Monday, November 14, 2005
Good: Variety of tracks and single player modes, finally online
Bad: Lack of online gametypes
McDonald's: Has free Wi-Fi hotspots for Mario Kart
The Gamecube's holiday season is looking pretty bare, but thankfully the DS library continues to prosper. And now, literally every classic gamer is without excuse to add a Nintendo DS to their collection with the release of Mario Kart DS. This title alone will not only single-handedly justify Nintendo's new free Wi-Fi service, but will renew that timeless feeling of Mario Kart fun that was fairly absent from the Cube's Double Dash.
The Mario Kart series is one of those Nintendo properties that has always been emulated or ripped-off in some form or fashion with other companies' mascots. And while there may have been noticeable additions to the arcade-ish kart genre, none have come close to that indescribable "it" quality exuded by Mario's racer.
That quality is back in rare form.
Remember how Double Dash felt oddly slow and lacked decent battle arenas? Don't worry, Mario Kart DS fixes all that. There are the standard Grand Prix, Time Trial, Vs. Battle Modes and the new Mission mode to choose from at the outset. Grand Prix unfolds in classic fashion, with four different cups featuring four different tracks. You can immediately choose from the Nitro Grand Prix, which features all-new tracks and cups, and the Retro Grand Prix which is an amalgamation of the best tracks from each previous Mario Kart. Each driver has two karts to choose from with varying abilities and playing through each Grand Prix will unlock more karts for the winning character's repertoire.
The same formula of collecting items and using them toward your opponent's peril remains with some great new additions, especially of the Bullet Bill variety. Competing in the 150cc class requires you to be almost an expert at turbo drifting. So make sure you practice.
Each new track in the Nitro Grand Prix cups range from the most basic Mushroom Cup tracks to the fairly ornate and complex Special Cup tracks. Where many of Double Dash's new tracks failed to "wow," the new DS tracks all have a distinct personality and classic element to them. The Special Cup tracks bring back that amazing feeling I had when I first unlocked Rainbow Road for the first time on the original Super Mario Kart:seriously.
The Battle Mode features the same Balloon Battle and Shine-collecting games we're used to, but does it better with eight initial maps to choose from. And if you don't have friends to connect to wirelessly, don't worry; you can play with a map full of computer controlled opponents. Be smart though, you only start with one balloon and must blow into the microphone to inflate more balloons so you won't get killed immediately. It's an interesting addition to core gameplay that works fairly well.
Regardless, the Battle Mode mayhem we've come to know and love is present in full force. For all my Mario Kart battle fans out there: Block Fort is back!
With all the classic modes returning in such a robust nature, Nintendo could've stopped there, but they decided to add the new Mission mode. Divided into six levels, these missions give you several challenges to complete before taking on an end-level boss, Mario 64 style:just in a Kart. And while the challenges seem to be fairly mundane (Go through these archways in order, collect X in Y amount of time, etc.), the end boss battles make it all worth it. I suppose you could view the mini-missions as a glorified training mode. At any rate, this is a perfect addition to the series and I hope to see it continue.
While you can connect locally to players with or without a Mario Kart game pak, the big kick in the pants is in the new online mode. If you have a wireless network at your disposal, or if you order the wireless USB adapter from Nintendo's site, you can race against Kartioids all over the world using Nintendo's new online Wi-Fi service. And yes, it's totally free. Considering how wired the entire city of Lawrence is, you shouldn't have a problem finding a public hot spot to mooch from.
Sadly, the Wi-Fi options are severely limited. It only lets you Race, not Battle those across the world. Plus, it only supports up to four players at a time. You can search for people regionally, worldwide, your friends or in Rivals mode which pairs you against opponents of like skill. Rivals can be great if you are just starting out and don't want to go against an opponent who has unlocked a better kart.
Regardless, playing Mario Kart online is officially here and what's there is lagless. I played people from all over the world and it proved to be amazingly lag-free. Plus, when you're racing real people, there is no rubber-band AI to magically catch up with you if you leave others in the dust. Although it's a very barebones presentation, the first online DS title comes off with splendid results.
The graphics are among the lowest detail I've seen on the DS, but remain colorful and very functional. The main culprits are the low-polygon character models reminiscent of first-generation N64 games in 3D. Still, the game runs at a blazing 60 frames per second and never lets up, even when the mayhem is at its most crazy. The sound effects, music and voice acting is the crisp quality we've come to expect from a Nintendo title, but does nothing too dramatic to advance the aural experience.
At the end of the day, Mario Kart DS is a success in every way imaginable. The online experience is solid, the multiplayer mayhem is as fun as it has ever been and the robust single player modes have enough to keep anyone busy for several hours. This is inarguably the no-brainer, must buy, system-selling title that will lead the holiday charge for the Nintendo DS.
First Play: A
Last Play: A
Overall: 95% A