21 Nov, 2005

Mario Kart DS Review

DS Review | Time to get your kart on.
The Mario Kart series has always been regarded as one of the most accessible gaming experiences available, thanks to Nintendo’s lovable horde of misfits, pick-up-and-play controls and the great equalizer of pick-ups littering the track. As well as being accessible, Mario Kart has always been just plain good – even the weakest game in the series, Double Dash, was still an enjoyable experience. Now, the fifth game in the series, Mario Kart DS, has come to invade our DS. As if living up to the hype that being a Mario Kart game brings wasn’t enough, it’s also a big landmark for Nintendo: their first fully-fledged foray into the wonderful world of online. That’s a lot of pressure for a small black rectangle – can it possibly live up to all the hype?

If you’ve ever played a Mario Kart game, you’ll be at home here. The controls are, for the most part, identical – except for the change of the accelerator button to A, and brake to B, for obvious reasons. So that’s two buttons and a d-pad for control – something virtually everyone can understand. But, there’s more to it then that. Tapping the R button will send kart up in the air, and turning at the same time will launch the kart into a powerslide – and whipping the d-pad from side-to-side will also enable you to get a little speed boost, which is more critical than ever before. In fact, don’t expect to win on 150cc or online without mastering this technique. So, while beginners can have their fun, more experienced players can also fine-tune their boosting, among other little things – depth is a wonderful thing.

Slip-streaming other racers will result in a rather useful speedbost, while red-shelling Toad never gets old

Then there is the great equalizer – the power-ups – which can be deployed with a quick tap of the L button. Of course, old favourites return. The banana peel, green and red shells make up the staple of the arsenal, while the ghost also returns. The new power-ups are all quite good, really. The highlights are definitely the squid, which drops ink all over the screen making it rather difficult to see, and bullet-bill, which will launch the kart half way around the track at rocket speed, destroying any other kart foolish enough to be in the way. These give even the most untalented of drivers a fighting chance – successive purple homing shells will ruin the race of even the best driver.

Making up the driving roster are characters you would expect – Mario, Luigi, Donkey Kong, Bowser, and so on. While none of the characters available at the outset are new to the series, some of the unlockables are – one of which is rather ridiculously obscure. On top of that, each player now has two different karts to choose from – the traditional kart, of course, and a customized kart for each player. For example, Luigi has a giant vacuum cleaner, Toad a giant mushroom, and Yoshi an egg. Oh, and then there are the unlockable ones – that makes three for each character, for those counting at home.

The bulk of the single-player component lies in the various grand prix races. There are three difficulty levels in total – 50cc, 100cc, 150cc – where the karts and opponents get progressively faster and much, much more aggressive. While not terribly difficult on the first two difficulties, crank things up to 150cc and things get much more interesting. Not as interesting as we’d like, mind, but much tougher than the likes of Mario Kart 64 and Double Dash. Still, it won’t be long before seasoned karters have beaten every cup. But, there is a ranking system which should the extend lifespan here somewhat.

Of course, time trial makes it triumphant return and reminds us why Mario Kart is possibly the best time trial game out there. Different lines and, of course, boosting power slides, will see seconds shaved off a time for weeks – and then there are the shortcuts, which will drop times down even further. Oh, and, in a stroke of near-genius, there’s the ability to send and receive ghosts from other DS carts. Handy.

There are eight different cups in all, resulting in a healthy 32 tracks. Of these, 16 are completely new, and 16 are retro – four tracks have been taken from each of the past Mario Kart games, bringing that fuzzy feeling of nostalgia. The new tracks are also, for the most part, extremely good. Desert Hills and Waluigi Pinball excellent tracks, while Tick Tock Clock (of Super Mario 64 fame) and the Airship Fortress (the last level of Super Mario Bros. 3) are pretty innovative. Mastering each track, and finding their little shortcuts, will not happen overnight.

