Mario Kart has come out for the DS, and it is one of the first WiFi enabled games to finally be released, after a year of the DS’s life span. It has been well worth the wait. Combining a classic and amazingly fun game with the ability to play anybody around the world in a moment’s time is awesome and in the case of MK:DS, has been performed brilliantly.
First however, let me talk about the non-WiFi features. There is single player, of course, as well as local multiplayer. There is both single and multi-card multiplayer as well, up to eight players.
From those, there are your Grand Prix, single race (VS), Time Trial, two Battle modes, and a new Missions mode.
Grand Prix mode is fairly expansive, with two sets of GP’s; the Nitro and Retro Cups. The Nitro Cups are composed of all new tracks, most of which are pretty cool, while the Retro Cups are compiled from tracks from previous MK games, from the SNES, GBA, N64, and even GCN. There are four cups in each set, and four tracks in each cup, making up 32 tracks. Then of course, if you have played any MK game, you will know that there are three skill levels; 50cc, 100cc, and 150cc. At first, I thought the game played a little too slow, like, it did not feel like you drove fast at all, however, this is only during the 50cc races.
The single races are just that. Pick a track from any of the cups you have unlocked and enjoy.
Time trial can get pretty nice. Like any time trial, you just pick any track and race through three laps to see if you can get the fastest time. After you complete a race, your ghost data is saved so you can “race” yourself and try for a better time. The ghost data is very nice, mostly due to the use of the bottom screen. In all the races, the bottom screen acts as a map, which I will get into later, but in Time Trial, it records all your driving and moves, with color codes for boosts, drifting, and regular driving, so you can know what you did last time, via your ghost data, which is really cool.
If your time is good enough, you will unlock the Staff Ghost data, which is probably the fastest time any Nintendo employee finished that track, so have yourself a challenge and try to beat him/her. And unlike MK:DD for the GCN, these ghosts are saved, thankfully. We all know what a fiasco that was.
Also, you can send, or recieve for that matter, ghost data from other players, locally. So you can trade times with your friends and play against there ghosts, which is pretty cool. You can only have one ghost data of your own for each track, which makes sense, and also 10 ghosts from your friends total.
There are two battles modes; the regular Balloon Battle, and then Shine Runners. Balloon Battle has been revamped a little bit to use a particular DS feature, which is pretty inventive. You see, when you start a Balloon Battle, you only start with one balloon inflated, out of five balloons. So in order to inflate the other ballons, you have to blow into the microphone!!! Hehe, you have to admit, it’s pretty cool. However, you can hold the Select button instead, but it takes longer to inflate. Like usual, you can only have 3 balloons at once though. Also, if you run into an opponent with a mushroom boost or star, then you steal a balloon, if you have a free slot open that is. Do not forget to inflate your balloons, for if you only have one inflatted and lose it, then you lose even if you have uninflatted balloons.
There are six courses to play on in Battle Mode, the same ones in both Balloon Battle and Shine Runners. Now, in Shine Runners, there are numerous Shine Sprites scattered throughout the level, with the goal being to collect as many as possible. If someone gets hit with an item or falls of the course, then they lose a Shine Sprite, if they had one that is, so anyone can then go to where they got hit and pick up the Shine. After a certain amount of time, the player with the least amount of Shines will be kicked out. This pattern returns until there is only one survivor. It can get pretty intense.
In all these multiplayer games, Battles and VS, you can not only use computer players, which is awesome for battle, but you can also set up teams, which is sweet. You can only make two teams, but it is a pretty cool feature.
The last mode is your new Missions mode. This is a single player mode in which you strive to complete little mini-missions in six levels, with eight challenges and one boss per level. These missions range from “Collect all the coins,” to “Drive through the gates,” to “Finish first,” and even to “Do 5 Power-Slides.” These missions are not entire races, just short little challenges. They are pretty cool, and the later levels provide a lot of challenge actually.
