that allowed one player to control the kart and another to control weaponry.
And then there was the Nintendo DS. Released in 2005 as a supposed revolution in portable gaming design, the Nintendo DS or Nintendo ‘Dual Screen’ boasted 2 screens just over the size of a GBA screen each, one of which being touch sensitive. So with the news of a new Mario Kart coming to town, people naturally expected new things. Well, they were wrong… in a sense. You see, although lacking in many new or innovative gameplay features, Mario Kart DS was now to support Mario’s first ever online experience, also a first for the DS.
So how much of a port is it? Is it enough to give the DS a much needed boost against the Sony PSP and how good exactly is the online play? Read on to find out.
1. GAME MODES
When it comes to variety, Mario Kart DS has quite a selection of it at hand straight off the get-go. Primarily you have the option of choosing out of 3 main categories of play. These are: Single Player, Multiplayer and Nintendo WFC. Just by looking at the titles you can probably figure out what each one holds within. They’re pretty self explanatory but I’ll go over them all in more detail just to show you how much there really is.
Single Player will more than often see you racing it out in the classic Mario Kart style Grand Prix mode against 7 other players based around 4 cups, each with 4 races in 4 different maps. All together there is a satisfying 32 maps in total for the racing circuits, 16 of which are brand new and the rest are neatly taken straight from the old SNES, GBA, N64 and GC versions. Take into consideration that there are 3 different difficulty modes (50cc,100cc,150cc) as expected with MK games, each with 2 different sets of 4 cups to race through and you have quite a time filler on your hands and whole lot of Mario Kart fun. A lot of these cups etc. will of course need to be unlocked as you progress but it shouldn’t really take that much effort on the 50cc difficulty. If however, you need a break from all the competition there’s a whole host of other modes for you to play on your own. There’s Time Trials, which set you out on a 3 lap race of a course seeking to set a new time record. VS mode which is simply an exhibition match with settings that you configure including team-based scoring or choosing a specific maps for you to practice racing. Even if racing’s not your favourite thing to do (not very likely, I know), there are the and game modes which are considerably fun in their own rights. People who have played either Mario Kart 64 or the GC Double Dash will know all about the battle mode which places you in maps specific for Battles, against 7 others seeing to destroy each other with pickup weapons which you can collect within the level, scattered all over the area.
One of MKDS’s nicest additions is its ‘Missions’ feature that challenges you to complete mini tasks such as drive through giant tires, collecting coins or performing power slides a certain number of times. Not only is it a refreshing addition to the game but it also helps fine tune those rusty areas of your driving by focusing in on it and helping you learn how to master them to a professional level. All in all there are 54 of the side missions split into 6 groups of difficulty for you to work through which also includes a boss battle at the end of each stage. Challenging and new, Mission Mode is a great example of how MK can still keep up to date and continue to grow.
Multiplayer is for those of you with friends with a DS console, either with or without the game itself, although people without the game will not have as much options to chose from when racing from what I’ve heard. There’s not as much modes on offer this time around but what there is, is certainly a brilliant experience when using the DS’ Local Multiplayer feature. You can choose to race in situations customisable as such with the VS mode in Single Player, or battle it out in Battle Mode against up to 7 friends. What makes Multiplayer such fun is that you can now connect wirelessly, free of any problems, each with your own DS system, with no lag or trouble of any sort. If you can find people out there with a copy of MKDS, it would certainly be worthy of your time.
Nintendo WFC is the brand new online racing feature that has made MKDS stand out from all the rest not just in the franchise, but on the DS itself. To connect you will need either a supported Wireless Router with your Internet connection already set up or a Nintendo USB WiFi adapter for your computer which allows for Internet Connection Sharing to your DS. I myself tested 2 routers, 1 of which worked and the other didn’t so it’s really hit or miss whether or not you’ll need to purchase the Nintendo WiFi adapter. Once connected to WFC online, you’ll only be able to race in the VS mode in a sort of Grand Prix style that puts you against 3 other racers specified from areas which you can choose. You choose from racing ‘Friends’ (up to 32 can be stored through Friends Codes), ‘Rivals’ (opponents of an equal ability to you), ‘Continental’ (Same country as you) or Worldwide. Generally, the process of searching for players may take some time, sometimes longer than a few minutes depending on when you try to play and whom you specified to search for. Once it starts however, the fun begins and there isn’t really much waiting around at all. You’ll race against up to 3 other players (sometimes less) in 4 maps which can be voted for before the race takes place. The winner of course is the person who comes out with the most points at the end of a set of 4 races and he/she will be rewarded with another tally onto the Win count on the MK stat page. The whole thing is incredibly addictive and is something that the MK series has needed for a long time.