Remember Super Mario Kart, and the way it divided the screen in half to display a map? Well, it’s a no-brainer that this has happened in Mario Kart DS. The lower map is extremely well detailed, and can be switched between an overview of the entire track, or just the area local to your player. This second option is the best – it tells you where nearby racers are, and has so much detail that you can actually race around the track without looking at the main screen. On top of that, it does the little things – like displaying the power-ups carried by each of the other racers, for example – which make it more than just dual-screen for the sake of it, unlike many other DS games.

Not pictured: Yelling and screaming Baby Mario in the back seat

New to the game are the driving missions. There are six levels in all, each with eight sub-missions, including some rather inventive boss battles. Basically, these things are Gran Turismo style license tests, which don’t offer any unlockables. They’re an amusing distraction, but really, they are only for those who finish their games 100%.

Battle mode is now available in single-player, which is nice. Balloon battle is the main element here, with the goal being to ram shells, or any other available power-up, up the nearest opposition kart. The last player with any balloons remaining is the winner. But, rather than just the standard three balloons, Mario Kart DS comes with two extra balloons, which must be manually inflated by holding the select button or, cleverly, blowing frantically into the DS microphone. There is also the new addition of the shine runners mode, which consists of collecting stars from around the various battle arenas. Of course, pelting the opposition will force them to drop shells, and allow you to pick them up instead. It’s ok, but the balloon battles are much more entertaining.

Like always, the game is a blast when more than one DS around – up to eight players can embark on a crazy Vs race, or fight it out in the battle mode. Single cart multiplayer is also supported, and it’s fully featured too, with the only restrictions being a limited number of tracks. This is where the game really shines – the thrill of nailing someone with a shell right before the finishing line, then rubbing it in their face, is always nice.

But, as well as conventional multiplayer, there is also the coveted online mode – the first of its kind from Nintendo. To be honest, it is somewhat disappointing. Nintendo have gone the idiot-proof route, which means there isn’t a whole lot of options to choose from. There is no battle mode online, track selection is limited in order to prevent lag and, staggeringly, there is no way to communicate between your opponents – short of scribbling insanities on your kart’s custom decal in the built-in paint facility, anyway (though we know you’re all far too mature for that). The microphone is RIGHT THERE – would it of been that difficult to implement some sort of communication between people?

There are four different groups you can race against online – regional and worldwide players, friends, and rivals, which are fairly self-explanatory. Adding friends is somewhat if a chore. Every cart has a unique friend ID – a series of twelve characters – which, if you want to add someone to your list, must be entered in by both you and the friend. Hmm. On the good side, finding people to play against isn’t terribly difficult – provided you don’t mind staring at the ‘searching for opponents’ screen for a while. The game automatically tries to find four people, and will take a long time trying to find them – it takes a long time before it gives up and will finally start a game with less players. A manual way to force a game would have been nice – common sense, even. While the multiplayer mode feels extremely primitive, particularly when compared to any sort of PC online service, it is still good fun. The world of online is glad to have you, Nintendo.

As you would expect, the presentation is typically Nintendo. Each of the character’s are lovingly detailed and superbly animated – a staggering feat when you consider you don’t even see the characters out of their karts. The tracks are even better to look at, especially the new ones. They are all busy and full of life – for example, the waterfalls in Yoshi Falls are particularly eye-catching. If there is a problem here, it’s that the textures become noticeably blocky if you stay still for so long – but that’s hardly something anybody will be aiming to do, so it isn’t a big issue. The sound is also typically Nintendo, with those simple but infectious tunes on almost every track. On top of that, they also reflect the atmosphere of each course – the Airship Fortress is particularly menacing, while Peach Gardens and Delphino Square are noticeably upbeat. Oh, and the characters all have their trademark catch phrases, which can be heard almost constantly when you’re in a tight pack. There aren’t many samples, but they rarely become annoying – hearing Yoshi utter his own name when he passes an opponent will have you gushing every time.