These missions, as well as the GP’s, are ranked from three stars to one star, and then from A-E, with the triple star being the best grade and “E” being the worst. This is what provides the most challenge and drive to play these missions over and over again, trying to complete them in a fast enough time to get a better rating.
Multiplayer is set up in a very nice fashion; of which I wish WiFi was set up in. There are four rooms, each of which can fit in 8 players, and the names of the players are listed, which is very nice and easy to see who you will be playing with and then select such players.
Now for the WiFi, the reason this game pwns so much. Please bare with me, for this section will probably be a long one, and then I will talk about more general game mechanics and what not. I will not be giving a lesson in how to connect via WiFi, but put it simply that you can either go to a hotspot, at a library, McDonald’s, Starbucks, etc; or, if you have DSL or cable internet, get a wireless router or the Nintendo WiFi Connector and connect that way. So once you are in a hotspot, you go to the Nintendo WFC option and connect. Once you connect, you will be given a Friend Code, which is a 12-digit number, in which you can exchange with your friends in order to play them via one of the WiFi modes.
There are four options you can choose from to “choose” who you will be playing against: Regional, Worldwide, Friends, and Rivals. Regional races take players from in your country, while worldwide takes any player who is currently connected and available to play with. Once you have recieved some Friend Codes from your buds, you can enter them and then play against your friends using the Friends option. You can have up to 60 friends, and their stats of games you’ve played together will be saved to your game, which is always good. The Rivals option will set you up to play against others that are around your same skill level, probably in accordance to your Win/Lose record.
Here’s the main problem with WiFi: you cannot choose who you will play against. It is not the worst thing in the world, but it would have been nice to have a lobby system of some sort, like Multiplayer, instead of being randomly matched up against people. Other than that, the WiFi is good. There is no lag during gameplay or anything of the sort. Sometimes, it does take a little while to find players to race against, but that is probably because the game is very new and not too many people have it or access to WiFi at this time, but I’m sure that problem will change. Another “bad” thing about WiFi is that like in your normal racing, you cannot drag items behind you, like a banana or shell…but that is a minor complaint.
Now, with the WiFi, you can only play againt three other players, which is not bad by any means, but eight would have been better. Anyways, the gameplay is like a GP, in which you play four tracks, getting points for how well you place each time. This is a cool part though; you get to choose which track to play on, out of 20 tracks. Well, each player chooses one track, and either the track with the highest votes is the one played on, or it is randomly selected from the four choices.
WiFi makes the game a lot more fun, just knowing that you are playing with fellow gamers is awesome, but of course this is coming from a guy who does not get the chance to play against too many actual people. It’s just fun though, the competition, and frustrating with those cheaters out there…*grumble* You know the type, those guys who hold onto those red turtle shells unto you reach the finish line when you are in first, only to hit you making you finish 3rd or last….gah…
Also, you can connect your DS to nintendo’s site, nintendowifi.com, which will record all of your stats and if you are good enough, or play enough matches, then you will show up on the scoreboard, which would be pretty cool. Also, you will be one of the ones listed as online so you can see all the people who are currently playing.
Then you have all your records. In the Records area, you can look at all you and your friends’ records, from wins and losses in WiFi, battle, and vs., to times in Time Trials, and scores and times in GP’s. The records are set up nicely, very clear and smooth looking. Good stuff.
Onto the cool gameplay mechanics and specifics of the new features and what not. I guess the characters would be a logical place to start. You start out with eight characters to choose from, each with two character-specific karts. Throughout the game, you can unlock a few more characters and another kart for each one. Each character is in a certain weight class; light, medium, or heavy, of which have certain general stats. The light characters have good acceleration, but low high speed, while it is the opposite with the heavy characters. You can also nudge people around which can be pretty fun, if you are the big guy that is, because you can knock people off the track, or into bananas and other such objects; hehe, it can be fun. Back to the idea of stats, each kart has its own stats, with attributes in Speed, Acceleration, Weight, Handling, Drift, and Items.
