Mario Kart DS

Numerous contributors. Nintendo. For DS handheld system. Rated E.


The previous Mario Kart title that I had played was the original. Nearly. I played a bit of the 64 version but it was one afternoon, I got hit by a lot of cars, and people laughed at me. I never, ever liked those stupid Nintendo 64 controllers. So, for all practical purposes, the last one I played was the old 16 bit original. And it was heaven. Hours spent whooping my friend Charlie, and getting whooped by him, in a game that seemed hardcore at the time but upon a recent replaying has the worst distance scaling I have ever seen. Mario Kart was our friendship, up until Twisted Metal came out and we moved on.

That introduction to the review was mostly me saying "I have no idea the evolution of Mario Kart as a franchise." Frankly, all I know is that coins are gone, there's now a blue turtle shell, a sliding dash thing, something that people refer to as snaking (that is a way of cheating?), there are more stages and they are long and more varied, and there are more characters. It is a bigger game with more choices and allowing for styles of game play and the karts are a little more fleshed out (I don't remember weight and drift figuring into the first one). I'm about 90% sure that previous games instituted all these things first, but alright. This is all new to me.

Comparing the old to the new is tricky, except as compared to the third man (a philosophical concept, if two things are related, they are also related to the concepts that relate them) which would be "enjoyment of play at a given level of technology and a general expectation of what a videogame should be". This is a fancy way of me saying "does the game still make me excited to be alive?" Yes. Definitely yes. Except, well...

First, the "yes" portion. The game is mixed well. The aesthetics are wonderfully Mario. The various stages pulled out of old games helpt to prop up the new stages while giving an even greater degree of variance. The items are fun to use. Some of the stages require a few tricks. There are Mission stages, different types of competitions (including two themes on the Battle mode), cooperative play, online content, and a grading system that helps to keep pushing you forward. All these get good applause.

But, the "well..." shows up when you dive a little deeper. Now, I have played against humans, but I mostly play against the AI and by time I get up past 50cc stages is a recipe for some degree of aggravation. The AI is speed compensated depending on how well you are doing. The AI gets confused by really easy things while certain hits are aimed dead on. One rough bit to deal with shows up in the 150cc especially: the "lead AI" (one or two AIs almost always dominate, which is random each time you play but seems completely independent of what their stats would be) gets little bursts of speed and barely slows down when they are hit.

More than that, the single most frustrating thing about the game is Nintendo's continued policy (first strongly noticeable in their Mario Party franchise) that everyone is a winner and everyone needs to have a shot at their games. How this largely shows up in the racing modes of Mario Kart DS is an annoying distribution of items. The "never miss" blue turtle shell that tracks to the first player will plague a third and final round if you are doing too well. This means that you can race excellent just to get hit twice a few seconds from the goal (happened to me once) and end up losing through no fault of anything but a game trying to equalize the playing field. This shell also flies over everyone else's head and targets the person in first at the time of firing, despite changes that might occur before it gets there. While players doing poorly get everything from Stars to Bullets, the first player gets stuck with a very minimal number of good items, the only real practical advantage of which is to drop them on top of people trying to come behind you. This means there is a strategic advantage in the game of dropping back a few places, getting a good item, and then overcoming the AI who will have slowed down to compensate for your sudden misfortune.

In fact, if it was not for this compensation of poor gameplay through enforced luck, this game would get unreserved praise from me. As it stands, you can complete all the basic missions and races and time challenges with minimal bother. The problems creep up when you try for the stars and to get higher ranks. Suddenly, you are stuck fighting the game engine as much as the race track. These problems could have been fixed by allowing a few options as to how items are handled, which items are available, not allowing the blue turtle shell in the third lap, and so forth. The lack of being able to change the options which help even out the kiddy factor has led to me to be of two opinions of the game. Excellent as a casual game, but poor as a more dedicated one.

Final Scores

(0-100, 50 = Average)

Interactive: 80

Fiction: n/a

Reviewer's Tilt: 50

Final Average: 65


How I Did

I've unlocked everything with the exception of the staff ghosts, of which I have unlocked a handful. I have at least one star in every mission. I have one star in several of the grand prix cups. I have set no records and probably have lousy stats, but there you go.

Hints, Suggestions and Mild Spoilers (for what they are worth

One of the ugliest truths to the game is that it is to your advantage, if you are just trying to win and not necessarily get stars or anything, to completely flunk the first lap in any given race. Not only are you likely to get better items, but it seems to seriously confuse the AI and it makes the last lap easier.

Many stages, possibly all, have some shortcut. In most cases, the shortcut is best served with a dash powerup (mushroom, star, and I think ghost allows you to ignore terrain). In a few cases, the shortcut doesn't really help because it requires a real sharp turn that will cut the advantage down, but they are good to know for when you do have that three mushrooms powerup and think "ah, why not?"

When playing the Retro Cups, the weight of the cart is surprisingly useful. Many of them are smaller, shorter tracks and so it is likely you will stay closer knit to your enemies. Having an above average weight is a good way to make sure you are slamming them into the wall instead of vice versa. However, in the Nitro Cups, this rarely seems to be a problem with me.

Written by W Doug Bolden

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