Sadly there are some down-sides to the online play. Firstly and most annoyingly is that when playing against an opponent, and for whatever reason, he/she disconnects, as does everyone else and the game ends automatically. This can prove to be incredibly frustrating when about to win an entire set of 4 maps only to have the game ended by someone that either got disconnected or just couldn’t take acquiring another tally to his loser score. What makes it even worse is that there’s absolutely no way of avoiding it, it’s a risk you’ll just have to take each and every race you step into. What would also have been good to have would be a chat system. I often find myself wanting to thank people for a good race or whatever but not being able to. I guess I’m just too involved with Xbox Live.
With much to offer, MKDS certainly will keep you satisfied for a long time and won’t get boring or repetitive any time soon. There are however, some slight problems and a lot of the fun is held in the game’s multiplayer modes, so not everyone will get to experience the whole selection on offer. What MKDS does bring to table however is a portable Mario Kart that has more than enough selection of mash, bash vroom and zoom to keep any MK enthusiast at bay.
Game Mode Rating: 9
2. GAMEPLAY & CONTROL
Controls within Mario Kart are perfect for that pick-up-and-play experience that has made MK what it is today. Simple directional steering with left & right buttons, A to accelerate and B to reverse. Taking it a step further and you can add in the left shoulder button to fire your weapon pickup or the right trigger to perform a power slide which allows for high speed, sharp precision turning for difficult corners and professional racing. Other options available to you in the more advanced range is the power boosts you can gain from drifting (staying behind) an opponent, holding down the acceleration button at the right moment before the start of the race or by pressing left & right simultaneously while performing a power slide. For a Mario Kart title, there’s a fair amount of options available to you all in a simple enough interface, allowing new players to drive feely as they wish without any MK knowledge, and at the same time keeping those MK Pro’s out there happy with the power boosts and other controls available. The touch screen is hardly used unless you like to select things on the menu by doing so or if you want to draw your own Emblem to show off on your kart through the games paint option. As far as in-game racing goes, touch the screen and the top-down view of the track will change. That’s it really. I believe that Nintendo done well in avoiding incorporating the touch screen, as that could have been messy.
Overall gameplay is brilliant. Featuring a cast of 8 characters to race as to begin with, each with their own personalised karts of which both you can unlock more. Each character’s kart has its own statistics which include speed, acceleration, weight, handling, drift and items. Speed and acceleration are self-explanatory; weight, handling and drift will affect the control of the car and how easily you are affected by others bumping into you; the items rating will give you a rough estimate of what percentage of items you pick up will be highly effective. Having a good ‘items’ score will result in a lot of the games most prized items being picked up by that character more than often.
Speaking of power-ups, there’s 3 brand new additions to the MKDS inventory and they couldn’t be more welcome. Number one is the Bob-Omb which is essentially a timed bomb that you can fire into your opponent’s path, hoping that it will explode just as they pass. Either that or you can aim at them directly and it will explode on contact, sending them flying into the air. Number two is the Bullet Bill of which simply transforms you into a giant bullet (by the name of Bullet Bill); sending you down the course at a very high speed on autopilot, leaving any opponents you pass over in pain. Finally is number three, a Blooper (a flying squid) which squirts ink onto the opponent’s screen causing the view on the top screen to be restricted for a good 5 seconds or so by black blots. Accompanying these additions is of course all your favourite classic weaponry such as the Banana peels, stars and shells. Sound like fun? You bet it is.
Toss all that in with innovative multiplayer modes, original mission games and fantastically interactive courses than can send you flying at tremendous speeds, circling loops, bouncing off pinball flippers and riding revolving pipelines and you have a clear winner. There is no doubt that the gameplay within MK was destined to be something of brilliance since the idea started back in the early nineties and it’s still just as good, if not even better 10 or so years later.
Control Rating: 5/5
Gameplay Rating: 5/5
Mario Kart is looking just as good as it ever does on Nintendo’s consoles right here on the DS. Each character looks Just as they should and the amount of work that has went into creating the rich and colourful worlds in which you’ll explore whilst racing is something still to be admired. Although not featuring graphics found on the modern day PC systems or consoles, MKDS does offer the user another chance at experiencing that MK universe one more time, the way it was meant to be, flashy or not. Not only this but as it’s cartridge-based, the game’s frame rate is highly consistent throughout and never fails to keep the game looking as smooth as ever. MKDS feature slightly out-dated graphics but is nonetheless inviting and wonderful to look at. Not to mention that it is a portable gaming system, and aside from the PSP, it’s got the best 3D visuals out there.
