When the original Mario Kart hit the SNES, it caused a fury. Never before had there been such a seamless mix of racing and on-track battling. People got together to play the multiplayer challenges, shooting each other down with shells. If you were all by yourself, you were probably chasing your own ghost on the time trials. It was the birth of an extremely successful franchise. In 2005, the game found its home on the DS.
It's been a while since I had the pleasure of playing a Mario Kart game. I kinda lost track of the gaming world after the SNES died, so I missed all the N64 and Cube fun. That said, not much has changed since the old days. For people like me who haven't been paying attention for the last 15 years, Mario Kart DS could just as well be Mario Kart 2.
The visual capabilities of the DS still need some getting used to. To me it remains pretty odd that such a little console can handle better graphics than my trusty old SNES. The game looks pretty good, although not very dashing. Bright colors, pretty funny kart designs and clear tracks. The screen itself isn't crowded with all kind of statistics, though it's quite surprising how much information is actually on there. One of the advantages of the second DS screen no doubt.
There are some cool additions to the gameplay, most notable the slide boost. It takes a while to get this into your fingers, but once you master it, you'll be leaving the competition behind you without much trouble. There are a few new battle tools too, pretty fun additions except for the blue shield, which makes it too easy to screw the first driver.
The original game had a few flaws when it came to the difficulty level of the competition, sadly this hasn't been resolved in the DS version. The championships never really feel like a battle between 8 drivers, since they all have their place and pretty much stay there unless you try to interfere. And once you get to the head of the pack, it's hard to leave the others behind. I know this helps the difficulty level of the game, but it still feels like a cheap solution.
It's nice to see some extra game modes added to the game, with the Mission Mode being the most interesting one. Surely adds to the longevity of the game. The other modes are back again too, with some cool time trial action and of course the championship modes. The retro cups are a fun addition (with tracks from previous installments of the Mario Kart franchise), though the newer tracks are definitely more fun to play.
Two-player mode is fun too, sadly when you only have one cartridge it will always pick the same tracks to play. It would've been better to pick some random tracks every time you sync. The game itself isn't too hard, though finishing everything with the highest rank will take you a couple of weeks. All in all, it's a very fun game to keep playing, especially since you'll be unlocking quite a few extra characters, cars and missions. And even when you have everything unlocked there's still the time trials to keep you busy.
It's a great update from the original game, though I have little to no idea how it compares to the installments in between. Sadly the problem with the difficulty level of the CPU drivers hasn't been fixed, it's the only thing that keeps me from giving a higher score. For those craving for some new Mario Kart action, it's pretty much a perfect sequel.
There's also a short but nifty trailer for the game.