As you can see, going too slow and increasing the resolution makes things somewhat blocky

Mario Kart DS has, surprisingly, managed to live up to the hype placed upon it – almost. The one player is thankfully much more entertaining than it has been in recent times, thanks to harder – but not hard enough – 150cc cups, the interesting driving missions and a much-appreciated single player battle mode. In multiplayer, the game is even better. The only significant disappointment comes from the somewhat simple online mode – but even that is nothing to be sneezed at. Basically put, Mario Kart DS is a complete package, with something for everyone. If you have a DS, you really have no excuse not to buy this game. And if you don’t have a DS, then this is the best incentive you will ever get.
The Score
Mario Kart at its absolute finest. Miss it at your peril. 9
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related Mario Kart DS Content

Mario Kart DS demonstration
23 Jan, 2006 Watch out for the snowball.
Mario Kart Aussie showdown
05 Dec, 2005 Think you're good at Mario Kart? Come and prove it.
Online Mario Kart: rather popular
24 Nov, 2005 45% of new owners drive online.
8 years ago
Mario Kart at its absolute finest.

Nothing more needs to be said. Except for, buy it.
8 years ago
Brendan wrote
And if you don’t have a DS, then this is the best incentive you will ever get.
Fine icon_evil.gif icon_sad.gif
8 years ago
So, in other words, "Mario Kart DS is awesome. Buy it or you suck"

I'd have to agree with that.
8 years ago
And if you don’t have a DS, then this is the best incentive you will ever get.
No, actually Ouendan's the main reason. This is one more for the must buy list then.
8 years ago
I have no idea why but this game still hasn't got me excited ... can anyone who actually owns the tell us how easy it is to get an online game going?
8 years ago
Jeremy wrote
can anyone who actually owns the tell us how easy it is to get an online game going?
The answer is "extremely"...

If you have a wireless router or the USB dongle, it's about as easy and turning on the DS and playing single player mode.
8 years ago
Very easy - just hit a few buttons.

Setting up the DS to connect to WiFi? That's trickier.
8 years ago
Brendan wrote
one of which is rather ridiculously obscure..
Who is it?
8 years ago
ROB - the Robotic Operating Buddy of NES fame.
8 years ago
David wrote
Brendan wrote
one of which is rather ridiculously obscure..
Who is it?
That would be a certain nigh-useless but cool-looking accessory that came with the NES...

I suspect that part of the reason for not having microphones active in online play is protecting kiddies from obscenities. Sadly they still have visual obscenity, but what can you do?

So far 3 of my DS games have made people go out and buy a DS of their own: Nintendogs, Phoenix Wright and Mario Kart. That's all the reccomendation you need icon_smile.gif
8 years ago
Brendan wrote
ROB - the Robotic Operating Buddy of NES fame.
EvilHayama wrote
a certain nigh-useless but cool-looking accessory that came with the NES...
I thought that's what you meant. SO just to prove how hardcore I am, here's a picture of my TWO R.O.B.s!

(pictured with my Samurai Spirits 4 to prove they're actually mine and not a stock photo)
8 years ago
Aha. So David, what the hell do those things do exactly? I was under the impression they spun discs and stuff, and had a grand total of two games that worked for them.
8 years ago
you said the sound is great and I agree except for one part, bloody Daisy's voice is incredibly annoying as are the things she says 'hey' 'hey' 'yo', but other than that the game is excellent, oh but I wish rainbow road was longer and my fave n64 tracks were included, but no complaints its so good I'd play now if I didn't neede to do homework *sigh*

Buy it!
8 years ago
Brendan wrote
Aha. So David, what the hell do those things do exactly? I was under the impression they spun discs and stuff, and had a grand total of two games that worked for them.
Yeah, only two games work with them, bit it's just soooo cool the way they work.

It's like a light gun in reverse. You do something on the screen, and it makes the robot move in the way you instruct it. The most incredible part is that it doesn't plug into the NES at all - it's battery powered, and recieves all movement instruction via the screen commands! he can move his hands up and down to five levels, rotate about 270 degrees, and grip and open the arms.

The game gyromite comes with an electromagnetic gyro spinner that plugs into ROB, and some metal gyroscopes, as well as a controller cradle. Basically, you spin up the gyro, and then get ROB to obey your commands to place them on some pads that press the buttons on a controller plugged into port 2. His button presses open and close doors in the on screen lode runner-like puzzle game, where ROB's creator 'professor robo' needs ROB's help to save his lab. It basically brings a physical strategy element to an action puzzler.

