Mario Kart DS Reader Review
I feel lucky gaming-wise. I feel lucky that I've seen the scene from Atari to Amiga to PC, 8-bit to 64-bit to 128-bit Dreamcast to whatever-bit Xbox360. I feel lucky that I had always rooted for Sega when it was the hedgehog versus the plumber, and crucially that both are still in the games markets. However, I feel extremely lucky for having "missed out" on the majority of the Mario-related games - turned off them for the fact that I could never master the controls on Mario platformers and that most (if not all) of the time I lost the Kart races I ever competed in.
Okay, maybe that last one isn't so much as 'lucky' but more uselesss (on my part). But really, I do feel lucky only for a completely different reason. I feel lucky that I've never played a previous Mario Kart game to death because having recently purchase a Nintedo DS (NDS) with Mario Kart DS (MKDS) the cartridge hasn't left my NDS since purchase. (Well, okay, once or twice to see if PJ's King Kong could redeem itself - it never did.) I think that MKDS is so much fun because recently I've been playing sim-esque racing games like Forza Motorsport and PGR, and when things go wrong in those driving sims it's a lot worse than on an arcade game (for me anyway). Also, my liking for it may be because I've finally managed to learn how to race properly and take advantage of the power-ups, speed boosts, drift and boosts, and defending 1st-position with bananas, boxes and shells.
There are a wealth of race tracks on offer, spanning back from the SNES to the more recent Gamecube Mario Kart iteration. These are put into eight grand prixs, each comprising four tracks. As well as each being unique, there are three different speed categories (50, 100 and 150 cc) which means that tactics and timing have to be altered slightly. Furthermore, the 150-cc Mirror-mode can be unlocked allowing you to play all 32 tracks in an annoyingly 'arrow-signs-pointing-the-wrong-way' way. There are also four extra characters and cars to unlock. Add to this the mini-mission (like in Virtua Tennis, except without the RPG elements), VS, Battle, Time Trail, Multiplayer (single or multi cart), and I doubt that you'll ever see off the game. There's just something there for you to do in the spare 5-mins you've got when waiting for everyone else to get out of the front door when going to the pub, even if it is just playing a short battle.
But what really, really makes the game great is the Nintendo Wifi multiplayer option. Yes it's online multiplayer, yes the PC and Xbox have had it for a long time. But there's just something about having a wifi race on your handheld, with the potential of being able to play nearly anywhere in the UK (it's true because MacDonalds are supporting the Ninty Wifi, as well as coffee houses and pubs, and there isn't exactly a short supply of these establishments). I don't know what it is, but there's just some extra excitement from playing a popular racing game on a heldheld and playing against people that aren't sitting right next to you.
There have been numerous complaints about how difficult it is to connect to the Nintendo Wifi, or at least to get the NDS and MKDS to work with their wireless routers, and I had similar problems too. However, having read through a Eurogamer.net forum thread, I found all the answers I needed and got it working without a problem. Only racing is allowed, which is a shame really, and the procedure is nice and simple. Connect to the MKDS wifi service, select who you want to play against (Worldwide, Continental, Friends, or Rivals [those of similar win/lose stats]. Thus far, I've managed to play 10 races online (your online wins/loses for each race (not game, i.e. group of four races) are recorded on the cartridge - fantastic!). Each game consists of four races, randomly or specifically chosen, and points are awarded depending on your finishing position. After the final fourth race, the one with the most points wins. Simple.
Now, there are two downsides to this wifi service: 1) It takes a while for the service to find and lock-on to players that are also searching for online races, from 2-mins up to, so some say, 30-mins. There is no lobby to chat with other gamers. However, it's said that those on your Friends list (you give each other your registered MKDS Friends Code) are found quicker if they are online at the same time.
2) Stat-whores - the term given to those that play online only to show off their stats and quite races/fights/whatever when they are losing (and thus have a detrimental effect on their stats). Nicely, those that drop-out of races mid-way are penalised by getting a +1 on their Lose tally. Of course, this is unfar to those that have drop-out due to connection problems (i.e. not on purpose), but then you can't have everything (although a number of people have said that they drop-out after the third race, but this has yet to happen to me).
What else is there to say about MKDS? Well, I've yet to try out the single/multi cart of Multiplayer modes (just to get a complete view of the product), but I don't think it'll be detrimental to my view on the game. Like I said on my article when I purchased a NDS, the graphics are great for a handheld. The screen is small so there isn't a need for putting in loads of little detail, it's just right for the resolution given. Because I roughly knew what to expect (N64 graphics), there was little chance of being delivered a crushing blow to my eyes and expectations. I have realistic expectation and I knew it wasn't going to be as pretty as the PS1 or even the PSP, because I knew of the difference in hardware, and really I just wish that all those 12-year old fanboys would stop the PSP vs NDS shit. Same goes for the Xbox360 vs Revolution vs PS3 - learn about the specifics of the hardware (like Xbox360 having a bespoke gfx card/chip vs. PS3 off-the-shelf hardware) before you shout your fucking mouths off... right, anecdotal rant over. And the sound is pretty good too with Surround, Stereo and Headphone output options, although the NDS speakers are a little tinny for my liking. The usual catchy theme tunes and sound effects are all present and corrent.
A friend of mine says in his personal blog: "I have to say that with each iteration of Mario Kart my interest, whilst still reasonably high, has faded; the first I felt was pure gaming fun and each instalment since has just tweaked the formula just a little too much for my liking. It seems in the later versions there were too many power-ups and too much was down to chance; and what about the jump button!"
And he's probably right. I've read about others talking about the blue shell weapon, and as much as I agree it's a pain in the arse weapon and makes you feel you're being picked on (especially if you get that and then a red shell straight after), it's there to even things out. Great players shouldn't think that it's just there to penalise them, they should think of it as a handicap - just like golf. Yes, it is supposed to give those poorer players a chance to have some glory because if they don't get a whiff of it, then they'll be forever put off the game by thinking that they'll never be good enough - and then who's to blame for the lack of people wanting to play multiplayer MKDS?
If you've never played Mario Kart before or you have only ever played one or two iterations and you have an NDS, then you really should look into buying this game. If it doesn't bring back the memories with a little twist, then it will certainly give you something you've not experienced before. And remember, with EA and their crap sequels, you should feel lucky that there's something refreshing out there.