This is certainly a title that has been pretty high on my video game list for quite some time now. Mario Kart is just one of those franchises where I want to eventually own all of the games so I had to start somewhere. Now, I’m only missing Mario Kart Advance, Wii U, and 3DS. That’s not so bad, but it could be a while until I get the latest one since the price is going to be very high for a long time. This title does a good job of keeping the Mario Kart DS series near the top of the Mario franchise.
There are 8 cups to complete in this game and the style is similar to Mario Kart Wii. There are four cups filled with all new stages and the other 4 cups consist of old levels from the previous games in the series. I do think that this is a little lazy, but seeing as how most of the old games only had 16 levels anyway, I guess it’s still a fair trade off. It is certainly fun to see the old levels come back with updated graphics of course…not counting Double Dash though since it looks better than this game. Completing all 8 cups can be done pretty quickly, but the game has other features to keep you hooked to the screen for some extra hours.
There are many unlockables to be found in Mario Kart DS like extra characters and items. There’s even an alternate opening/ending screen for the game if you get golds on various tournaments and beat the cups on harder difficulties. These features certainly add to the intensity of the game and there is no ultra long cup to worry about so trying to finish these cups off on 150cc shouldn’t be much of a hassle. Finally, the game also has a mission mode, which is a pretty unique feature for the series. It’s pretty fun and I think they should keep it for future installments as well. The missions help you focus on driving skills like steering and drifting in a fun way. You also get to race against popular bosses and even face off against King Boo. A certain Legend of Zelda villain makes an appearance as well so the missions are pretty great. There are over 50 missions in the game and I ended up playing close to 40 of them before deciding that I should probably take my leave of the title. (The L button was also acting up and some of the missions can be pretty tough to complete without such a crucial button at the ready)
So, the actual game may be pretty short, but the replay value is certainly there. A long time ago the replay value would have been much greater, but the servers were naturally taken down so that gets rid of the Wi-Fi potential. The home console versions always have the option of just racing a friend, which definitely give them an advantage over a portable title. Naturally, the game is still worth it if you are just looking at content since it should certainly tide you over for a few days or maybe even a week depending on how often you play it.
I doubt that I really need to describe the gameplay, but I’ll give it a quick run through anyway. The object of the game is naturally to cross the finish line first, but you will have to get past the other 7 racers to do that. There are many items that you can obtain by going through item blocks and you can use them to get the other racers in trouble or just breeze by them. Anything goes here so be prepared to do a lot of fighting as you power through.
That being said, the second screen can almost be unfair against some of the items. One item has a squid pour ink all over your main screen so that you cannot see, but a new feature of the DS version is that you can look at the race from an aerial view on the bottom. Evidently, the developers forgot to think about this so the squid is now pointless as you can quickly shift views. The aerial view can actually be more efficient in some ways since you can see everything from that point of view so you can turn accordingly. It’s a very useful feature, but I think the ink should affect it as well when someone uses that item. I suppose that it’s just a minor slip up.
The graphics are pretty good for the DS. There are few games on the console that look better than this one and Nintendo has always done a good job of working on the graphics for their sport titles. It’s fun to see how the older stages look on the portable screen and you can clearly tell what is happening at all times. The character models are never too blurry for you to comprehend what is happening and they have held up well against the test of time.
The soundtrack is also one of the better ones that you will see on the console. A lot of the themes are pretty nostalgic and the new ones are pretty good as well. They are suitable for the races and there isn’t really a “bad” theme. They’re all pretty peaceful and soothing, which help you to fight off the long roads when there are no other racers in sight. It’s easy to listen too many times, which is good since you will likely be playing the stages several times to try and unlock everything.
How does this game stack up to the other Mario Kart titles? Well, it naturally loses to Mario Kart Double Dash and Wii. I’m guessing that it likely loses to Mario Kart Wii U and 7 as well so it’s best chance is against the old, old Mario Kart games and the Advance version. It should beat all of those in terms of gameplay, although the older ones for the Super Nintendo and 64 would probably win overall thanks to the multiplayer aspect. That’s not a knock on Mario Kart DS of course, but it’s a racing game and that genre always does best on the home console front since you have people to play it with. Mario Kart Double Dash doesn’t keep a record of your play time on it, but I’m confident that it is my most played game by a long shot with 999+ hours. I played it just about every day for a few years and I still end up playing it now and again. It’s simply the ultimate Mario Kart title, but the DS version is pretty fun as well.
Overall, Mario Kart DS is a very strong racing title and it could be one of the best portable ones that I have played. The controls are sound and the graphics hold up pretty well. The soundtrack makes the stages pretty fun to play since you don’t have to worry about getting bored of hearing the same tracks over and over again. The other portable racing games that I’ve played would probably be games like Sonic Rivals and F Zero. I think this game is probably better than those if we look at them for pure gameplay, but Sonic Rivals’ story mode and longer replay value would ultimately give it the edge. I look forward to seeing how fun Mario Kart 7 is since I’ve only heard good things about that title. I know that Mario Kart DS is old and that just about everyone has already played it, but if you don’t own it yet…I highly recommend checking it out. The online functions are gone, but you can still enjoy some good races. If nothing else, Mario Kart is always a whole lot of fun and it’s the kind of game that you will never get bored of…like Smash Bros!