Compared to the only two 3D Mario Kart’s that came before this, Mario Kart DS doesn’t hold up as well. When seeing a developer put 3D graphics on the DS, it always feels like they’re just trying to prove that they can do it all. The hardware was fantastic for 2D games, but 3D looks slightly better than the original PlayStation, with a lower screen resolution. Also, the idea of an analog stick was born out of 3D graphics, and the original DS doesn’t have this. Mario Kart was enough of an established franchise that a DS version was inevitable, but I would have liked a better package.
The game has twice as many cups as Mario Kart 64 or Mario Kart: Double Dash, but the original tracks aren’t all that great. Airship Fortress tries to increase difficulty by sending Bullet Bills your way, and putting gophers in the track, but both are so easy to avoid. Tick Tock Clock tries to hit you with a pendulum and gears, but all you need to do is drive around the obstacles. Also, Tick Tock Clock barely resembles its first ever appearance in Super Mario 64.
Having twice as many cups means eight instead of four. But the last four are called the Retro Grand Prix, and it is composed entirely of previous Mario Kart tracks. Fun for the oldheads who still remember, but it shows a lack of creativity among the developers. It appears all four previous games are equally accounted for: Mario Kart (SNES), Mario Kart 64 (N64), Mario Kart: Super Circuit (GBA), and Mario Kart: Double Dash (GCN). You will notice deviations however, as these are approximations of the tracks, not pixel-perfect versions.
The usual MK trappings are still part of the game. There are three main classes, 50cc, 100cc, and 150cc, each more difficult than the last. You can unlock mirrored tracks. There are light, medium, and heavy drivers, although you change a driver’s kart and get the exact stats, such as Acceleration, Top Speed, and Item Probability. I like this feature a lot. Cups consist of four races, and the person with the most points takes 1st place overall. Course items are mostly the same as in past games. A neat new item is the Blooper, which shoots ink at your opponents screen, temporarily blinding him or her. In addition, there are the usual Time Trails and Vs. modes.
Outside of racing games, Battle Mode makes a return from the N64 game. “Balloon Battle” is the new name, the classic game of popping other player’s balloons and trying to save your own. Also in Battle Mode is Shine Runners, a fairly boring game about collecting more Super Mario Sunshine stars than your opponents. There are also “Missions”, but these are dumb. Examples include “Collect ten coins”, or “Do six power slides”. There are seven sets of nine missions. 63 total.
With multiplayer, this is a first for Mario Kart: you can play online. I remember using the “Link Cable” to link at least two Game Boy Color’s and as many as four. I played a game of golf with a friend, and traded Pokemon with someone else. Well, for MKDS, there is no link cable. Nintendo used notoriously hard-to-remember “Friend Codes” to connect with friends wirelessly. If your friends don’t have Mario Kart DS, you can play strangers online just by logging on.
This is where multiplayer was headed in 2005 and where it still resides to this day: online. I remember McDonald’s having a promotion, saying WiFi was coming to their restaurants, and they promoted the ability to play Mario Kart DS online, once inside and connected to their network. It was a big promotion for the series, and it wasn’t being sold with Happy Meals. It went hand in hand with Nintendo DS being marketed for adults, like having a television commercial with Beyonce playing one.
Again, Mario Kart 64 and Mario Kart: Double Dash are more fun than DS. On its own though, it’s a competent kart racer. I remember the online scene was hyper-competitive, and people took advantage of power slides to get ahead. The game is generally easy offline, and I recommend buying at a discount.