Mario Kart DS

A game by any other name would’ve gotten a much lower score.

By Daavpuke, Posted 02 Dec 2011

Super Mario Kart was the game that defined the kart genre. A pioneer of its time, it made a whole new distinction between racing and involving popular franchises in a party presentation. Even though it had some issues, all is forgiven in the first ever introduction to a great concept, as it was too much fun to dwell on any indiscretions. More than a decade later and instances further, Mario Kart DS makes its apparition, to provide the first fully functional iteration with an internet connection; as the Gamecube version required some trickery.

NoobFeed Review - Mario Kart DS

This connectivity wasn’t the only revamped aspect of the game, as the impressive level designs have again been enhanced. The magnitude of circuits open up an intense sense of freedom, as colorful environments map the horizon filled with flowers, fire and bustling activity. This gets further portrayed in the tracks themselves that offer a whole new level of interactivity of sliding platforms, rolling bridges or even huge pinball machines. In particular, Peach Gardens and Bowser Bridge show the pinnacle of this grand prix grandeur.

Unfortunately, the incredible lack of polish throughout also make most levels feel empty rather than liberating. This is most apparent in the retro track of older instances, which show just how bare Mario Kart DS runs its game. The bland, downsized visuals are inexplicably lackluster for one of Nintendo’s most important franchises, with a lot of squared textures and terrains. In particular, coining the term “chocolate” is an embellishment for creating the ugliest, most monochrome dirt track ever to flop itself on a screen. Unfortunately, this isn’t the only indication of flavorless design, with many older tracks being cut to size. Some old tracks were even stripped from shortcuts and excess in order to make the cut; which is disappointing. The moldy cherry comes in audible form; with some effects being lesser than they once were, such as Donkey Kong sounding like a tired old man for some reason.

NoobFeed Review - Mario Kart DS

Luckily, there’s a ton of content to contrast this presentation, as Mario Kart DS is bigger than ever with added retro tracks, a slew of cars, larger multiplayer options and even a short set of missions. The Grand Prix mode in itself is now a double feature of new cup racers and an additional throwback to circuits of iterations past. But aside from the great reinventions, the regular tracks themselves also throw in some oldschool vibes with moles making a new appearance and an entire track dedicated to the Super Mario Bros’ airships. And as an added layer of gameplay, cups are now not only divided in the triple medal method of old, but are also classified in ranks. So simply getting the gold medal might still land you a low ranking, which might entice players to blow out all the stops and revisit tracks for ultimate supremacy.

Racing in these cups and additional modes is an instant classic of good, clean fun. Yes, Mario Kart DS once more brings the best party racing experience with instant gratifying action and action packed laps. A new set of weapons offer a pleasurable drive and attacks are now more visible through the map. Shells, stars, peels, huge Bullet Bills and even ink-squirting Bloopers are the show stoppers of this bag of tricks and will rejoice or infuriate players time and again. But for all the giggly fun driving, shooting, jumping and drifting offers, there are an equal amount of cutbacks. For example, no characters have a weapon tied to their name, leaving the choice of character to be more random than before.

NoobFeed Review - Mario Kart DS

Yet, the most obvious is the incomprehensible control screen for both handling and vision. Not only are the screens placed in a backward manner, with the action screen on top, but racing as a whole is a skill hard to master, solely based on the strange choice of button use. The A button controls the main action, leaving your hand placement to be more rigid towards the rest of your options. As drifting controlled with the R button is fairly mandatory in the search of success, any sizable hand will left cramped up and hurting after each race, which just plain isn’t good. Throwing items backward with the L button is troublesome and the alternative is barely reachable without clogging other buttons. And as a last, it’s a complete mystery what exactly makes Mario Kart DS a ‘DS’ feature, as there is only 1 function for the touchscreen and even that can be switched with a button. Games shouldn’t be a complex mash of tangible activity on-screen, but stripping it all seems to be somewhat pandering to players and a lot more could’ve been done with this option.

The follies don’t stop there unfortunately, as more details see cut corners as a base of operation. For instance, racing will lack a certain finesse due to the rigid kart animations feeling like cardboard cutouts floating on air. This unmovable trait will also ensue some clipping errors with karts fading in hills or not detecting a collision properly; morphing in opponents. Were it not for the otherwise impressive visuals popping from all sides of the screens, one would dare say all these errors are ugly.

NoobFeed Review - Mario Kart DS

However, Mario Kart DS tries really hard to please a certain type of customer. With enhanced multiplayer and easy connectivity toward the entire world, this game is meant to be fought on the virtual battlefield. Whether racing or battling, the joys of crushing opponents have never been this big, bold and satisfying. Up to eight miscreants can now battle for bragging rights through a series of connectivity options, creating the ultimate party racer wherever the location. Unfortunately, to the point of redundancy, even here a faux pas sneaks into the design, with a huge name tag blocking sight most the time. In addition, balloon battles require players to blow into the mic to inflate their balloons or perish; which again is a great idea but is simply ludicrous to perform.

It’s hard to envision what the general idea was of Mario Kart DS. If it’s a fan service, then they cut too much of the older good appeals to make it work, as it lacks a personal touch, cuts shortcuts and markets to a whole new crowd as a whole. As a game by its own merit, it demands too much leniency from players with cut corners, bland structuring and an unfathomably strange control conception. As a mix of the two, it is probably fans that will come out shorthanded, as Mario Kart DS makes a large point of creating a good multiplayer experience. The singleplayer is a blast as well, but won’t offer a long-lasting appeal rather than its accessible racing as a short-term platform.

NoobFeed Review - Mario Kart DS
It doesn't even get pin-ups right. For shame.

The integration of connectivity took precedence to many aspects from this great franchise and most of those have been unaddressed. And while Mario Kart is still a great game and a top contender in the genre it created, one cannot deny the myriad of indiscretions that serve as the basis for the game. Does that mean Mario Kart Ds isn’t worth your time? Strangely, no; as its vast amount of content and instant gratifying fun are still the best in its category. But be prepared to strap on the Nintendo-veil before your eyes if you want to overcome all the issues this game has and enjoy it for what it truly is: a great party experience. While Mario Kart DS is the least of its brethren, it still is a riveting experience and a great iteration, but in no way shape or form should this ever be viewed as prime. Those that do defend that argument should check their objectivity and see what other games they can be this forgiving about. A game by any other name would’ve gotten a much lower score.

Daav Valentaten, NoobFeed. (@Daavpuke)

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General Information

Mario Kart DS


Platform(s): 3DS
Publisher(s): Nintendo
Developer(s): Nintendo
Genres: Racing
Themes: Racing
Release Date: 2005-11-14

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