This also helps a great deal when it comes to competing against the pure AI opponents that you will in single player mode. Their AI programming was given a nice revamp so that they aren’t necessarily as cheap as they used to be, but smarter. Unfortunately that’s when a large amount of frustration can come in when you eventually go through the 150 cc cups. For the 50 and 100 cc cups, their level of intelligence and skill of driving is pretty much on par with yours. There is no “miracle” of them just happening to catch up to you or pass you when they really shouldn’t have been able to. But they are a bit more aggressive in terms of how they come into contact with you. So if you are using a lightweight such as Toad and are driving next to Bowser, prepare to be smacked around a little bit. Thankfully this is pretty balanced throughout the game, so any frustration is really only felt during the 150 cc cups when the AI actually does feel a little “cheap”. But elsewhere that problem really isn’t too evident, and that’s a very good thing.
So with the traditional MK cups that you race through to unlock more tracks and characters, you have your other modes as well. There is VS. which allows you to play either AI or human opponents in either normal MK races or the battle modes (Balloon Battle & Shine Sprite). You also have Time Trial in which you can compete against the Time Ghosts of the MK DS staff and try breaking their records. You can actually send those over to the online databases as well to see where you stack up. But a brand new mode that was implemented especially for MK DS is simply called Mission Mode. While it doesn’t exactly retain the same entertainment and atmosphere of Mario that is always evident in the cups and battle modes, it’s something new and fresh to experience. In a series of six different stages split into nine scenarios, you do anything from trying to beat a certain MK DS character in a race to using items to take out whatever the mission may ask for. They can be fun, including the really simple boss battles after completing all the main scenarios around them, but generally you’ll find yourself going back to what makes the MK franchise what it is.
Now of course, with the release of this game, we saw the start of a whole new era of Nintendo gaming. Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection is Nintendo’s first real online service dedicated to gaming, as they are finally using their own servers. So no longer is SEGA the only one using a Nintendo system for online service for a game like Phantasy Star Online. Now all developers are free to utilize the service how they please. It’s no different here, and Mario Kart DS is one of two first games to use the service.
To access NWC, you can utilize one of three mediums. One is a hotspot at one of 6,000 McDonald’s across the country. Another is using the Nintendo USB Connector for computers that don’t utilize a wireless router/network. Then obviously the last is a wireless router that you can directly connect through. Whichever you use, it is extremely easy and just as simple as selecting multiplayer mode in any given game this generation.
When you eventually do get yourself connected, you have one of four options to play online. One is Rivals, which tries to pit you against opponents with similar skill level to you. That tends to work for the most part, but the servers seem to base it solely on your record, and sometimes matches can end up being very unbalanced. Friends mode allows you to play people you know personally or online that you want to play directly. The problem with this is it requires you to exchange a 12 digit Friend Code, and both people must have each others’ code for a connection to happen. This can be a royal pain because you have to get into personal contact with your friend for this to happen, and it seems a lot that the servers just don’t want to connect you. It is very fun and all when it’s actually happening, but sometimes this “seamless community” doesn’t seem too apparent. Then you have Worldwide and Regional searches. Worldwide is pretty self-explanatory, as you play against opponents anywhere in the world that are utilizing the same search option. Then Regional works a little differently, as it searches for opponents using the same engine but just within your native country. So if you live in the United States, it will only search for those living in the U.S. as well.
Nevertheless, while connection may not always want to work and you’ll meet people who seem to be either too good or “cheating”, it’s a great thing for Nintendo and players of Mario Kart DS. Yes it’s not the greatest thing that we can never get the codes of people we may race in modes not using the Friends engine, but that’s all Nintendo’s philosophy. Perhaps that will change later on down the road since the service is still pretty much brand new; we’ll just have to see.
Mario Kart DS is most definitely a flagship franchise title for the Nintendo DS. Along with Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow, if you were to own a Nintendo DS for any game, this should be an easy selection for you. There’s just no describing how fun this game is online and offline. Sure it’s not without its frustrations, especially in the 150 cc cup tracks, but it’s a very fun title overall. If you’re any kind of fan of the Mario Kart franchise, you will hardly be disappointed with this installment. Yes NWC may not be the greatest thing in the world right now in terms of doing what you actually want it to do, but we have time to allow it to evolve. But no matter, if you want a great racing title featuring all of Nintendo’s great characters, Mario Kart DS is for you. Mixing old and new, Mario Kart DS delivers, and ushers in a worldwide experience we’ve never seen before.