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Nintendo unleashes Mario Kart DS (Review)

Rev-up those racing cart engines Nintendo DS owners as “Mario Kart DS” has arrived on your preferred hand-held. The latest Mario racer is also the first Nintendo product with online support. The big question is, how does the game fare in comparison to other entries in the series? Short answer, very good!

Lets start with the single player experience. Mario Kart DS offers five different game types where you compete against CPU-controlled opponents. The modes are Grand Prix, Time Trials, VS, Battle and Missions. The VS and Battle modes are also playable available for multiplayer challenges.

As noted previously, the infamous Grand Prix mode returns with new and classic tracks from past Mario Kart titles. As with previous titles in the series you get to select one of three classes to race in (50cc, 100cc and 150cc). After choosing which class to race and playable character, gamers are then left with the option of racing on the Nitro Grand Prix (Nintendo DS exclusive tracks) or the Retro Grand Prix (with popular tracks from the GBA, SNES, N64 and GameCube iterations).

Gamers can unlock hidden characters by completing specific gameplay objectives. The hidden characters are Princess Daisy, Dry Bones, Waluigi and R.O.B. The addition of unlockable characters adds some depth to the single player portion of the game.

The multiplayer mode is what everyone is talking about these days. Not only can you play with other DS owners who are in proximity (standard multiplayer mode), but you can also race with other gamers online using the Nintendo DS’s built-in Wi-Fi capabilities (Nintendo Wi-Fi).

The standard multiplayer mode can be played with up to eight different Nintendo DS owners. Gamers don’t even need to own a copy of the game as content can be downloaded to their hand-held using the Nintendo DS’s “DS Download Play” when playing in the simple multiplayer mode. On the downside, the simple mode limits you to a few courses and one character to choose from (Shy Guy). The normal proximity mode (each user has a copy of Mario Kart DS in their unit) offers all of the multiplayer content for everyone to enjoy.

The Nintendo Wi-Fi component of the game is what make Mario Kart DS so unique. For the first time in the Mario universe, gamers can experience online gameplay and challenge players worldwide. And the best part about it is that its so easy to setup your DS to go online (that is if you have a Nintendo supported router or an official Nintendo Wi-Fi USB dongle).

The online gameplay is everything that one would expect from a company like Nintendo. Its simple and fun! You can either play against friends (using the unique friends code feature) or let the game randomly select opponents from around the globe.

Up to four racers can compete against each other in online mode. Online stats (Wins and losses) are tabulated as you progress, which makes it easy for gamers to compare their skills with others.

The online play is lag free and games run very smoothly (the speeds are comparable with a single-player matchup). A few cutbacks were needed to achieve this lag free game state. As noted previously, only four racers can compete against each other (compared to eight in standard multiplayer). Also, some visual items have been removed (objects can no longer be seen following your character when they are picked-up) in order to speed up the gameplay.

Somethings could have been done better though. There is no lobby system implemented. Such a feature would have been a great way to meet new friends and to chat with potential challengers. Also, it would have been great if Nintendo would have added some form of peer-to-peer voice chat functionality so that gamers could trash talk each other while playing.

Still, Nintendo’s first official online offering is definitely a marvel in itself. With that in mind, Nintendo DS owners shouldn’t hesitate when considering Mario Kart DS. If Nintendo stays dedicated to the online platform and continues to offer a stellar online experience like the one showcased in Mario Kart DS, then gamers have a lot to look forward to when it comes to future online products by Nintendo.

André Barriault is currently a contributor for the Game Invasion channel on Chris Pirillo’s Lockergnome technology network. You can checkout Andre’s game-related blog at www.gamingcult.com – Article originally published in [here] magazine in Nov. 2005

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