It's the final lap of the Rainbow Road Grand Prix, Luigi is in 3rd place, just behind Bowser and Mario. Luigi has had enough of being last to that lot, and is now tearing down the main straight. He goes over an item block and collects a red shell. He grips his hand over the trigger button as they approach a tight borderless bend; he's lining his shot up now. Almost, almost. Suddenly, Dry bones in 8th place uses his lightning bolt that he had stored. Luigi spins round in a daze as the electrons char his body, and the shell breaks loose from his kart. He screams
"damn! Cocking hell. Why did Dry Bones use the lightning? So gay. Look his still in last place after all that because he's so rubbish."
Mario laughs and screams "in your face Luigi, I'm on the final corner now baby. My win. My win!"
When suddenly a blue shell that Peach in 7th place fired, undetected by anyone hits race leader Mario directly; while the explosion catches Bowser and puts him in a spin. In the meanwhile Luigi passes the pair of them at the line and takes the win; and screams
"Whos number 1 now? Me you poofs!".
Welcome ladies and gentlemen to the thrilling world of Mario Kart racing. Where skill, luck and timing are the keys to success. Allow us to take your nervous and sweaty hand, and guide you through DS version of Mario Kart.
Right from the start of the game there is no messing about. You are asked to name your profile and then create a little emblem that will stick on your car. Then from there you can select: VS mode, time trial mode Grand Prix mode, etc. The time trial mode is you beating your best time around a race track. You can save your best scores as ghost data - which is just a replay of you doing your best time; so you can see where you went right and wrong by using the ghost data. You can even share your ghost data with other Mario Kart users, but the meat and potatoes of the game is in the Grand Prix mode.
In Grand Prix mode you have a series of, initially 4 racing cups: Mushroom Cup, Flower Cup, Shell Cup and Banana Cup. Each racing cup consists of 4 different races and there are 4 difficulty levels you can select. Upping the difficulty ups the speed and the computer intelligence in each race.
After completing a race in the Grand Prix mode you are awarded points, based on how well you finished in the race. You know? 1st place will get you more points then let's say finishing in 6th place. The object of Grand Prix mode is to have the most points after the 4 races in the cup are finished. Completing some of the races - especially on some of the later difficulty levels as we said earlier, require: skill, luck and timing. But the rewards are awesome for completing this mode. You can unlock new racers, new cars, and even new cups to race in which - if beaten will unlock even more cool things.
VS mode, which we hit on a bit earlier in the review, is just what it sounds like. You can race against computer controlled racers. Think of it like racing against friends, but if you don't have any these computer controlled friends will do you nicely.
Speaking of racing against friends, this is the first Mario Kart game to give players the ability to race against 7 other friends. That's right! Now 8 friends can race against each other. You have the option of racing friends with their own copy of the game or finding players without a copy and racing them.
The main differences of racing against someone who has a copy VS racing against someone with no copy is that, when racing against someone without a copy of Mario Kart DS; some of the courses can't be raced on and only Shy Guy can be selected as a driver. Racing against someone with the game allows all game characters and tracks to be selected and raced on.
Racing on the courses is great because the cars control so well. The race action itself is viewed on the top screen. As for the buttons: the control pad turns the car while you hammer the 'A' button to accelerate and the 'B' button to brake. You can even hop with the 'R' button. As said earlier the cars handle the controls well and are responsive. The 'Y' button changes the map screen on the bottom screen while the 'X' or 'L' button fires a stored item.
Stored item What's that? We hear you scream. Is it some kind of weapon? We also hear you scream. Well an item is basically something that can be used to help you win a race. The items can be acquired by driving over an item block. Once you have an item you should be planning how to use it best.
Each item has it's uses. Bananas are dropped and when a racer races over them, they'll skid giving you a chance to pass them while they are skidding or just gain a lead over them. The green shell is like a missile; use it to knock another racer out for a while - again giving you the chance to pass them. Also green shells bounce off walls and as such can be used as a weapon for trajectory experts. And professors. Red shells are enhanced versions of the green shell; as they'll automatically hit the racer who is directly in front of you, but they do not bounce off walls and as such need to be deployed with care not to be wasted. Invincible stars make you invincible and very fast for a few seconds - and while you're invincible, if you or anyone else hits you they'll go spinning making them almost certainly loose a place.
New items in the game include Bullet Bill; which when collected acts as the star would except you turn into a bullet bill and the computer controls you - and your going at mega-fast speed.
An item that most fans of the Mario Kart series hate - and with good reason to, is the blue shell. When a blue shell is used it automatically seeks out the race leader and hits who ever that may be, and is unavoidable. This on paper may be a good idea - if you have someone that you race against that is always winning you can now use this blue shell as a great equaliser and catch up. But it's frustrating for the race leader. They may feel that they practise at this game all the time and got this good at it the hard way, why should Joe Smoe or some other random dude have the liberty of having such a great equalising weapon? And the very fact that it's unavoidable - once a blue shell is used and your in the lead, your guaranteed to be hit, that doesn't help either.
