The Mario Kart series is one fundamentally for the traditionalist gamer. Well, at least it is now. Prior to the release of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, every edition of Mario Kart had brought something new into the mix. Mario Kart DS was, of course, no different. However, with Nintendo’s policy of attracting new gamers while avoiding distancing the hardcore, did Mario Kart DS find the opening for it to slot into snugly?

Back in 2005, Nintendo’s policy for the Mario Kart series was similar to that of the Advance Wars and Super Smash Bros. series; each new edition is just that – a new edition. Avoiding words such as “pinnacle” and “zenith”. Each new version of the title is a new vision of the series – and not meant to be taken as “the best Mario Kart ever…”.

Tweaking, manipulating and refining the formula. Not to make the perfect game through several editions until they hit the nail-on-the-head. Instead to make another version, with differences that will sit alongside the previous editions with no disgrace.

Mario Kart DS screenshot

Mario Kart DS is Mario Kart, But Better

As such, Mario Kart DS fits alongside its predecessors beautifully. Following the typical 50cc, 100cc, 150cc difficulty incline for Grand Prix as well as a whole host of other single-player options. The title throws-in Battle Mode bots and the all-new Missions Mode into the mix to. The Grand Prix’s play as predicted: select a speed, followed by one of two Grand Prix’s; Nitro Grand Prix or Retro Grand Prix. Each Grand Prix contains four Cups (unlockable by successfully obtaining a Gold Cup on the first two, easier Cup’s) each consisting of four races. The scoring system seen in Mario Kart: Double Dash!! returns, rewarding points for almost every placement.

Racing for Rank

The Missions Mode is an intelligent addition to the series. Obviously having taken some small amount of inspiration from Diddy Kong Racing. In this gameplay mode, the player has an objective to complete tasks from a basic, one-lap race, to ramming the Big Bully from Super Mario 64 off the edge of an arena, to collecting a pre-set number of coins. At first, the new mode appears to be a throw-away addition, adding content through idle revisits of levels is in no way a substitute for creating an intriguing gameplay option. However Mario Kart DS decides to place itself into the category marked “inventive”. Alongside the rest of the series, as the feature pans-out into a time-consuming challenge to rank highly on each stage, similar to the Event Matches in Super Smash Bros. Melee.

The ranking system appears akin to that seen in Mario Kart: Super Circuit, although slightly better versed. For each cup, race or mission completed, you will be awarded a Rank. This is based on not only your placement but also your driving ability. There’s a welcoming variety of characters available and, of course, there’s plenty to unlock as you progress. More intriguing than this seems to be the kart selection. To begin with, each character has two karts to choose between. This quantity soon sky-rockets as the selection available becomes almost overwhelming.

Mario Kart DS screenshot

More Mario Kart, More Fun

With each new edition of Mario Kart bringing something new to the formula, Mario Kart: Double Dash!! appeared in a slightly disappointing form. Although the idea of sharing karts was a nice addition, the proceedings seemed to be shy of the magic that made the prior three instalments – Super Mario KartSuper Mario Kart 64 and Mario Kart: Super Circuit – appeal to all comers. Mario Kart DS pledges to rein the series back-in for the traditionalists. But in doing so it runs the risk of isolating newcomers. The game features 16 tracks from one of the four previous titles. This is half of that on offer (not including Mirror Mode). A selection of new characters, a few new weapons and a new drifting ability; Mario Kart DS offers a totalitarian view of everything that Mario Kart should be without distancing itself from its predecessors.

The online functionality is basic, but showed promise back in 2005. With very little lag and few problems connecting, Mario Kart DS was a reminder that although Nintendo maybe the Johnny-come-lately of the industry, they certainly do things their way. Sadly, the online functionality was closed in 2014. As such, Mario Kart DS is no longer playable online.

Get Gud Graphics

Graphically, the title is incredibly hard to judge. Far superior to the blurry, angular polygonal effects of the PlayStation yet seemingly not quite the standard seen in the Nintendo 64’s sister title. Mario Kart DS offers fully-3D character models.  The backgrounds are of an incredible standard however, with even the tracks originally featured on the GameCube undergoing a small amount of polish. With the exception of Baby Park, which unfortunately now appears quite inactive.

The special effects however, are some of the best seen on the Nintendo DS. They parallel those seen on the Nintendo 64, if not excel them, while the basic texture mapping is definitely on par. The sound effects and background music are classic Mario Kart and can’t be faulted. The Nintendo DS’s Surround Sound is one of the title’s best used features.

Mario Kart DS screenshot

Mario Kart DS, Then & Now

We all knew Mario Kart DS was never going to be anything other than spectacular. Back in 2005, it was clear this was Nintendo’s bargaining tool against Sony’s PSP for the holiday season. However, few of us could have predicted such an inventive collection of Mario Kart traditions. Especially given that the title is the fifth in a very successful series, it would’ve sold in excess of millions with little more than a re-modelling of the Nintendo 64 edition. Much like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.

However, nearly 20 years on, Mario Kart DS remains one of the best Mario Kart games to have arrived at our finger-tips. For those few gamers new to Mario Kart, you should probably play a few wireless matches before deciding on either this or Mario Kart: Super Circuit. Mario Kart DS has a cack-handed introduction for new players, so may put some people off early. However, new players to the series are surely minimal by now, and as such it’s highly recommended that fans look back as well as forward. Whatever is next for Mario Kart needs to innovate. But looking back to Mario Kart DS will surely be an inspiration.

Categories: Games