At this year’s Nintendo Fusion Tour in the location closest to me, I was able to get my hands on three upcoming game demos. They happened to be Mario Strikers, Mario Kart DS, and The Legend of Zelda, Twilight Princess. Upon first seeing MK DS, I was rather giddy because I’ve been more than anxious to finally get my chance to play the game first hand. What I experienced was everything I could’ve expected, and then some. Unfortunately the demo at the location I went to didn’t have enough time to enable a Wi-Fi Connection demo, but even without having that available, the game was an absolute blast to play.
Mario Kart DS mixes elements found in the most recent Mario Kart franchise iterations in Double Dash and MK 64. The graphical presentation is of the highest quality I’ve ever seen so far on the DS, truly being on par with Double Dash’s. It also plays incredibly well, with there not being too much awkwardness in using the D-Pad to steer your player. The level designs are also incredibly unique and detailed, making the entire experience something totally new. This isn’t just “another Mario Kart” with some new tracks, players and ways of racing, this is Mario Kart at its finest so far. If you’re a huge fan of Mario Kart, chances are you will hardly be disappointed.
Mario Kart DS features eight playable characters, including Mario, Bowser, Donkey Kong and Toad. I’m not sure if there will be unlockable racers, since that has remained to be announced as a feature; but I wouldn’t be surprised if there are for the final build. Then based on how I’ve always played Mario Kart in the past franchise installments, I went with playing as Toad. I tend to lean more towards the light weights since I’m fond of having top notch acceleration and handling. That’s how I’ve approached all racing games I’ve played.
So I chose to go with Toad, and then I was presented with two options for Cup competition. I can’t exactly remember what they were called, but I do believe they both said something along the lines of “Retro” and “Nitro” Cups. I think I went with the Nitro Cup, but it was just the first one so I picked it. It was comprised of four different tracks like all Mario Kart games have with their cups. It had tracks dedicated to Yoshi in a tropical island environment, a raceable version of Luigi’s Mansion and some sort of marsh/bog-like track that was actually rather creepy looking. It was especially unsettling to encounter a “walking hand” at various parts of the track, even if they were just there to be in your way and do nothing else.
But overall, the track designs and lengths were very intuitive and rather awe inspiring. I was pleasantly surprised to see such quality on the DS, as it looks like a game that could easily fit into the Mario games of this generation. The water looked pretty crisp in the Yoshi track, the beach looked very tantalizing, Luigi’s Mansion looked like an authentic haunted house and the bog looked gloomy like it should’ve. So chances are you will feel very impressed with how well everything looks, and even the characters themselves look more refined than they do in Mario Kart 64.
Alright alright, I’m sure you want to know how the game plays and feels, so I’ll get to that right now. Virtually all the elements that have gone into the gameplay of past Mario Kart games will be encountered yet again in MK DS. You have your speed boosts at the beginning of the race, the item boxes with useable weapons and your drifting to gain that small edge on the turns. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t slightly awkward at first to steer your character with the D-Pad, but you get used to it pretty quickly, and quite conveniently after the first lap of the first race. What really takes a little getting used to is the drifting/speed bursts you obtain just like in MK 64 or Double Dash. You do hit one of the shoulder buttons to initiate the “hopping slide” and then you have to quickly slide your thumb across the left and right sides of the D-Pad to execute the small boost. Thankfully you only have to get the flame that is generally seen behind the kart to a red color to get it done, so that’s a plus. Initially you may have a little trouble getting it to work at first, but after a few tries of determining how long you can drift without slowing yourself down, you will get the hang of it.
So how does the game utilize the dual screens? Well it’s rather simple, and actually pretty useful at certain points in the race. In the top screen, you see all the action taking place on the track as is seen by the third person perspective of your character. In the bottom screen, you will see a 2D overhead view display of the track and other such goodies. This shows the position of every competitor on the track, your current race time and where people are in accordance to you. So if you know someone is inching more and more towards you, that may cue you to leave a nice banana behind to try hampering their progress. Or if you happen to be gaining ground on first place, you can use that as a strategy in terms of when you might launch your ever-so-precious red homing turtle shell. It’s not an entirely necessary screen, but it can definitely help you avoid other racers and form your current strategy on the fly.
In terms of the weapons, your arsenal is comprised of a collection of MK 64 and Double Dash goodies. Virtually everything makes a return, including your blue spiny “first place target shell” and triple koopa shells. But since you are racing with a single character this time around, how your weapons are presented with your kart is reminiscent of Mario Kart 64. Your triple shells will rotate around you, making you have to be a little more precise with how you aim since they will launch at whatever point they are around your kart when you fire them. You can also “hold” weapons just before you drop them like your bananas, the bob-omb and single shells. With that you again have the option of lobbing them forward or setting them behind you, depending on what your strategy is at the current moment.
Now unfortunately when I ended my campaign, I ended up losing first place by a whole two points, having a 34 to the first place’s 36. I won two of the races, came second in another and believe I got fourth in the third one. That brings me to my next point, if you thought the computer racers may have been ruthless in the past games, you haven’t seen anything yet. Now that doesn’t mean I’m saying they are cheaper than ever, they are just “smarter” now. That means they will do whatever it takes to remove you from your current position so they can stay ahead of you. They will ram you with their kart, they will bash you with weapons and will try to run you into the track’s nasty obstacles. It will certainly be far more challenging to win gold in all the cups this time around, so beating them all in one week should definitely not happen, especially with the more challenging speeds and modes.
So with Mario Kart DS launching in just over a month, we as Nintendo DS lovers have much to look forward to in the first title that will make use of Nintendo’s Wi-Fi Connection. Nintendo supporters around the world will connect this November for a ton of Mario Kart mayhem. If you think you are the best of the Mario Kart and have blatantly been outspoken of your skills, you better be able to back yourself up. DS players around the world will do whatever it takes to take the checkered flag next month, and if you aren’t tough enough for it, you will be sent home crying. Will you be the next king of the Mario Kart circuit, or will make your presence known in the Hall of Shame? No matter, if you feel you’ve got the skills, be ready to show them off this coming November!