So as we've figured out the items play a huge role in Mario Kart DS. Another thing that plays a big role is skidding. Hold down the 'R' button to hop and then quickly while accelerating with 'A' alternate pressing left and right on the control pad. You should get blue flames around your tires. Keep on doing that and the flames should change to red/ yellow. Now you are set to go. Quickly release the 'R' button to get a speed boost. What a speed boost with no item!?
Another way of getting a speed boost is what?s known in the racing community as slip streaming. To do this go directly behind another racer and stay there for a long enough time. After a while you'll get a speed boost and you should be able to sail past that racer. You don't want to be behind a racer for too long though because they may have an item keenly hidden away, and they may be grinning as you fall into their trap.
A good way to hone your racing skills, apart from being in races, is the all new mission mode. Here you have a given objective to complete, such as: collect all the coins on the race track, skid around x amount of corners, or even drive out on a circuit backwards! THAT'S BACKWARDS! Completing a mission will give you a ranking. The best ranking you can get is 3 gold stars. Colleting 3 golden stars on every mission is going to take you a wee little while as some of the later stages are nightmarishly hard. Only players with skills can do this part - and we got skills, ninja skills. We here got 3 stars on every mission. And what happens is (censored). We don't want to spoil it for you.
But in the mission mode there are boss fights to add to the mix. And were not talking little weakling baby boss fights. Were talking giant Egyptian hands that want to punch the snot out of you. Were talking giant Bo-bombs that want to ram you off the course into your watery grave. The bosses play out like regular bosses as well. That being that they have weak spots and players can practise and practise and come up with different more ingenious ways of battling them.
Speaking of battle, the battle mode has made a return in Mario Kart DS. Here you can battle against your friends and or computer controlled friends and battle against each other in the balloon battle mode or the shine runners battle mode.
Starting off with the balloon battle mode: here you and your opponents start off with 1 balloon hanging behind your kart - and 4 others in reserve. The balloons act basically as your lives. Blow into the microphone or hold the select button and you can inflate up to 2 other balloons (lives). When you are hit with an item like a red shell for instance, you loose a balloon (life). When you have no more lives you loose. The last one with a life wins.
The other battle mode, which is shine runners, simply sees you and your opponents on a quest to collect the most shine sprites. When hit by an item you drop a shine sprite and somebody else, or you if you sharp enough, can collect that shine sprite. The one with the most shine sprites wins. And to stop you from hanging back and winning at the last minute there are eliminations. The players with the least shine sprites after a certain amount of time is eliminated from the match. So with that it means you have to constantly be at aiming to be one of the best or you?ll be eliminated.
There are records about your performance in each race you participate in or battles you take part in. The records are stored in the menu. And why would you even care about something like that Because Mario Kart DS can be played on-line by up to 3 other people.
Friend codes are present in this game, which means that when you first sign in with the game you are given a unique 12-digit number which is unique to your game and the system. This means that if you try and use your friend code on another system you'll be given a new friend code. You want to keep your friend code because by giving it to friends and taking note of theirs you can connect and play each other on-line. If not your left playing against strangers.
So Nintendo has put in an on-line feature but unfortunately here's where the problems start. Suppose were in a race and winning. Our opponents know their going to loose; so what do they do Switch off the system. Also the blue shell can ruin on-line races as the pros purposefully hang back until they get a blue shell and then use them at the last minute, bullying the lesser experienced racers into last place. As mentioned earlier in the review, there is no way to dodge a blue shell. It doesn't matter who you are, Joe Smoe, a Mario Kart pro or just a 1st time gamer, there is still no way to dodge a blue shell. If you're in 1st place and a blue shell gets fired by anyone, your race is going to get messed up.
Some may view the match making scheme a bit weird. So instead of giving you a choice about what race you pick or if you want to randomly pick a race, all participants select a race of their choice. The race with the most votes wins. If all the votes are level then the computer randomly picks a race. So suppose 3 friends are on-line, they each pick a race but they all pick differently. Computer decides and puts it on the least favoured of the 3 courses. Why Nintendo didn't give us the option to choose a race is beyond understanding.
So we come to the end of the review, and you want to know what the score is. Is it good? Is it bad? Well, Mario Kart DS is the best Mario Kart yet; but it's not perfect. While it?s great to see an on-line Mario Kart game, we'd like to see it balanced out a bit more, the blue shell is a bit overpowering. Those are our major gripes, but gripes aside Mario Kart DS is a technical achievement on the DS that has set the racing genre bar for the DS to an unbelievable height. The graphics are amazing for the DS, they do the job and do it well. When your racing, you have a real sense of speed. You know? That this game has attention and care put into it.
Music wise this game rocks. From the opening main menu music right down to the catchy multiplayer menu music, Mario Kart DS sounds great. The music however is midi, which is forgivable considering it's a DS game.
Mario is a great portable version of the old Mario Kart formula, now with some new bells and whistles and spit polishing that makes the Mario Kart series feel fresh.