Mario Kart is a long-running game series from Nintendo, taking our familiar plumber character, Mario, and his cohorts (Luigi, Donkey Kong, Princess Peach, Toad, and many others) around the laps in go-karts. While you can play in single player mode against the CPU, the game really shines when you play against others. The Nintendo DS version ups the ante for the portable version of this game.
With the DS, there are a few different modes of play. To unlock new levels, you play by yourself against the CPU, racing in different “Cups” (50cc, 100cc, 150cc) and beating other players in order to unlock new courses to race on. You also have time trials, where you can race against your own time and try to beat it, setting a new record.
Where the DS version really raises the bar is with its multiplayer options. If you are playing against others within range of your DS, you can race against others who don’t own the game by using the Download Play mode. Course choices are limited to eight, but that is plenty for a racing session. The real excitement here is using the Nintendo WFC (wi-fi) abilities to connect with others around the world. While you can’t chat in real time, nor know the person’s identity, you can race against random opponents. But, if you know others who have WFC abilities and Mario Kart, you can exchange your Friends List codes and wait for your buddies, to race against them. The various multiplayer abilities are what make this game shine, in my opinion–other DS games could learn from this one.
Given the limited controls of the DS (no joystick), the ability to control your kart is still very solid and reliable. A few practice run will have you getting down the basics in no time. Using the “L” and “R” buttons on top, you can easily learn to drift through a corner and outmaneuver your opponents. Getting a quick start off the line requires a bit of gut-instinct timing (hit the throttle somewhere between 2 and 1 in the countdown, and hold it), but it gives you a decided advantage. Each different character has different cart abilities: some have a high top speed but slow acceleration, where others are heavier or have better handling. Choosing your favorite is more an exercise in balancing your own control abilities with the character’s cart abilities.
While it isn’t my favorite type of game, it is solid and very enjoyable, as I’ve come to expect from Nintendo’s best games. And the many different multiplayer modes are the icing on the cake. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.