MARIO KART DS / Nintendo / Nintendo DS

Welp. More Mario Kart. This time as a fairly early release for the DS (about a year in). In the series chronology this one follows the Gamecube entry (Double Dash), and really feels like a pared-down version of that game. Unfortunately, that means it also has the same flaws.

The gameplay is tweaked a bit here. The two-man karts are gone, but the "blue sparks" speed boost system while drifting is retained. However, it operates a little differently. Drifting in either direction is done entirely with the R button, and you now have to waggle left and right two separate times for some reason to go from a useless blue spark to the orange spark that gives you the boost.

The start boost timing (which is virtually mandatory to keep up in the more advanced races) has also been changed to just after the "2" for every character, whereas it was just before "GO" in previous games. An arbitrary change, and one I don't really think you could be expected to discover without reading about it.

Otherwise, the game does nothing to surprise you except for adding a new "wake" feature (following directly behind someone gives you a speed boost) and adding some "missions" that are mostly tedious little tasks like "drive through five tires" or "find and smash 10 crates." Never thought they would find a way to get fetch questing into a kart game, but there you go.

Like Double Dash, the focus is so heavily on multiplayer here that it's at the expense of the single-player game. When it came out back in 2005, this game's multiplayer was legitimately a big deal; eight players could link up locally, or you could go on the internet to race one-on-one matches with opponents all over the world. While this was revolutionary at the time, it's no great shakes over a decade later.

The focus on party-game-style multiplayer (giving big boosts to the crappiest players and introducing a lot of Random to keep everyone squealing) unfortunately is carried over to the single-player Grand Prix, as it was in Double Dash, and it doesn't work there. It's even worse in this one than it was in any prior game, though. The "hater items" that players in the back are constantly fed are at their absolute nadir here. The blue hater shell and the hater lightning make their return, but now there are even more items: hater ink that partially blinds everyone in front of the user, and hater Bullet Bill that basically gives the user an extended M. Bison psycho dash. Items are "weighted" based on your placement, so if you're in front you'll only get banana peels and if you're in back you'll get one of the super items constantly. And second and third place seem to get red shells more often than anything else.

The 50cc Grand Prix is so easy it doesn't matter, but the Hater Items make 100cc annoying and 150cc virtually unplayable. With just that and the boring Missions for single players, that experience doesn't last for more than a couple of hours.

Even the vaunted multiplayer has some major issues. Not all of the courses are available online, including some of the best like Waluigi Pinball. And the new dash boost introduced the controversial practice of "snaking" to the series, which utterly ruins the balance when someone in the race is good at doing it. A handful of certain vehicles that have high handling and acceleration + low drift are perfect for snaking, and someone doing it skillfully basically can't be kept up with because they're in a constant state of speed boost. It only works on some courses, but it basically takes those courses off the menu unless you want to also snake to keep up.

Mario Kart DS has some nicely-designed tracks and has visually held up better than most of the DS library. But as with Double Dash, now that the multiplayer is outmoded the remaining single-player experience is too weak to really hold the game up and make it worth going back to.

Videos :

* Gameplay Video