Graphics Rating: 7/10
Not much has changed in this department either, as we see Nintendo sticking to their guns and keeping the old style MK theme tunes and sound effects and putting them onto the new DS version. Nothing musically really stands out after you play MK and you probably won’t have one of the tunes stuck in your head unless you play it for a very long time. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t of good quality however because they are and although most sound a lot like each other, there are the odd stand-outs such as Bowser’s Castle and the Pinball themes. Add to this the speeding up of the tunes as you reach the final lap, adding a great amount of excitement to the race and you’ll see why it really does have its charming moments. Engine sounds somewhat let the game down, leaning more to a cartoon-like sound rather than that of a real engine. Weapons and environment sound effects are spot on, leaving a really good impression that yes, you just got ran over by a massive bullet. Character sfx and speech are just as they usually are, making the odd comment when they pass you or you whack them with a weapon. Overall, not the greatest game in terms of music, but not that bad either. Sound effects however are what redeems MKDS and restores that good name.
Sound Rating: 7/10
Mario Kart DS’s Single Player mode as mentioned above has a lot to offer in terms of game modes and will take a good 10-15 hours to get through if you’re skilled enough. Then there are always all those unlockablea that require perfecting races and getting 3 star ratings based on your driving skill. Throw in the Multiplayer and online features and you have a massive amount of replay-ability, never seen before by a MK game, and they were already highly addictive and lasted years. Look at it this way: 13 years on from the first game and a new one has been released with essentially the same style of gameplay. If it can last 13 years, who knows how much longer it can go.
Lifeline Rating: 10/10
6. DIFFICULTY BALANCE
Mario Kart has always been based around three difficulty settings: 50cc, 100cc & 150cc. As you progress through each setting and each cup you will notice that enemy’s will get faster, handle more carefully and use weapons more efficiently. The rate at which it eases this difficulty change in is almost perfect, it’s not something that will strike you straight away if you go from 100cc to 150cc as being ‘so much harder’. Instead MK offers a steady and easy way to learn and grapple with the game in a enjoyable way.
Karts within the game do have their advantages and disadvantages and most of all, there is the clear standouts that win the most races online, but there is a high percentage that are amongst this category. Of course, it isn’t like most online racing games where you have all the racers sporting the absolute greatest car available in the game, instead there are numerous karts to fit your needs whether you like speed, handling or items. The work that has went into balancing the karts statistics is no doubt appreciated and allows for a fun challenge as to find out which kart best suits you.
One thing that can be said about Mario Kart’s gameplay though is that it can be undeniably easy for people at the back end of the race to pick up some great pickups and manage to overcome all odds to win the game just by picking up a lucky draw. There is a slight imbalance here that has been with the MK title since 1992 and to be honest, is that much of a big deal. Sometimes, it can be a little frustrating however, especially when up against already hard to beat players.
Overall a fairly well balanced game that offers a challenge to newcomers and veterans alike. One thing that could have been added is an even harder difficulty but to be honest if you need that, you should just go online.
Difficulty Balance Score: 9/10
Well there’s not much that can be said here. There are a few original ideas behind this game, one of which is the massive Online Mode and others such as the Mission Mode. There is also the added bonus of being able to play in maps from 4 previous games throughout the titles existence. It has to be said however, that this is the 5th game of the series and hasn’t really got that much of a difference about it. There is some new stuff packed in here but it’s more than often that same old Mario Kart experience.
Originality Score: 6/10
Finally we have the most important part of any game. So important it should be given a score out of 20, but that would be unfair. Enjoying playing Mario Kart is about as easy as 1+1 and I really doubt there is anyone out there who could pick up this game, give it a spin on VS mode and not take great satisfaction in speeding around using all sorts of crazy weapons to take out enemies seen throughout Mario games past and present.
Not only is it simply another Mario Kart game, but it is now fully portable and you can take it everywhere you go. Find a hotspot and you can even go online and race against people all over the world. It seems prayers from MK fans have been answered and one of the best renditions of the series has been delivered right to our greedy little hands. With tons to offer and so many ways in which to keep coming back and playing this game, there is essentially no end to the fun whilst playing MKDS.
Enjoyment Score: 10/10
Gameplay & Control: 10
XGD SCORE: 9/10
MKDS is simply a fantastic game and most people will already know why. Fans that already own all 4 of the past versions on Nintendo’s consoles should pick this up regardless. The whole new multiplayer mode is something you do not want to miss out on, even with its minor flaws; the pros still far out-weigh the cons. For those of you who haven’t given the series a try or are still on the fence, I would definitely recommend picking up this game, as long as your DS can connect to the internet, otherwise I suggest you rent it out and find a hotspot somewhere to at least give it a shot. If you look at the score you’ll see that it’s only the slightly outdated graphic and audio style along with the fact that it’s another Mario Kart that drags the game’s score down. So if you don’t have a problem with any of that, you may as well give it a 9.6.
A truly great rendition of a fantastic title, Mario Kart DS will undoubtedly remind you of the good old days, when it was just your friends, SNES, you and Mario Kart. Some great additions to an already fantastic formula, MKDS is certainly a game to even consider buying a Nintendo DS to play, especially for fans of the franchise already.