Mario Kart DS Review
Written By: Magma

ESRB RatingE (game experience may change online)
# of Players1-8
# of Levels38
Controllable CharactersMario, Luigi, Peach, Yoshi, Toad, Donkey Kong, Wario, Bowser
Unlockable: Daisy, Dry Bones, Waluigi, R.O.B.
StoryMario and friends get together for another racing tournament!

Graphics9Tracks and characters are in gorgeous 3-D, a delight on any handheld. However, characters are a little polygonal, especially some of the larger ones, and some objects, such as items, are still in lame and unnecessary 2-D.
Sound10Nothing to complain about here - music, sound, and voiceovers are all very well done.
Depth10Mario Kart DS is sure to keep players busy with four engine classes, thirty-two courses each, single-player battles, a Mission Mode, time trial, and loads of unlockables.
Gameplay10The gameplay couldn't be better. You'll be frantically panicking, trying to get to the front of the pack in the last second. The combination of kart, driver, items, and the open road work perfectly together.
Replay Value10The new Mission Mode, tons of cups, and best of all, the Wi-Fi online playability makes sure this game will stand the test of time. Getting better ranks will also have you coming back for more every time.

Back in the Super Nintendo's early days, Nintendo released a game by the name of the Super Mario Kart. It was a simple racing game with sixteen short courses and eight racers to choose from, all inspired by the Mario franchise. It didn't get much more complicated than that. However, it was hugely successful. So successful, that other franchises have blatantly copied the format it uses. And out of all the Mario franchises, Mario Kart is generally the only sports-related one that anyone gives major street credit to.

When the Nintendo released it's first three-dimensional graphics system, the Nintendo 64, it was also quick to release Mario Kart 64 in 1997. The game was wildly popular, and is still today considered one of the best multiplayer games ever created. In 2001, they released Mario Kart Super Circuit for the Game Boy Advance. This marked the first handheld Mario title, and instead of recycling SNES games like Nintendo tended to do with that portable, it was a brand new title, much to fans' delight.

Mario Kart: Double Dash!! For the Nintendo Gamecube broke the mold of the previous titles by allowing two drivers to use the same kart. This could be used in both single-player and multiplayer modes. This concept has since been done away with, but now the newest Mario Kart title has been released: Mario Kart DS, for the Nintendo Dual Screen.

The DS's top screen shows the race, and the bottom shows the course map, ranking, and other valuable information. The mic is used sparingly in Battle Mode, and the touch-screen is only used to navigate menus. Its disappointing to see that the DS's features weren't implemented more, but I can live without them.

Mario Kart DS is one of the best titles in the franchise. For one thing, it has a new mode or two, it supports single-player battles, and most surprising of all, free online Wi-Fi gameplay is fully functionable.

The story of MKDS is, like every other game in the MK series, nonexistent. Mario and friends just get together for some good old-fashioned kart-racin'. Players can choose from Mario, Luigi, and a host of other characters. The characters have different weight classes, and that affects their performance. Heavy characters like Bowser and Wario are fast, but it takes them a long time to accelerate to that speed. Light characters such as Toad and Yoshi are the opposite - they have a low speed but high acceleration. Finally, characters like Mario and Luigi are middleweights and a compromise between the two. After choosing their character, players can also choose from one of several karts, all with different statistics.

The Mario Kart series has all that basics in kart titles - jumping, drifting, mini-turbos, streamlining, and rocket starts. Jumping allows the kart to lift off the ground for a brief second and possible over an obstacle in the road. You can also make sharp turns more easily by drifting. Both of these techniques come very easily. A more advanced technique is to rapidly tap the control pad in both directions successively while drifting to get a short speed boost. Rocket starts allow you to gain a great speed boost at the start of the race by revving the engine up to max capacity as the checkered flag is waved. Finally, new to Mario Kart DS is the slipstream technique. When a driver races forward, the wind resistance works against them. By driving behind a racer, they block the wind resistance, and you'll soon gain a huge speed boost to easily pass them. It's easy to do this to CPU players and humans alike - even if they know you're behind them, they'd have to swerve and lose valuable speed.

One thing that set Mario Kart apart at the very beginning is its weapons system - spread around the track are item boxes that, when driven through, relinquish a weapon to the racer. The weapon can then be used to benefit the racer or obliterate an opponent. This adds an extra element of strategy to ho-hum driving.

There are items that give you a boost of speed or invulnerability, like the Mushroom and Starman. There are also items that you can leave on the track, like Fake Item Boxes and Banana Peels, just sitting there WAITING for a racer to crash into them. A third type of item are shells that you can launch at your opponents. Some are manually aimed, others home in on a target, and the third type automatically tracks down the driver in first and explodes on them almost unavoidably. You can even lay explosives, shrink opponents, and steal items from other players.

