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Mario Kart DS Review
Posted on December 03, 2008 by Oscar Gonzalez

It used to be that with every Nintendo system, you would be guaranteed to see a new Mario and a new Zelda. Over time, Nintendo has increased their stock of gaming franchises, and those franchises are becoming standards in the different Nintendo systems' libraries. Mario Kart started on the SNES and has made its way to the N64, GBA, GC, Nintendo DS and Wii. This review is about the pinnacle of the portable effort, Mario Kart DS.

Mario Kart DS follows the same tradition of the previous Mario Kart games. You choose from several lovable Nintendo characters and race around a track. That's as simple as it can get, but it wouldn't be worthy to be part of the series if it just ended there. One thing Nintendo has always done with this series is taking an extra step with every game. This game was the first Mario Kart game to go online which is a big deal. We'll talk about that beauty of a feature a bit later.

Of course with the DS, we have to talk about the Dual Screens for just a bit. In Mario Kart DS, the race action takes place on the top screen while the bottom is more of a status screen but it provides some great info. Some of the info includes the current rank of racers and also what items those racers have. Then there's the race map that can be very useful to cut a corner here and there. Finally, there a little icons that represent the other racers and any hazards on the track that may screw you over (shells, banana peels, fake item boxes).

In the single player grand prix mode, there are a total of 32 tracks spread out over 8 grand prix. So you pick a grand prix and play through four tracks with each track going through a variety of locations from standard tracks to locales from a game like Luigi's Mansion. As a lovely twist, 16 of those tracks are from the previous Mario Kart games so you can go back and reflect on some tracks you've played in the past. Just like previous Mario Kart games, you can choose between the 50cc, 100cc, and 150cc classes which are basically different difficulties. When choosing a character, you have choices of not just the character but also the vehicle they're driving. Every character has different stats and those vehicles have stats of their own. At the beginning, you have a good variety but you get an even larger choice the more you play.

The race itself comes down to two mechanics: items and drifting. The use of items has been a mainstay to the Mario Kart series. At spots in the course, there are item boxes you run into and from there you get a random item. Items like green, red and blue shells take out your opponents in various ways while other items like mushrooms give you a little boost. The items vary and the use of items can ultimately decide the race. On the other hand, the drift is there anytime you want it and you'll need to use it all the time if you want to get the best times. The drift start simple enough, by clicking and holding the R button, your kart will do a little hop and then turn into whatever direction you decide. Where the drift comes important is that by moving the Dpad left and right, the kart's skid will change color from grey smoke to blue to orange and at that point you'll get a little speed boost once you release the drift. This is where the game really shows its depth because the use of the drift benefits in a variety of ways from the ease of getting out of tight turns to the free boost you can get, you will have play close attention to the line you're on. Like any quality racing game, it's your goal to calculate the attributes of your vehicle/rider and figure out where that ideal line is at in order to give you the edge over your opponents.

To go along with the single player grand prix mode there is also mission mode and battle mode. Mission mode consists of completing a certain task within a certain amount of time such as collecting coins on a track. As you progress, the missions become harder and harder. Battle mode has been around since the beginning as well keeping the balloons on your kart protected while taking out the balloons on the other drivers.

We finally get to multiplayer. You can share the game with up to 8 other player with those nearby allowing you to have some nice fun. Yet it's the online mode that breaks the walls down for the Mario Kart series. By entering your wifi router info, or hotspot, you will have access to play people across the US by choosing regional or go worldwide to play everyone and anyone. If there's a downside to online play it's that the races are restricted to four players and it's easy to quit. Aside from that, playing Mario Kart DS online is some of the most fun you'll have. Even though there's no communication between players, there's a natural drama that happens when playing against good players. Combine the fun with keeping a record of your wins and losses will make you play again and again. Even three years after its release, you can still find an online game in the late hours of the night against people from across the world. Surprisingly, playing with someone in another hemisphere plays smoothly as if it is someone sitting right next to you. If you have some buddies you want to play with on a regular basis from a long distance, there are friend codes to keep you away from the strangers out there in the online gaming world, or as I call them, assholes.

So we already have a great game, and now we can take a look at its great graphics. The characters are very impressive looking sprites but the real eye-candy are the tracks. There's so much going on in some tracks and it just looks so good. Waluigi Pinball track is a perfect example because you have pinballs moving around with the big lights as if you're in a pinball machine creating a beautiful track that requires you to be alert with all the action going on. Older tracks get a nice update graphically while keeping the track in its original state. Musically, Mario Kart DS keep those catchy tunes used in the Mario Kart games. Each track has its own music, and while they're simple pieces of music, it's a joy to listen to as you race around the track.

Prior to Mario Kart Wii, Mario Kart DS was the best Mario Kart game. In any case, it's still the best racing game for any portable system. The quick races are ideal for playing on the go adding the ability to play online with anyone online.

Oscar Gonzalez - Editor-in-Chief og (@) | all author's articles

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