Originally posted: Saturday, September 6, 2008 on Blogger

Basic Information:


Platform: Nintendo DS
Genre: Racing
Difficulty: Fair
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: Nov. 2005
Rating: E for Everyone
Retail Price: $34.99 US ($44.99 CAN)


What’s It About:

You race as one of the many characters from the mario and donkey kong franchises. There are four different difficultly setting, each with the same tracks, but different opponents. Successfully completing a difficulty level unlocks the next level and either an additional character or additional carts. There is also a puzzle mode and a battle mode.

Gameplay:

Mario Kart is in essence, a racer, but it adds a lot to the basic racing formula that attracts a lot of other gamers. The powerups and the drifting add a unpredictable and strategic edge to an otherwise standard racing game. The basic gist of gameplay is the usual: you choose a character from the mario universe (plus donkey kong, who was originally a part of the mario universe, but began his own franchise early in nintendo’s history) and race against other mario characters in a variety of courses that are modeled after levels or worlds from a variety of mario games. In essence, it’s a love letter from nintendo to mario fans in racing form. Each character and cart have different strengths and weaknesses, so it is ultimately the player’s style and preference that determines who they will race as. But cart capacities are not the only things that will effect your chances for victory. Drifting and powerups play just as crucial a role, if not more, and make Mario Kart DS (and the franchise in general), more about luck and strategy than other racing games, which, in my opinion is a welcome refreshment.

Powerups come in the form of boxes found on the racing tracks that the player and his opponents must drive through. Once a player drives through a box, a random powerup will appear in the player’s top left corner of the top screen, and these powerups range from slightly useful to broken (see screenshot). However, the game is well balanced and you are more likely to get the infinitely more useful “bullet” powerup the further behind your opponents you are, and likewise, the person in first place is more likely to get a banana and the occasional green shell rather then other more powerful powerups. So although it is

random, the powerups have probability rates that correspond to your place in the race. This also brings in an aspect of strategy, as you are forced to ponder when it will be the most beneficial to use your powerup. Likewise, the drifting although it slows you down a bit, gives you a noticeable boost in speed once completed. But unlike powerups, drifting is more about learning to press the buttons at the right time, and less about strategy and luck.

The races turn into real slug fights as you and your opponents throw different powerups at each other. And this makes Mario Kart DS (and the franchise) a lot more fun then your standard racer. Gameplay is easy to grasp, but a little more difficult to master.

Story & Characters:

Mario Kart DS does not have a story, because, it really doesn’t need one. It’s about racing and the game does that well. As for characters, the game relies solely on the player being familiar with the characters through their other franchises. Even if you are not familiar with the other mario games, not to worry, this in no way effects your ability to play Mario Kart DS. As I’ve said, this game is more like a love letter from Nintendo to Mario fans, but the game can be easily picked up and played by anyone.

Art & Graphics:

Being a first party game, Mario Kart DS looks fantastic, even 3 years after its initial release. It is one of the better 3-D games on the DS. The environments look crisp and distinct, as do the characters and their carts. No two carts look the same, and Mario Kart DS gives you quite a bit of variety with kart designs. As stated before, all levels are inspired from different mario games, and all characters have at one point or another been found within a mario game. There is nothing new to be found for the Mario bluffs, but the level designs are very clever and pretty. Rainbow Road, in particular, was aesthetically pleasing, but also kept racers on the edge of their seats with its increased difficulty level (compared to other tracks); because, if you fell off, it cost you a few positions.

The boxart is also nice, it is simple and it expresses exactly what the game is about: Mario and karts. Mario’s pose is also quite amusing, and it shows that the game doesn’t take itself too seriously. Of course it isn’t the most creative and eye-popping boxart out there, but sometimes simpler is better.

Music & Sound:

Being a racing game, Mario Kart DS doesn’t feature any elaborate musical compositions, most tracks are very simple, but fit very well with the theme of the level. What is most interesting and intriguing is all of the music is unique to Mario Kart yet it still sounds like music you would expect to hear in a Mario game. In fact, every time I hear a tune, I remember the old mario games, and that is what is important in a game that was made for fans of the mario franchise. Below is a favourite tune of mine from the game: Airship Fortress (which is also a favourite racing track of mine ^^)

Multiplayer:

Ah, multiplayer, this is the heart of Mario Kart DS; it is playing with your friends that makes the game so much fun. With up to 7 friends racing against you in local wireless, the amount of surprises and turnarounds will be plentiful. You may even be shocked to find a friend of yours winning a few races by pure luck, or some friends ganging up on you will their powerups. The possibilities are endless, and you only need one copy of the game for all to enjoy. However, all those who do not have a copy will be racing as Shy Guys, while the game owner will get to choose his character and kart like normal. This does give an advantage to the owner, but with Mario Kart DS being so unpredictable and fun, you’ll quickly realize that this doesn’t really matter in the end. Wi-Fi matches work much the same, except everyone racing has the game, which levels the play field, assuming all players have unlocked all carts and characters, and are not using a cheating device.

My Thoughts & Recommendations:

If there is one racing game that you should buy for your DS, it is Mario Kart DS. The game is so much more then a racer, it has fun tracks, unpredictable races, funky mario characters, but most of all, an exciting and robust multiplayer option. As someone who doesn’t enjoy racing games, I can recommend this to anyone, as long as they are able to use the multiplayer feature. If you don’t have someone to play with, Mario Kart DS may still be worth your money, but you will be missing out on half of the fun. Mario Kart DS is also a good game to play on the go, because you can finish a single cup in under 3o minutes.

That said, I was slightly disappointed that only two female characters were included in the roster, especially considering a secret character was included that wasn’t from the Mario franchise. Birdo could have easily taken his place as she is a well known villain from the franchise and appears in many Mario spin-offs. Ultimately it isn’t a big deal, but it would be nice if there were more female characters in the Mario-verse, especially ones that aren’t princesses. :P

Conclusion:

Pros: Cons:
-Great multiplayer game with both online and offline
-One of the best looking 3D DS games
-A great tribute to the Mario series
-A very accessible racer
-Simple yet effective box art
-Music is very reminiscent of Mario games
-Multiple modes
-Only two playable female characters out of 10
-People new to Mario will not be able to
appreciate all the tributes to the series

Overall, the essential racing game for Nintendo DS

–SW

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