Last one to the castle is a rotten egg

Date Sun, September 21 2008

Ah, the fun of racing. Of course, this time I’m talking about Mario Kart DS, probably my favourite Nintendo DS game. Sadly. I’ve only really played one other version and that was the one for the Nintendo 64. Luckily, I loved it so much that I only ever played another game or two on that system. Period. Also, luckily for me, the version on the DS has some of the tracks I grew to love. If you also fell in love with previous versions, you’ll find tracks from the SNES version and the GBA version, too.

The concept is simple, you play as Mario or one of the franchise characters and you race others. You hit item boxes to get items to help you on your way and make the game a little more exciting. Besides racing, you can do time trials, battle or missions (which seem to be common with Nintendo DS games).

To to the spirit of Mario Kart (one of the things I love most about this game), which is being pitted against your friends, you can play with others via 2 methods. The first method is called multiplayer and is with a friend (or 7!) in within range of your system. You can play with those who have the game (Normal) or those who do not (simple). Friends without the game can download a more limited version to their Nintendo DS for the time being. Of course, with the WiFI capabilities of the DS, you can also play with anyone across the globe as long as you have access to a compatible wireless network.

Besides that aspect, how is gameplay? I find it to be pretty fun even when it’s just single player.

Like previous versions, you can play Grand Prix which is divided into 4 Cups made up of 4 tracks to compete for bronze, silver or gold place. In this game, you can also get a rating of letters or stars. Letters A – D work like grades in school and stars – from 1 – 3 – are even better ratings above A. The Grands Prix are divided into classes based on speed (engine size), also like previous versions: 50cc, 100cc and 150cc. In this version, you can also play the 150cc Mirror version which is a flipped (not backward) version of the tracks.

The game comes with several Grand Prix cups locked. By playing each of the Cups before it and earning the gold, you unlock the cups. Each cup can be unlocked in each of the engine classes.

The Grand Prix is also divided into two classes – Nitro and Retro. Nitro contains new tracks and Retro contains tracks from previous games.

If you’re not interested in playing a whole cup or want to play more than one, you can play Versus. This gameplay consists of track after track according to settings you choose which include engine class, kart difficulty, course order, rules (or lack there-of) and teams. You can play free for as long as you want and quit at any time. If you want to play to a certain score or a certain number of races, you set that in the rules.

To practice the runs, play time trial. Time trials have a new feature where you can send or relieve a “ghost,” that is a slightly transparent recording of an already completed time trial. You can see how you’re doing against your previous trials or those of a friend.

Like previous versions, you can play Battles. Mario Kart DS includes Balloon Battles although, there is a slight difference from older versions. Instead of starting with 3 balloons, you start with 5, only 1 of which is blown up. Using the microphone, you blow up the others up to 3 at a time. Once all your active balloons are popped by items and damage, you lose, even if you have balloons in reserve so you must always blow them up.

There’s also a new version of battle, Shine Runners. In these, you collect little stars called Shines. Every time you are damaged or hit with an item, you lose a shine. Periodically, those players with the fewest sines are eliminated until only the player with the most Shines still remains.

The newest addition is that of the missions. With 7 different levels containing 8 missions plus a boss stage, you have to complete different tasks such as driving through gates, collecting coins, collecting and using items on others or doing turbo boosts to earn a ranking of stars or letters (the same as cup rankings). Each stage earns a ranking and each level earn and overall ranking.

One of the features I like about this game is the ability to unlock things. Completing tasks or racing well offers rewards of extra characters or karts. Overall, there are 12 characters including classics like Luigi, Yoshi and Princess peach as well as let known faces like Princess Daisy, Dry Bones and ROB 64. There’s also a total of 36 karts to allow you more customization than previous versions.

If you’d like to customize it even more, there are options to edit your nickname and emblem which appear next to your character on on your kart, respectively.

Of course, being on a dual screen offers some new incentives as well. It allows for information to be displayed on its own screen and the overall playing image to be larger and more detailed. The Nintendo DS has pretty good graphics despite its small size so this is definitely a plus.

During races and battles, the top screen shows up close racing view while the lower one shows a map of the track and stats of the other racers. In settings modes, the actual settings show up on the touch screen where you can select them with additional information or images on the upper screen.

The one qualm I have about how Mario Kart DS is set up is that it does not fully take advantage of the innovative touch screen. Besides the title and selection screen, the touch screen is not even a factor in the game. Even during those times, the keys can be used as well.

Overall, I really enjoy this game. I love to play with my friends but it’s just as fun to play by myself. The Grand Prix provides exciting new runs as well as ones I love from older games. Even after unlocking all the different tracks and earning gold in all the cups, I can still keep myself busy by trying to improve my ranking for tracks, cups and missions.

The option to play with friends in my living room or across the world also adds variety to the game and although I’ve unlocked almost everything n the game, I still play it frequently. This is definitely a game whose bright colours and fun sounds will attract children of all ages. At the end of the Grands Prix, the first, second and third place winners drive up to a platform where they are crowned; I would definitely crown this game!

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