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May 22, 2015

Mario Kart DS (Part 1)

I don’t like Mario Kart DS. There, I said it. Start the hating. I don’t give a fuck. You wanna know the irony? Mario Kart is a household name, an ultra-popular spin-off to a famous series. And yet, I would rather play Cartoon Network Racing than Mario Kart DS. Just… before you start hating, please understand that my hatred of Mario Kart DS can be explained in a few points. But I’ll get to those in due time. I’m walking on eggshells here… and I’m probably gonna break all of them.

The Mario Kart series has always had a spot in Mario fans’ hearts. It’s, without a doubt, one of their favorite Mario spin-offs. After all, if it didn’t sell, wouldn’t Nintendo stop making those? I mean, this and Mario Party are the spin-offs with the most installments. I must admit that, in general, I like the Mario Kart series, too; whenever I got to play Mario Kart Super Circuit, or Double Dash, when I was visiting friends, I would jump on the occasion. The Mario Kart series is fun, regardless of the defects. In fact, you will probably find me very unfair in this review… But you know what? You’ll only understand if I explain it. So, let’s start this review, shall we?

Bowser's gonna ram into his own Rocky Wrench!
As with every racing game out there, the main draw is the ability to play against other players. And the Grand Prix, for the lonely folks. Mario Kart DS has a lot to offer to single players. Aside from the Grand Prix, there’s the ever-famous Time Trial, as well as the VS option (playing alone, against computer players, on a single race track, rather than doing a whole Grand Prix competition). Then, there’s the Battle games (I’ll discuss them again later) and the very special Mission Mode. I’ll go back on that one later as well. Besides, playing Mario Kart when you’re alone and in need of entertainment is a better way to spend your time than watching adult films on the Internet.

In last place? The Bullet Bill Express is
there to help you.
When you select Grand Prix, you select the number of cc (50, 100, 150 – this hardly ever changes, does it?), and then select a playable character among those eight: Mario, Luigi, Peach, Yoshi, Toad, Donkey Kong, Wario or Bowser. Just the eight regular characters, as usual. And of course, Bowser is able to participate. You know, guys, karting with Bowser might be a fun thing to do, but aren’t you afraid that he’ll try dirty tactics? I mean, he may be in here just to compete, and all, but it’s still the ruthless Bowser. All that matters for him is himself, his mooks and children, and Peach. And beating/destroying/killing Mario, depending on how hardcore the latest Mario game is. Well, then again, everyone in Mario Kart is using dirty tactics to some extent. It’s a basic formula every racing video game uses: As long as you’re in first place, you’re in constant danger. Everyone behind has access to more stuff than you do. Anyone, ANYONE can use just the item needed to pull you away from a victory at the push of a button. If an opponent releases a blue shell, you’re in deep trouble. I was really tempted to use another word than “trouble” here.

EVERYONE who has played a Mario Kart game has a story of how CPU characters royally screwed them up and stole the victory right under their noses. Ask anyone. “Have you ever played a Mario Kart game?” “If so, got any sort of bad experiences with it?” Go ahead. Try it. Every gamer who answers yes to the first question will answer yes to the second.

Couldn't fimd a good picture of thius screen
with all the cups unlocked. Sorry.
Back on topic, Nic. It’s not time to take out your anger. That will come. Later. So, in Grand Prix, there are no less than eight cups to participate in. That means twice as many as there were in Cartoon Network Racing. Thirty-two courses, sixteen new courses in the four regular Cups forming the Nitro Grand Prix (Mushroom, Flower, Star and Special Cup), and those forming the Retro Grand Prix (Shell, Banana, Leaf and Lightning Cup), composed of sixteen courses from past Mario Kart games. If you like racing, and you like having a good selection of courses, you should be pleased. If you’re not, then what are you complaining about? …something unrelated to the courses? …Alright, fair enough. By the way, Mario Kart DS is the first game in the series to introduce Retro Cups, a clever idea that came back with every next installment in the series.

You know how this works. Eight characters participate in a Cup, and race on four courses. At the end of each course, the racers get a score based on the order they crossed the Finish line. After the final course, the character in first place gets everything, those in second and third place get a bit of recognition, and everyone else doesn’t get a damn thing. It’s also only when you’re in first place that you unlock anything. Second place? Hah! You get jack squat! Screw you, go back to the menu and try again! I don’t care how hopeless it is, TRY AGAIN!