They gyros can spin for 15 minues, and it's just sublime when you complete a hard level using your robot PAL. It truly is awesome.

(I don't have the other compatible game - Stack up. I'll just check ebay again!)

Sorry for going off topic everyone else!
8 years ago
Great work Brendan, however I think you may have forgotten to add details about the mirror cups.

I just finished the game off tonight (not three stars on everything and staff ghosts of corse) and I still can't get enough icon_biggrin.gif. My WiFi record is standing at a healthy 103 - 36. I have put allready at least 20 hours into the game.

I agree with you about the on line improvements needed, such as not being punished for leaving half way through a race. The amount of times I've started with 4 racers and ended up alone is infuriating. An example, I saw a racer with stats of 50 - 0 and sure enough, half way through he disconnected as he was losing.

I don't know about the voice messaging though. Sure maybe amoung friends, but I can think of better ways to spend my times than getting abuse from random US people who I race.

Great game, 2nd best of the year IMO (1st = RE4). Once again good review and I would pritty much agree with the score.

*I had never heard of ROB untill Wario Ware Touched and now he's even got on the MK series! Looks like a cool devise though David.
8 years ago
ROB also features in F-Zero GX.

So yeah, reading this confirms how much I want this title (and my DS for that matter) but patience is gonna have to be my virtue. I am actually considering asking mum for a DS for Christmas, but due to our financial situation (still getting settled into the new house) I seriously doubt I would receive one. Oh well, I can wait. Just as long as you lot are willing to play online when I do eventually get it. icon_wink.gif
8 years ago
Great review. It just show that how sad I am when I still havn't got it yet.

As for R.O.B, why do I get a feeling that he gonna play a part in Revolution.
8 years ago
Nice review. If that review didn't do enough to convice you to get this game, maybe this will.

Buy it

I'm really tired right now...
8 years ago
I'll chime in - this game is brilliant, and was totally worth buying with the DS in that bundle they've got going.

Awesome game in itself, and compared to the rest of the "Mario Kart" series, it's by far the best one in my books (and I'be played them all at one stage or another).
8 years ago
Andronicus wrote
I'll chime in - this game is brilliant, and was totally worth buying with the DS in that bundle they've got going.

Awesome game in itself, and compared to the rest of the "Mario Kart" series, it's by far the best one in my books (and I'be played them all at one stage or another).
So are you online dude? If not, get to it, and then gimme your friend code!
8 years ago
Once I get a router I'll be online too.

Great game so far, although I am pretty rusty at it so far.

Just finished 50cc and 100cc Modes, will be going for 150cc during the holidays.
8 years ago
^ When do your holidays start?
For me that is to long a wait (3 weeks, I think) 150cc is fairly challenging actually I've still gotta do 2 more 100cc cups.

Nismo ask for cash then (ya know not a lot) and then maybe sell some stuff, it's worth the effort.
8 years ago
Don't exactly have much to sell really. Won't be selling any of my games, so that doesn't leave much else. Can I sell my family for it? icon_wink.gif
8 years ago
icon_lol_old.gif Nismo.

the_cro my holidays start at Friday after 11am where Npie, I and others will be heading to the shopping centre, eating, browsing and watching Saw 2.

Back to topic, just did two 150cc cups and my addiction with this game is definatly certainly rising.
Add Comment
Like this review?
Share it with this tiny url: http://palg.nu/sd

N4G : News for Gamers         Twitter This!

Digg!     Stumble This!

| More
  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  Out Now
European Release Date:
  Out Now

Related Media
Currently Popular on PALGN
Australian Gaming Bargains - 08/12/11
'Tis the season to be bargaining.
R18+ Legislation
R18+ Legislation
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations Preview
Hands on time with the game. Chat time with the CEO of CyberConnect 2.
PALGN's Most Anticipated Games of 2007
24 titles to keep an eye on during 2007.
PALGN's Most Anticipated Games of 2008
And you thought 2007 was populated.