There are two new items, although I like to say that there are three, since the bob-omb is kind of new, although it was in MK:DD. The bob-omb is a sweet weapon. Anyways, the two true new items are the Blooper and Bullet Bill. If you use the Blooper, then any player in front of you will get ink shot at them that will partially cover their screen and obstruct their vision, making it very difficult to see where to go. The Bullet Bill acts like the Chain Chomp did in MK:DD, but it is a little different. Using this item will actually turn you into a Bullet Bill for a short period in time, in which you are launched forward, descimating any opponent in your way.
Some weapons and items have changed however. The blue shell that attacks the first place player explodes like it did in MK:DD which is a welcomed change. When you get hit by any explosive, you lose whatever item you had, which is unfortunate. When you get struck by lighting, turned small, and then hit, you do not get flattened, but merely knocked around, which is dissapointing. A nice change is that pretty much any item can be sent backwards. Now, you can send red shells backwards, although I am pretty sure that if you do that then they will not lock on. Also, when you get triple shells, you can send any of those backwards as well, which is another welcomed change.
The new tracks are pretty cool, in that they have a nostalgic feeling to them, brining in enemies and elements from old Mario games, like that evil sun guy from Super Mario 3, and those sewer mole guys that are on the flying ships also in SM3. It is nice to see such elements and characters being used; brings a smile to your face.
A really cool feature, that is mostly important for multiplayer and WiFi, is that you can create your own emblem and put it on your kart; the emblem will also be displayed as a little cursor over your kart to point out which player is which. The emblem maker is pretty nice, with all the necessary tools. There are multiple sized brushes to use, as well as an eraser and filler tool. There are numerous colors and many “badges” or pre-made shapes you can use. The area to make your emblem is set up in a grid system, in very tiny pixels, so you can make fairly good icons if you are artistically inclined to begin with. I’ve raced a few times on WiFi and people had some crazy cool icons, like a metroid and all kinds of awesome stuff. You can make some really good stuff.
Being a DS game, there must be some use for the other screen, in this case being the bottom screen, which is used as a very useful map. The map has two views; one that shows the entire track, and the other that is a more detailed and zoomed in view which is very helpful. This closed-up view will give you a better idea of how close enemies are, as well as show you items and objects that are coming at you, like turtle shells coming from behind, or bananas scattered on the road. It will also show item boxes, which is helpful in determining if it is a real item box or a fake one, for the fake ones will show up red on the map.
Also, the bottom screen shows the placement of the players, from 1st to last, and also what item each person has, which can be VERY handy in certain situations, hehe. Like during this one race I had via WiFi. I had a blue turtle shell that takes out the 1st place guy, and I was in 1st place, with two other guys right behind me. I slammed on my breaks to get someone else to get in 1st so I could cream them, but they knew what I had and also slammed on their breaks…It was hilarious. So yes, the bottom screen is very useful. Like I said, it can be used to see where your competitors are, so you can block them off if they are trying to pass, or try not to get directly in front of them if they have an item and so forth. You just have to play smart and you can use the bottom screen in very intelligable ways.
The controls are very simple. “A” is accelerate, “B” is brake, “L” fires an item, while “R” jumps and holding it down allows you to drift. While drifting, you can press the D-pad left and right multiple times in order to gain a chance to Power-Slide, which is an extra little boost. It is a simple skill to learn that can be very useful to gain that extra edge. You click the touch screen to change the map view. You can also use the other regular buttons to switch the map’s view or use items.
Well, that is it. Mario Kart DS provides a lot of nice modes and challenges, and with the implementation of WiFi, you will be playing for months and months to come, playing against hundreds of thousands of gamers like yourself. It is classic Mario Karting at its best, with the same old awesome items and weapons, classic characters of which you will find a favorite, which you probably already have in MK’ing past, with sweet-looking karts and awesome tracks. You cannot lose with this game, possibly the best the DS has to offer, especially with WiFi. Also, Nintendo can give the game patches, making the WiFi experience even better and more efficient. I have seen the future of the DS, and let me tell you, it looks good.