Is a trophy really worth all the trouble?
If you’ve played through the Grand Prix of any Mario Kart game, you know full well how it goes. After all the Cups in 50cc have been completed, you unlock 100cc, and after those are done, 150cc, and after those, a Mirror Mode. Just 150cc, but with all the tracks reversed-oh, you know what I’m talking about. Good luck beating the game at 150cc, though; it gets really hard by that point. It’s like all the characters form an alliance, and decide to gang up on yours… regardless of who it is. All the characters, minus the one you pick, even if the game will never know which one you’re going to pick. There’s a near-Kafkaesque situation here. Ever felt like the world was against you? Well, imagine this to be the case here. No one can be trusted. It’s a conspiracy against the player! Something that would make you go nuts if you thought too hard about it! I’m… I’m being watched right now, aren’t I? This game is watching me. It revels in its own villainy while waiting for me to start playing… It’s expecting every one of my moves… It knows I'm gonna go for Mario, but then it knows that if I don't, I'll go for Luigi or Daisy, and since I know the game knows that, I'll go for someone else, so the game will prepare to unleash all of its tricks against Waluigi or Toad- I'm not crazy! I'M NOT MAD! STOP FOLLOWING MY FOOTSTEPS! My Twitter account, sure, go ahead, follow that. BUT STOP STARING LIKE THAT! I SWEAR, I'M NOT INSANE!

We've got the Ghost of Racing Past, does that mean there's a
Ghost of Racing Present and a Ghost of Racing Future?
Uh… Let’s move on. Tired of trophies? Fed up with Cups? Try Time Trial. Here, the goal is simple: Try to score the best time! Depending on which kart you use, you can even have bonus quick-boost mushrooms to help you! Of course, when you play on a track you’ve done before, you may end up facing a ghost of yourself. Thanks to the Wi-Fi Connection, you could also download the Mario Kart DS staff’s personal ghost performances and try to beat them. But even then, that’s just another challenge you don’t have to actually complete, so boo hoo. And besides, now that the Connection has been terminated, you can’t even download the Ghost Staff scores, so Boo Hoo.

(But you can still see them here, so you can still try to beat them…)

Now let’s say you want to play a single course, but you still want to have opponents and items. But no Cup, because they annoy you, or worse even, they make you want to strangle your Nintendo DS to death. (Don’t ask me how to do that, I’m not crazy enough to know. Ask your local psychiatric hospital resident.)

One step away from Up. In Shrine Runners,
I'm gonna reach for the stars...
Still not enough? Want a new mode away from the actual racing, which is, y’know, exactly what Mario Kart should be about? Fear no more! The Battle Mode is here! It includes two modes, Balloon Battle and Shrine Runners. In the former, all eight racers have one balloon attached to their kart. The player can blow in the Nintendo DS or 3DS’s microphone to blow up to four additional balloons, though one player can only have up to 3 balloons at a time. The point of the battle is to take down all of the other players by attacking them with items (green shells, banana peels, mushrooms, Bob-Ombs, red shells, stars, fake boxes, did I mention the shells?). It’s even possible to steal balloons from other players when you ram into them thanks to a mushroom’s speed boost. The last player standing wins. In Shrine Runners, there are multiple Shrine Sprites (that collectible “stars” substitute from Super Mario Sunshine) scattered around the field. The racers must catch as many as possible. After a while, the Sprites cease to respawn, and the racers must start using items to beat the Sprites out of the concurrence. After which, every few seconds, the lowest-ranked character is removed from the competition, and it goes like this until the player with the most Sprites is the only one left. I actually like those two modes, perhaps I like them more than the actual racing portion of the game… which is kinda odd. It’s like someone playing Super Smash Bros. for the Classic Mode, or someone playing Zelda for the romance… or someone playing New Super Mario Bros. Wii for the plot!

So, here I am, to the last 1-Player Mode: Missions. Call it Story Mode if you want, but it’s not really that. There is no “plot” to talk about, just a string of missions to complete, without context or setting. A total of seven “levels” to speak of, with eight regular missions and a Boss mission to complete, for a total of 63 missions to complete. Me? I never completed the Mission Mode. You could say I am, therefore, unfit to review this section of the game… You know what? I don’t give a damn.


Just imagine I’m getting out of my slightly exaggerated character for this site. Out with the awkward Nicolas who screams too much, who gets mad a bit too often… What you’re about to hear now is the honest Nicolas. You see, my philosophy on video games is simple: Anyone can play. Given some time, anyone can learn to play a game. Being good at it? It takes time and effort. Not everyone can do it. But everyone can play. No matter how complicated, no matter how long it takes, anyone can play. It's fair. Likewise, I believe no game should be so difficult that it is impossible, or nigh-impossible, to beat. Sure, there’s always going to be the ones who play for that kind of challenge, and I respect that. There will always be bonus bosses, extra quests, special dungeons, for those who want something beyond a plot. That’s fine too. However, the obligatory stuff should be difficult, challenging, but not nigh-impossible.

