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Mario Kart DS Review

Mario Kart DS.  Just the mention of this name should have already answered the question of how highly this game scores in all categories, but this review should say why.  Mario Kart is the first game released for the Nintendo DS with online multiplayer, which in itself is a miraculous first, but this new version also offers many more things.  There are new tracks, a new mission mode, new characters, new karts and much more besides, but the online is the first big plus.


The graphics in this game are nothing short of amazing.  I have said this because I thought I really knew what the DS was capable of, seeing the fully 3D visuals in Super Mario 64 DS and Metroid Prime Hunters demos when I first bought the DS.  I was wrong.  There is amazing detail in just about every one of these tracks, with 3D bullet bills, castles, open lakes and snow covered mountains.  There is such detail in the levels, that you can practically spot something new by playing Time Trials.  Such examples include the signs in the levels, often with Mario or Nintendo references hidden in them.  The characters are also detailed.  They are also certainly not just sprites, but full 3D character models in the games, with many animations.  In fact, quite a few retain the same graphical style as Super Mario 64 DS, another amazing looking game.

Sound and Music

The sound is probably a slight bit better than even the graphics, with some of the best background music in a Mario Kart game yet.  The newer Nitro GP tracks have music that has been brilliantly composed, and the retro tracks have remixed versions of the original music, sounding practically as good as either their SNES, N64, Super Circuit or Gamecube originals.  In fact, just like with the graphics, you can often hear new things by listening closely, like cannon effects while braking on Airship Fortress, or the various phrases from each character.


Okay, while the rest of the review may have shown how good the game is on one level, the most important question is if the game is fun to actually play.  The answer to this, thankfully, is yes.  This game has the many different modes, the most important being the Grand Prix modes.  This is where you pick a character you've unlocked, and a kart you have unlocked and race against 7 computer controlled opponents across a set of four tracks, with the person who gains the highest score at the end being the winner.  This is actually good fun with the tracks being so well made, and the fun of unlocking various extras as you progress is neat.

There is also the Mission mode in the game.  This is a new idea Nintendo came up with when designing this game never tried before, and has you trying to complete various objectives under a fair time limit.  These tasks range from breaking item boxes, to going through gates, to collecting coins.  This sounds like it gets monotonous, but thanks to the clever locations and variations of the tasks, doesn't actually get that dull.  This is also a good way to try out the tracks, as you cover all 32 tracks and eight battle courses in these missions, using every default character.  Another new part of this mode is the boss battles.  After the eight missions in a level, you will race a boss.  This may sound a strange idea, boss fights in a racing game, but with some intelligent strategies needed to win, and a range of classic bosses from the Big bully to King Boo, this is implemented brilliantly.

Like the other Mario Kart games, there is also Time trials mode, which has you racing your own times and trying to beat your ghosts, and Battle Mode where you fight opponents in specially designed arenas.  If Time Trials was good before, there is no change here either.  It is still the good, traditional fun of trying to out race your ghost using just a mushroom (or three).  Battle however has been vastly improved.  In Super Circuit and Double Dash, Battle mode went downhill slightly, with some boring and badly designed arenas.  In this game however, it is right up there the other modes.  It also adds in some extras, including AI opponents.  Yes, for the first time ever in a Mario Kart game, Battle Mode is no multiplayer only affair.  You can now go and battle against computer controlled rivals when you have no friends to beat.  The AI is surprisingly good, but not great.

Versus is pretty much the same as it was in the other Mario Kart games, just choose a track, choose some options and character/kart combination and you're off.  The mode is slightly improved here than it was in Mario Kart Double Dash, with the option to race only AI rivals rather than having to have friends to race against.  This makes the mode a good practise option, good for practising advanced strategies, item usage and the shortcuts needed for Grand Prix or Time Trials.  On the other hand, there is one thing missing from the last game.  The amount of options you could change before the match.  This factor, that you can't set what types of items are in the game or number of laps per course slightly lets down this mode, but it could be a benefit when practising for online gaming, since there is no way to tweak options online either.

