Mario Kart DS Review / Preview for the Nintendo DS (NDS)

Mario Kart DS Review / Preview for the Nintendo DS (NDS)

What’s the sound of millions of DS owners starting their engines? Perhaps it’s a low rumble that shakes the earth to its core or maybe it’s simply KA-CHING, like a cash register. In any event Mario fans everywhere are pleased as punch to be playing the latest installment of the grand-daddy kart racer that not only defined a genre but managed to decimate any competition along the way. Mario Kart DS doesn’t reinvent the wheel here; it’s business as usual and everyone knows what to expect. Nintendo jammed a lot into this little card: tons of tracks, half of which are a ‘Greatest Hits’ of previous games now done to perfection on the DS, 4 player online, 8 player Wi-Fi and of course that trademark quality that goes into every Nintendo release.

All of your favorite characters are included and as per the commandments established when Mario came down off Mount Olympus with the stone tablets….err…I think I’m mixing my history here, sorry….anyway, the characters and their respective mean machines are based on Accelaration, Speed and Control. Toad for example has excellent acceleration, while Mario has a good balance of all three factors and Wario and Bowser favor speed. Don’t always assume that speed wins out as it often takes awhile to accelerate after being hit (and you will be hit). No one character has it all sewn up and you might be the type of player who constantly changes characters depending on the track or goes with brand loyalty. Whatever works.

So w hat is the first thing you do when faced with a game that you’ve never been able to take online before? You take it online. Duh! Thankfully the Linksys Wireless router in my house was compatible and I had little trouble connecting. I can’t say the same for everyone out there and unfortunately some might require a stopover at their local Nintendo dealer to pick up the Nintendo Wi-Fi USB Connector if their router isn’t supported. The Wi-Fi USB Connector effectively turns your PC (Windows XP required) into a wireless hub which will allow up to 5 DS systems to connect online (the DS has wireless built in remember). I’ve set up wireless networks in the past and I found Nintendo’s system to be geared to the average person who doesn’t know anything about wireless, which is a good thing since the instructions are easy to understand and implement. The only downside as far as taking MK online is that unlike the XBL service for Xbox, your online ‘friends’ list is game/card specific which means you will need to set up friends codes for each game that you plan to take online. It’s not a huge PITA (pain in the…) but it is slightly clunkier than if the friends list could have been saved to the system.

Once you do connect and get to a race, you’ll discover a few ugly sides of Mario Kart. First off, if you don’t know how to Boost Start, I’d suggest practicing before you get online or you’ll be eating dust right off the bat. Secondly, if you do manage to pull ahead of the pack it probably won’t be long before the jackass in fourth place jacks out of the Matrix. Then, since the third player has been bumped down to last place, he’ll jack out too. That’s just unsportsmanlike. Suck it up! This game does allow you to make some headway if you’re sucking tailpipe in last position. Maybe you’ll get some kick ass weapons like the new Blooper which goops up the players screens. It’s devious and evil, but it really does mess things up nicely for the competition giving an unfair advantage to the disadvantaged. But that’s what Mario Kart is all about.

If you are playing against friends who don’t mind racing to the bitter end, then you’ll have a blast online. Unfortunately due to lag and other issues, only four players are allowed per track but that won’t make a difference to you. It’s still a lot of fun to play. Those of you who read my reviews regularly know that I’ve never been a fan of splitscreen racing so playing online or Wi-Fi with other players around is completely worth the price of admission alone. Online you’ll run into some lag here and there but it’s nothing you haven’t experienced before and it’s definitely not a deal breaker.

If you do manage to have friends who haven’t bought this game yet, get some new friends. No but seriously folks, MKDS will allow up to 8 players on one card via Wi-Fi. Options such as characters will be limited to those who don’t own their own MKDS card, but you’ll still be able to enjoy a lot of what the game has to offer. Think of it like an extended preview. A few rounds and they’ll be off to the store to pick up their own copy.

Mario Kart fans will be delighted to know that there are 16 classic tracks taken from previous games in the series. Nintendo tried to pick the ‘fan favorites’ and I’m fairly certain you won’t be disappointed. That’s not to suggest the new tracks are nothing to sneeze at. Personally I usually prefer “new blood” but I can respect that diehards will love tearing up the asphalt to some of their tried and true favorite tracks all over again. The Grand Prix mode (50cc, 100cc, 150cc) are present and accounted for as is the Battle Mode. New to the DS version is Mission Mode which mixes up the racing by requiring you to complete objectives as you zoom zoom around the tracks. New weapons have been added but to say anymore would be to ruin the excitement. You should be playing this game, not reading about it!

While half of the tracks may be the same, Double Dash!! fanatics might be wondering if the control is completely different due to adjusting from the Cubes analog stick to the DS d-pad. I was surprised at how quickly I adjusted considering I play a lot of Mario Kart Double Dash!! with my son. By the end of the first race I was completely comfortable with the techinique and adjusted accordingly and therefore I doubt anyone will have any complications. The map can be found on the entire bottom screen and it’s so effective you can actually race just watching it.

Visually the game is exactly what you’d expect – bright cartoony graphics with a great framerate which manages to stay that way online and over Wi-Fi for the most part. Musically the game isn’t so wonderful, but then I must tell you that I find some of these Nintendo melodies a little too sweet tasting for my ears.

Of course there is some criticism I can level at MKDS. The online mode would have benefitted from more than 4 players at one time, but that may be a moot point if you have 8 friends who live close to you and all own a copy of the game anyway. I would have liked to have seen more new tracks and less rehashed ones – as I’ve played them enough and want a new challenge – but again, I can understand that some players will definitely consider this a feather in the cap of the game. I was saddened to see the two players per cart mechanic absent from Double Dash!! as I found that particular innovation to be exactly what the franchise needed, but I guess I can always turn the Cube on and have at it. My last and final bone of contention are the short courses – some are just a little too short. You just seem to get going and you’ve done a lap already. Finally I know this might be going against the grain, but I would sure love for this franchise to include other Nintendo icons such as Samus, Link, Zelda and some of the Animal Crossing characters down the road. Even though these new characters would be nothing more than a slight cosmetic change it would just breathe a bit more life into this classic yet aging series.

I know some of you are really pissed off that Mother Nature is snowing on your parade and making it impossible for you to get this game. I’m on the West Coast, the real West Coast, where the city of Washington isn’t , (but the State is right next door, maybe that’s what he meant…a little injoke for those who know what I’m talking about….) and this game is readily available as far as I know. Yeah I know not everyone likes this series simply because and let’s be honest, it can feel like deja vu after awhile. However there are those gamers that look at Mario Kart as comfort food. It’s an old familiar friend who has learned some cool online and Wi-Fi multiplayer tricks. It features over a dozen new tracks, new modes, new weapons….so what’s not to like? If I were you, I’d curl up with this one while the elements play havoc with the world outside because inside the Mushroom Kingdom, it’s burning rubber!

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