My pet peeves, when it comes to video games, have been made clear in the past two years: Having to rely too much on luck kills a game for me. You may think it's a thing I made up for my character on this site; nope, I really have some of the worst luck out there when it comes to video games. I don’t like when a game is difficult to an extreme, to such a point that it’s almost impossible to beat (and here, I’m putting aside everything that isn’t necessary to beat the game). Third, when the computer cheats like a bastard, and it’s very clearly cheating, even doing things impossible for human players, that’s another big no-no for me. A last one: I hate controls that hurt the fingers (especially if those controls are for a special move, or they become necessary after a point in the game). Mario Kart DS manages to accumulate all four. These are the main reasons why this game annoys me so much. Remember this paragraph and the preceding one. I’ll go back to them soon. Okay, back to the “character” Nicolas.


Chief Chilly, one of the bosses.
The 63 missions of Mission Mode come in numerous forms:
-Drive through many numbered gates in the right order;
-Collect coins;
-Destroy an amount of things on the road, or kill an amount of enemies;
-Do something… in reverse;
-Beat another character, either a racer or a boss, on a course;
-In the case of a boss: Hit it a number of times.

King Boo, another "boss" in the game.
That’s all fine and good, and for the most part, these missions are actually pretty fun. I like them, they’re a nice change of pace from the constant racing and battling. They offer a bit more, and I enjoy that idea. Most of them are actually rather simple, but there’s the occasional tough mission. To unlock a boss fight, you need to complete the eight missions surrounding it. And, of course, to unlock the next batch of missions, you need to beat the “boss” in the current batch. There’s no escaping it.

Picture here: One of the worst things I've
ever seen in a video game.
Not Yoshi. The technique he's using.
However, one thing annoys me beyond everything else: Power-slide turbo boosts. Most levels have at least one mission where you must accomplish this tough trick a number of times, on a number of laps (usually one). How is the Power-slide achieved? By drifting with the kart (pressing the R button while turning), then pressing Left and Right on the control pad while drifting. At first, weak blue flames come out of the kart’s engine (shouldn’t that imply a mechanical issue?), and if done for a bit longer, yellow/orange flames come out, and when you release R, the character gets a speed boost that can let him gain an advantage.

Except, you see, the power-slide is a tough technique to learn, and it’s even more difficult to master. What’s more, past a certain point in the game, ALL THE CPUS CAN USE IT, and as you may have guessed, being AI, they don’t have the physical limitations of human beings. What’s more, this technique FUCKING HURTS my fingers when I use it repeatedly. Let’s see… a technique abused by CPUs (one of my no-nos), one that is difficult to learn that pretty much becomes vital anyway (another no-no), and it hurts (another no-no). WE GOT A JACKPOT, FOLKS! Remember that I had FOUR no-nos, with only one of them not showing yet. It’s coming…

In Level 6 of Mission Mode, there’s a mission where you must race around a Yoshi-shaped race track, and you must cross the Finish line – and do FOURTEEN Power-slides until then – in a minute. To date, I have NEVER been able to do it. I tried countless times, and I never succeeded. Either A) I couldn’t do 14 Power-slides in time, or B) I couldn’t do 14 Power-slides, but I still reached the Finish line, ending in a failure, or C) I could do 14 Power-slides but I couldn’t reach the Finish line. I have N.E.V.E.R. beaten this mission, and as a result, I have never reached Level 7 of Mission Mode. A GAME TOO INSANELY HARD FOR THE PLAYER IS MY FOURTH NO-NO.

“What about the luck?” you ask. It’s true that my bad luck, a jinx if there ever was one put on my person, is not affecting the current power-sliding mission. But it’s present everywhere else in the game, since the opponents are all too happy to use items to screw you over even when you’re not in first place, or they use and abuse power-sliding. Therefore, it counts.

Look, I am not saying Mario Kart DS sucks. Unlike major awful games I’ve reviewed, it’s actually decent, even good, so you won’t hear me say the ever-popular expressions “piece of shit” or “horrible game” when I’m discussing it. However, the fact that this game has pressed all of my buttons (minus shovelware, of course) makes it one of my least favorite games, ever. And my thoughts about it can be summed up as this:


I… I think I’ll be back this Monday. I seriously need to take a break, for the sake of my happiness, and possibly my sanity. See you Monday.