Mario Kart DS Races to Victory

All I can say about Mario Kart DS is: Get ready for some red-hot racing action.

And I mean it.

Mario Kart DS is the most fun you will ever have on virtual wheels this side of the Mushroom Kingdom any day of the week. My experiences so far have been plentiful enough to give anyone fair game. Well, almost. So here’s my impressions of what has turned out to be a stellar title, starting below.

Mario Kart DS has enough tricks, traps and pratfalls to keep the fun going, with classic Mario-themed obstacles like lava pits, cheep-cheeps and thwomps. There are fun items to grab and use on your opponents from mushrooms to speed you up temporarily and angry-faced ammunition that can turn you into a Bullet Bill to really sneak up on the opposition, to shells that either riccochet, home in on the next Kart in the line or literally dive-bomb whoever is leading the pack and squid that call in Blooper the Octopod to spray ink on everyone in your way. And in a nod to other fast-paced video games, there are traps such as boost pads and ramps to hurtle you forward – and two tracks, Waluigi Pinball and Rainbow Road, contain elements that could fit in with the Sonic the Hedgehog series, such as loop-de-loops and pinball flippers. Crazy tricks like drifting and power boosts can move you ahead, or leave you biting everyone else’s dust. And the introduction of Nintendo Wi-Fl Connection (Nintendo’s first serious Internet gameplay system ever, no less – and Nintendo originally viewed Internet gameplay support as little more than a waste of development time) makes this even more a great game.

But this is Mario Kart, not Sonic. No evil genius with mechanoids here – to win in this game, you have to complete eight cups divided equally between two circuits, with four tracks each. One circuit contains fresh new tracks themed after several recent and previous Mario games (such as Super Mario Sunshine) as well as a number of courses patterned after general types of racing surfaces, but with Mario-themed twists. The other contains a compilation of favorite courses from past Mario Kart games, including the Super NES original. You must unlock two cups in each circuit on each difficulty level, so if you are playing 50cc mode (equivalent to easy mode on other types of games) and unlock the Nitro Circuit’s special cup, you must repeat the feat (pun intended) for the 100cc and 150cc modes (meaning hard mode and expert mode, respectively). For each dificulty in which you clear a circuit, you unlock another playable character (you start with Donkey Kong, Luigi, Wario, Peach, Toad, Yoshi, Bowser – and Mario himself, of course – and build off of that). Each character has a custom Kart, or can ride a standard model, with varying attributes – however, you cannot switch a character’s custom Kart for a standard-issue ride, or vice-versa, once you start racing.

During the race, you must clear each cup’s four tracks the fastest to unlock other cups and characters (such as Waluigi and Daisy). Since this is Mario Kart, though, it’s not always who’s fastest but who has the most tricks up their sleeve. And this just happens to be where the aforementioned items come into play. You pick up items by tagging question-mark boxes, and what you get is determined at random. Additionally, the old Mario Kart “leader-rule” – present for much of the Mario Kart series and present yet again – dictates that the leader doesn’t always get the best items or variety thereof, but the guy all the way in the back has the best chance of getting something to move further ahead. So the tables can be turned very easily. However, do watch out – some items drop a fake item box that knocks out whoever bumps it first, so your opponents can use this to their advantage by dropping one by the real McCoy. And you should memorize where item boxes are on the course so that you’re not fooled as easily by a lone item box – however, they are marked read instead of green on the lower screen’s track radar in case you’re too lazy to do that. And speaking of the track radar, it also shows icons for other hazards you should be aware of, and also provides a good view ahead so you can plan your strategy. And when you’re not racing, task-based missions, time trials and battle racing provide a welcome break from the track. The battles can be using ballons (which is trickier than ever because you have to blow at you DS so that the microphone can triger ballon inflation, or else just one popped ballon – and partially-inflated or non-inflated balloons do not count – will eliminate you) or the gathering of the most “shine spritres” (those shiny things that protect Delfino Island in Super Mario Sunshine, in case you were wondering).

But what’s the fun of playing competitively for prolonged periods without someone to enjoy it with? While I have not been able to do this with all of the play modes (I don’t know of anyone else with Mario Kart DS and a Nintendo DS to go with it) I have been able to test out the multiplayer to a limited extent. In multiplayer mode on Mario Kart DS, you have two options. First is the local multiplayer (via wireless link to other Nintendo DS owners you know – now do you know why I couldn’t test this?) where you can race and battle up to ten people. Oh, and did I mention the Wi-Fi multiplayer? This mode, separate from the main multiplayer mode, lets you enter a quick race with friends, auto-matched rivals, or random opponents either in your home country or around the world. You can even play during lunch break, provided you link up at McDonalds. Yes, McDonalds. Think Mario and a Big Mac and you get the idea. And with more dining options under those golden arches getting linked up all the time, there’s a chance your Mickey-D’s will become an option for this soon, if not already. Or, use your own broadband Wi-Fi router to play at home. Of course, there’s no battle mode in Wi-Fi multiplayer… but you do get to vote on what track you play each round of four, with the majority opinion in favor and ties on votes broken randomly. You also get to use most of the tricks from the main game to try to move further ahead.

Overall, Mario Kart DS is a superb racer with all kinds of Mario-themed tricks that give it a killer edge. And that makes it all the more enjoyable. For such a great game, and also the variety (and the Wi-Fi multiplayer, of course) it gets a perfect 100. If you don’t already have Mario Kart DS, get it soon – it’s a definite must-have.

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