Mario Kart Double Dash - GC Review

January 12th, 2004

How do you review a title like this? If you liked any of the previous Mario Kart games, you'll like this one. If you don't know what all the fuss is about, this title won't change your mind. I guess you write for the noobs. The people who have never experienced a Mario Kart game before. Is Mario Kart: Double Dash a good introduction to the Mario Kart world? More importantly, is it a good game once you strip away the nostalgia and the heft of its predecessors? Yeah, it is.

Mario Kart, released way back on the SNES, basically invented the Kart racing genre, and ruined me for all other racing games. To hell with tweaking my car's shocks and spoilers trying to shave .01 of a second off my lap time. Just give me a red shell so's I can fuck over whoever's in front of me. Mario Kart was also a graphical masterpiece. The incredibly colourful Mode 7 graphics were probably the SNES's greatest graphical achievement until Donkey Kong Country (or Star Fox). Other games on other systems have tried to copy Mario Kart to various degrees of success. But they have never, ever bettered the original. That's a hell of a legacy to live up to. In fact, there are those that say the SNES original is still the best in the series. But they'd still accept an offer of multiplayer in any version.

So how does this newest version stack up? Pretty well for the most part.

I don't think any Mario Kart game will beat the impressive graphics of the original. I know that every new game on every new system has looked exponentially better than the one that has gone before it, but that first game was a revelation. How did they manage to make the game look that good and still play that well? We take such things for granted these days. In fact, I'd almost call the graphics for this game disappointing. It pains me as a Nintendo fanboy to say it, but that's the way I feel. The game has the happy cartoony feel of a Mario game, but that feels like an excuse in this game. Not a lot of textures? Oh, that's a part of the style. Low polygon models? Oh, that's a part of the style. I call bullshit. Not everything should have that shiny fucking sheen to it. Mario's jeans should look like jeans. Wario's butt should not shine. Bowser should have some scales. Donkey Kong should look shaggy, damnit. And all of them, every single fucking character should have individually modeled fingers. None of this square looking fists with a half assed textured slapped on it shit. Seriously, that's just lazy.

This is still a nice looking game. A happy looking game. A Mario looking game. Not an ugly game by any stretch of the imagination. Nicely varied tracks. Pretty good animation, for a racing game. You can get a sense of each character, just by the way they look as they drive. And there's a nice selection of cars, sorry, karts, this time around. Nice touch, that.

Not to be a negative Nelly, but Nintendo strikes me as a bit lazy in the audio department as well. All the characters talk a lot during and after the races. But half the racers don't actually speak per se. They squeak, growl, grunt and so on. The other half, the english speaking half, repeat themselves way too often. Especially since some of what they say is stupid. Wario laughs his evil laugh when he nails someone with a weapon or when he power slides, and that's fine. His evil laugh is fine, how can you get sick of his great laughter? But Daisy, what does Daisy say whenever she does anything? "Hi! I'm Daisy!" Dude, WTF?!? That gets kinda annoying kinda quick. One sound bit per character. That's it during the races. Then there are different clips for when you win, come in second, or anything below that. That's like, at most, five short clips of dialogue for each character. That ain't near enough. How hard would it've been to get a dozen more clips for each?

The music isn't all that memorable, no particular piece is popping into my head as I write this. But it all fits in with the Mario Kart vibe. And none of it sucks. For sucky music, you need to play Sonic games.

This next little bit didn't really fit anywhere else, plus it's kinda important to me, so it gets its own paragraph. They got rid of the POOMPF! In Mario Kart 64, when you zoomed off a really, really big ramp and then landed, you landed with a POOPMF! Big, cartoony letters accompanied the perfect sound effect and your kart bounced a bit as you continued on your way. That ain't in here, and it is missed. If only by me.

But all my petty bitching is basically negated by the fact that this game controls like a dream. Very easy to pick up and play (except by my friend Trevor who hates all Kart games). They changed the power sliding mechanic. There is no longer a slight hop as you enter into the slide. You start the turn, hit the shoulder button, which kind of locks your kart into a skid and starts producing sparks. Tap against the skids until blue sparks appear and voila: you just done got a boost. Not a very big boost though. In some races it seems to do no good at all. Maybe it was just the combination of Kart and riders that I picked.

The weapons system has been changed up as well. Since there are two riders per kart, you can carry twice as much. Kinda. In Mario Kart, you could trail most of your weapons behind you allowing you to pick up extra weapons. You can no longer trail weapons, so the extra rider kind of picks up that slack. The lack of trailing ability and the fact that the multiple shell pick-up no longer creates a shield of rotating shells around you changes the defensive strategy a fair bit. It's a little harder to get rid of red shells on your ass this time around. You have to be going straight, and wait until a little icon appears, letting you know that the shell is just about to hit. Then, and only then, can you launch a shell or banana backwards to deflect the shell. A couple of other weapon changes of note: The feather is gone. That, coupled with the hop-less power slides means it's much harder to find shortcuts. The ghost is gone as well. The lightning bolt isn't as effective as it used to be: it no longer causes your opponents to fall to their dooms when they hit a ramp. Bummer.

Also new to this version, two player co-op. One person drives, the other is in charge of weapons and power slides. And they can switch at any time. Doesn't seem like much, but is a great addition. Once you get into the groove, power slides are even easier to pull off, you can do multiple slides on one corner. Plus you can get a super boost off the start if you and your partner time it right. Plus your partner can steal weapons from other racers if you get close enough. You can also LAN together 8 Cubes for multi-player, multi-system mayhem. I've yet to partake of such an experience, but I've heard it's nice. Hell, you can even go online if you have the right equipment. Good things all.

Another good thing, hellcomma it is a great thing: no more rubber band A.I. Thank Christ! You can lap people again. To be truthful, there still might be rubber band A.I. (the computer always keeps pace with you no matter how well you do), but it is so much more subtle as to be a non issue.

But the battle modes aren't as good as in the previous installments. At least to begin with. You have the standard balloon-popping fun, plus two new additions. The first is a kind of capture the flag type mode, where you want to be the last person in possession of the shine before time runs out. The second is Bob-omb Blast which is just chaos. I no likey so much. But the deal killers are the actual play fields. They are all way too basic. They are all just small squares, but with some slight differences, one is just an open field, with nothing other than weapon pick ups. One has two levels. One has four big blocks, and one is a cookie. I know Nintendo has been talking lately about getting back to basics and making games more accessible to new players, but this is too basic, this is boring. The original SNES Kart had more elaborate battle fields. The 64 ones were fantastic, and I wish to God that they could be unlocked in this version. But, alas, they cannot. There are two other maps that can be unlocked, and they are much better than the regular maps. Once you unlock the new maps, you will rarely use the starting four. It's annoying how lame those four maps are. Serious mis-step.

The last nice addition to Double Dash is the aforementioned unlockables. Finally there are rewards for playing through the game on all the difficulties other than personal satisfaction. You can unlock new battle maps, new karts, new riders, a new difficulty level, and mirror mode. Unlocking stuff is always good. Except when you lock away the only good battle maps. Damn that just sticks in my craw. I done been craw stuck.

That's the problem with making a new game in such a great series, every wrong step is amplified. And this game has more than a couple mis-steps. But, god damnit, it is till a great game. If good (not great) graphics and good (not great) sound is the price to be paid for fantastic (not just great) play control, then I will gladly pay it. Just don't expect me not to bitch.

- Tyler