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Mario Kart DS Package Art

Mario Kart DS

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess was the highest hope for a Nintendo fan this year, but has since been delayed. In its wake, Mario Kart DS has taken up that mantle and borne the expectations of hundreds of thousands of DS owners and Nintendo fans alike. Nintendoís reluctance to include online gaming is over, but the new Mario Kart adds more than just online play; it combines the best elements from the previous iterations and provides a comprehensive package that any gamer would be silly to pass up, regardless of their preferences.


60 frames per second in full three dimensional beauty, with the different tracks each contributing a bit of charm. The new sixteen courses are as pretty to look at as they are to race; only a few rare exceptions are drab. My personal favorite is Desert Hills, a level with a guest appearance by an annoying yet memorable Super Mario Bros. 3 foe. Sixteen retro tracks are included, and while nobody will be able to say that all of their favorite courses made the cut, youíll find at least one that you like if youíve played any of the previous titles. Draw distance is amazing; the distant spirals in Rainbow Road are easily viewable from the opposite side of the track.

The karts themselves look great, with a variety of choices for every driver. The item effects are also wonderful, and the greater the destructive power the better they look. Bob-ombs and Bullet Bills are particularly impressive. My only gripe is that the flames from your turbo boosts, whether manual or item related, make no appearance. The speed lines that replace them are difficult to see on the brighter tracks.


Mario Kart DS is a game that needs to be played with sound on. There are no two ways about it. Not only is the audio great, but the usage of the sound effects also keeps you notified of things your eyes might not. The drone of a flying blue shell might convince you to lay off the gas, and you can tell who just passed you without having to look at the second screen map. The music is cheerful and stage-appropriate Mario tunes are fun to race to, and you might find a couple that make you wish sound tests were more prevalent unlockables these days.


The Mario universe's mascots return to their own seats, reducing the GameCube's double duty of driver and gunner to solo responsibility once again; yet the best parts of the whole series are boiled down and refined. Item dragging is back in non-online play, a tradition dating back to the first Mario Kart. The hopping is back, which was on the GBA version but absent from Double Dash. Drafting is back from the N64 version, but is so much more effective now: youíll find it very tempting to risk bananas for the speed boost. The easily executable mini-boost from the GCN version is also present. At the highest CC classes the game feels faster than Double Dash ever did, but it retains the hightened effectiveness of bananas and green shells.

Thereís a ton of stuff to do before youíll feel like youíve done it all. An all new mission mode pits you against classic Mario bosses in addition to honing your skills with smaller challenges. A total of eight cups and three classes offer plenty of Grand Prix racing; many Mario Kart devotees will have no trouble blowing through, but the rest of us will have trouble beating the 150cc weight class, and the unlockable challenge afterwards will keep players occupied for even longer. Even if you beat all the game has to offer, you still get graded on your performance. To get triple stars on all cups at all levels will take even the best gamers a long, long time.

In a first for the series, you have the option of playing battle mode solo. Most of the battle maps are great, and the legendary Block Fort makes a triumphant return. With up to eight players, even the largest maps are full of opponents. Also, the mechanics have changed. Your balloons must be manually inflated by holding select or blowing into the microphone while stationary. It might look silly, but it adds a fair bit of strategy.

Lastly, thereís the always challenging time trials, which save your best ghost for each course automatically. With the detailed map on the lower screen, you can see exactly what made your last run through more effective, and the detailed replay doesnít hurt.


In LAN play, you can do everything with eight players: races and battle mode both. If your friends donít mind playing as Shy Guy, then they donít even need their own copy. This is where Mario Kart DS is truly the best it has ever been; it's simple to set up and incredibly fun. Battle mode with eight people, racing with eight people, and without having to buy any additional add-ons (Iím looking at you, Double Dash) is a great experience made better by the ability to talk crap in person. While you may have been more excited about the online component, it canít hold a candle to the LAN play.

Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection is the most lauded part of the game, and while it is a significant step forward from Nintendo, it shows that this is their first attempt. The set-up and connecting is easily navigable and enjoyable, and if all you wanted to do is race against nameless strangers, youíre in luck. The trouble arises when you want to play people you know; thereís no way to add people you just played, and if a bunch of your friends are online, you have no way of telling which ones, much less which you want to race. Also subtract dragging items, battle mode, some of the more breathtaking tracks and no chat.

What does that leave us with? Well, an online mode that keeps its 60 frames per second, never lags, and is easy to jump into. Even with the sacrifices they made, it is still a lot of fun. Itís a good first effort, and the lessons learned for future Nintendo online games will make online play even better.


If youíve never, ever loved Mario Kart, then you arenít going to be swayed. Thatís a pretty insignificant audience: many non-gamers, casual gamers, and other people who generally shy away from games still fondly recall Mario Kart. Everyone else will love the title and find loads of fun to be had. It is darn near perfect in most ways, and the online mode adds more than it takes away. LAN mode racing is among the yearís greatest gaming experiences. You may well be looking at a contender for Game of the Year across any platform.

final score 9.5/10

Staff Avatar Matt McDaniel
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"Quis custodiet ipsos custodes"

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