supermooseman's Mario Kart DS (Nintendo DS) review

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Mario Kart isn't your average racing game. The graphics aren't meant to be realistic, nor is the gameplay. Have you ever seen a banana skin dropped from the back of your car or a blue shell fired to hit the person in the lead on Need for Speed? Didn't think so. Mario Kart DS is the fifth game in the series and is the first to use online abilities, which it uses perfectly and makes what was already a great game, a superb game.

There are several modes in Mario Kart DS, the main being the Grand Prix mode. You compete against seven other computer-controlled racers in two separate Grand Prixs, each consisting of four cups, and each cup consisting of four tracks. That's thirty two tracks in total. The first Grand Prix, Nitro GP, has sixteen never-before-seen tracks while Retro GP contains sixteen tracks seen before in previous Mario Kart instalments. There are three difficulty classes to pick from: 50cc, 100cc and 150cc. You can also unlock a 150cc mirror mode which, hence the name, mirrors the tracks and makes it that bit harder. When you complete a cup you get awarded a trophy based on how well you did. Scoring high in the cups can unlock new characters and karts.

A second mode is entitled Battle Mode which is split into two different games: Balloon Battle and Shine Runners. In Balloon Battle the main objective is to knock out other players by popping their balloons (hitting them with a weapon) or stealing them for yourself (mushroom at them). This game makes use of the DS' microphone as you have to blow into it to make your balloons inflate. Shine Runners has you trying to collect the most amount of shines from around the course or stealing them from other players, in hope of becoming the player with the most shines at the end of the round. Both of these games feature five unique courses not seen in the Grand Prix.

There is also a mission mode which has you completing missions such as going through the gates in order or picking up all the coins. When you complete each mission it will rate how well you did out of three (stars). If you get one star or more on each mission it will unlock six more, previously hidden missions. Time Trial mode also features which is just you racing alone trying to beat the best time set on that course.

Obviously the DS has two screens and Mario Kart makes good use of both. The top screen shows the race in full 3D. The graphics are some of the best on the DS, which is always a good thing. The bottom screen shows the whole course (birds-eye view, 2D) and where everyone is on it or you can change the display to show a close up (still birds-eye view and in 2D) of your player and the weapons and course nearby.

A big part of Mario Kart is the weapons and the DS version doesn't disappoint. There is the banana skin that you can fire and try and make another racer slip up on it, the red shell which you can fire to take out the person in front of you, the blue shell which takes out the person in first place, Bullet Bill which turns you into just that and gives you a limited time to race around as him, knocking people out of your path.... the list goes on. The weapons are picked up in question mark boxes and whatever weapon you get depends on your characters stats and your position in the race.

There are thirteen characters in the game, three of them new the series. All the usual characters return such as Mario, Luigi, Peach, Yoshi and so on. Three new characters are Dry Bones, R.O.B. and Shy Guy (who is only playable via DS Download Play). Daisy, Waluigi, Dry Bones and R.O.B. have to be unlocked, however.

As mentioned earlier, Mario Kart DS is the first of the series to have online capabilities. If you are with up to eight mates you can play all the courses in the game or you can race on eight tracks using DS Download Play if some people don't have the cartridge. Sadly, the eight tracks aren't the best ones of the game and you'll be happier if everyone has the game.

If you aren't with any of your friends, you can play via the Wi-Fi connection. Up to four players can play at once on twenty of the tracks (some aren't playable due to high animation, which is a shame) and you will get awarded with a win or loss after each race. The game hardly, if ever, lags which gives you great, seamless kart racing experience! Mario Kart DS is easily the best Mario Kart so far due to the fact it has online play, new weapons and characters and the fact it is just downright fun. A must-have for all DS owners, whatever the gender or age.
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