There are two new items to Mario Kart DS, however. The first is the Blooper, a squid that when used, sprays ink onto all the racers ahead of the user. This obscures their vision. This works well on CPU players, but humans can easily remedy the problem just by looking at the map on the lower screen. The other new item is the Bullet Bill, which works a lot like the Chain Chomp from Double Dash. It sends you forward in auto-pilot at an incredible speed, probably passing several racers and blowing them to the side.

This leads me to one of Mario Kart DS's modes - Battle Mode. While more obscure than the other modes, it is a fan favorite. In it, racers face off in a battle arena where the general goal is to pretty much murder each other with the weapons from item boxes. This can be done in single-player mode against seven CPUs or in multiplayer.

There are two different battle types. The first is the standard Balloon Battle, in which the players have a set amount of balloons, and each time they take a damage, they lose a balloon. They start out with only a single balloon, but reserve balloons can be added by blowing into the mic. The other battle type is Shine Runner. Shine tokens are spread around the course, and the players race to get them. Then, they kill each other. Each time a player takes damage, they lose a Shine, which the racers than have a chance to grab for themselves. After a set amount of time, the player with the lowest amount of Shines is eliminated, until the winner has been determined.

One of MKDS's main modes, and arguably, the meat of the gameplay, is Grand Prix mode. In it, the player competes against seven other racers, CPU or human, in four consecutive races. There are eight cups of four tracks each, with sixteen of them being new and the other half being tracks from past Mario Kart games. Instead of looking at this as wasted space, think of it as something you wouldn't normally get. There are three engine classes to choose from, with higher engine classes meaning harder gameplay. Coming in first in the cups unlocks extras, such as secret characters, new karts, etc.

Another mode in the game is Time Trial. The player can race against the clock to try to get a low time, or race against a ghost of themselves, mimicking the extra movements from the previous time trial attempt. This mode is merely a fun diversion.

New to Mario Kart DS is the Mission Mode. This single-player mode gives you a set character, kart, and a mission to complete, whether it be to beat a certain time, win a race, collect coins, or use weapons against enemies. There are also boss challenges, with the main baddies from Super Mario 64 DS serving as these bosses. This mode is a welcome addition and will hopefully be preserved for future Mario Kart titles.

As usual, Mario Kart is a blast to play with more than one human. It supports up to eight human players. Everyone can play, even if there is only a single game card. However, this forces players without a game to play as Shy Guy, and not all tracks are available. Despite this fact, Mario Kart DS is as fun as ever, with players frantically racing and trying to beat each other to the finish. Versus, Grand Prix, and Battle Modes are playable in multiplayer. Ghost data from Time Trial can also be transferred.

And now for the crown jewel of Mario Kart DS - online Wi-Fi gaming. I won't go into the details of how to connect, which can be found here. Players can choose to face racers in their region, or worldwide. Up to four racers can go up against each other in a 100cc race. Thankfully, the server is smart enough to match up players with a similar amount of skill, and there's almost always someone to race. Turning the DS off during gameplay results in an automatic loss.

The server runs very well and smoothly! Wi-Fi works wonderfully! There is only a little lag, but rarely enough to disrupt gameplay. Whenever boredom strikes, a quick few races in Mario Kart DS remedies the situation. On that note, each match lasts for four races in twenty of the thirty-two tracks. I was personally very disappointed that all the tracks weren't included, and MKDS definitely takes a hit in the score department on this one. Attributing to this is the fact that versus is the only mode available online. Nevertheless, Wi-Fi could've been a hit and a miss, and it is definitely a HIT in this case.

On a side note, when racing, drivers are given an icon to help identify the racer that other players can see. Using an in-game paint program similar to what the Animal Crossing franchise uses, players can design their own logo that will be displayed to other players and emblazoned on their karts. A nifty and cool feature.

The graphics are beautiful and handled well. Everything but some of the items and obstacles are rendered in full 3-D, including the tracks and characters - which is something that not even Mario Kart 64 did. Some of the characters, such as Bowser, look odd, but I'm not complaining. The graphics are awesome and yet another awesome display of just how much power the Nintendo DS has.

MKDS also has a catchy soundtrack. Some tracks are hit-and-miss, but others you will find running through your head a week after you finish with the game. It's that great. All the music also fits very well with the game and Mario theme. As far as sound goes, it's got all the class and familiarity you'd expect from a Mario game, and the various grunts and yelps are voiced well too. Notably, DK has finally been given spoken dialogue instead of his hoots from past games, which is fine by me.

Mario Kart DS is definitely one of the best in the series, if not THE best. The Wi-Fi connection is brilliant, especially since anyone with high-speed internet or at the McDonald's can access it. Not only that, but single-player's fun too. This game is definite must-have for anyone who owns a DS. And hey, if you don't have a DS, you're missing out on one of the most groundbreaking and fun times in video game history.


The worst thing about Mario Kart DS is its functioning and entertaining Wi-Fi mode not including all of the tracks. Other than that and what remains of the 2-D graphics, Mario Kart DS is the perfect racing title and most likely the best Mario Kart title ever.