The items here have been improved as well, with two new ones being added to the mix.  as well as a wide variety of shells, bananas, mushrooms, lightning, stars and boos, the bullet bill and blooper have been added to improve the game even more.  The Bullet bill transforms you into a bullet bill and drives you round the course, while the blooper sprays ink on rivals screens.  These are brilliant additions (especially the Bullet Bill) and add more variety to the already great game.

Value and Length of the Game

Okay, there is only really one real thing to say about this game; that if you like games which take you a lot of time to complete, this game is definitely one for you to try.  There are eight cups consisting of 4 courses each in GP mode, over four different settings of difficulty.  Seeing how getting gold on the different cups unlocks a selection of characters and karts, and how you ca get ranks from E to *** on each cup, this alone should keep you playing for a very long time, trying to ace the mode with top ranks and all golds.

There is also the matter of the different karts and characters you can unlock while playing the game, and the time it will take you to test out each combination and find one that suits you best as a player.  The maths here is quite simple and shows just how much you can test out.  Think about it this way:

8 default characters + hidden characters with 3 karts each coming to a total of 36 karts.  Wow that's a huge number of combinations to try out against the computer.  And your friends.

Time Trials though, is what will probably keep you playing Mario Kart DS until at least when the Revolution comes out.  There are 32 different courses and you have to know which kart to use for each course (even with a certain technique different karts are needed).  And beating your times gets incredibly addictive, knowing you can just save milliseconds of what you once thought was a perfect time.

You will find that vs and Battle last you quite long, but not as long as Time Trials or GP when you're on your own.  Against friends in multiplayer though, you will be playing for years to come, especially when they get pipped at the post by a red or blue shell just before the finish line!  It's also fun when you lap them and they complain you're cheating because of item usage, a special tactic called snaking or shortcuts.

Surprisingly, the difficulty of missions will keep you going for a decent amount of time.  To be honest,  originally thought they would be over in like a day and would be ridiculously easy.  I was wrong.  The first few missions are stupidly easy, just to get you playing.  The bosses are too easy for words and even the most basic of beginners could trounce level 1 missions, at most by reading the manual.  However, by level 3, it's a different story altogether.  Moving item boxes in missions, secret routes, hidden coins and increasingly more numerous mini-turbos are needed to beat them.  And the time limits get harsher, there is a level much further on with like 11 seconds as the time limit, to get through 8 gates in order!  And you can't hit the side or go a millimetre off the path.  This is a challenge!


This factor depends what level you want to play the game.  If you want to just play some easy missions, then win 50cc and play friends, the difficulty is like 1/10.  If you want to be a casual sort of gamer who picks up the game for a quick go when they're bored, it's about 5/10 difficulty.  If you want to complete it without the highest ranks but with all golds it's about 8/10 difficulty.  Finally, if you world record standard time trial times, want to become a wifi pro or need 3 stars on all Grand Prix cups and the missions, it's 10/10 for certain.  The difficulty is dependent on the level of meta game you intend to play.

Should I buy the game?

The answer to this is positively yes, for certain.  As I didn't write down a score for each factor of the game, here is what I rate the parts of this brilliant game:

Graphics- 9.5/10

Sound- 10/10

Gameplay- 10/10

Value and Length- 10/10

Difficulty- varies on level of play

I personally though think this is a great game.  The graphics are superb and full of 3D detail, the tracks, karts and characters are interesting and full of personality.  The music is incredible especially on courses like Waluigi Pinball and Airship Fortress.  The game is so packed with awesome modes like Grand Prix and missions, with the awesome multiplayer modes.  I didn't even get around to wifi mode (online) where you can race people all over the world in different modes like friends, worldwide, rivals, regional.  The minor glitch and disconnecting problem online cannot start to ruin what in fact is a masterpiece in portable game design.  It also adds onto everything offered by a Mario Kart game so far.  8 player versus, computer rivals in Battle Mode, 32 awesome levels and some all new characters.  My only recommendation is this; go out and buy this game now, it's too perfect to miss.