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DS

The Innovations of Mario Kart

Mario Kart DS

by Pedro Hernandez - December 4, 2011, 10:20 am PST

Is this both the definitive DS title and the best Mario Kart game EVER?

Name: Mario Kart DS

System: DS

Year: 2005

Innovations: Two screen gameplay, true online play, mission mode

The GameCube release, Double Dash, did receive its fair share of glowing reviews, but part of the fanbase was still left cold by the risks it decided to take. A year after the game was released, Nintendo presented for the first time the Nintendo DS. The system was unique, thanks to two screens, one of them a touch screen. The handheld also featured a microphone and, most important of all, Wi-Fi capabilities. The laundry list of features alone made the DS a grand curiosity among many, even if its launch is considered to this day one of the weakest in Nintendo history. The first batch of games were good enough, and the way they use the DS's capabilities were captivating, but for nearly a year the system lacked that one game that would inspire players to invest in the handheld. Luckily, the fall of 2005 saw the games people were heavily clamoring for, and one of these happened to be none other than Mario Kart DS.

Mario Kart DS brought the series back to its roots. It retained the character-themed karts made famous in Double Dash but dropped the second driver. Racing for the most part remained straightforward, and that was enough for a lot of fans. Where the game really shined, though, was in its content. Its additional features were standard in the genre, but were so polished it added to the whole experience. One of these happened to be a mission mode where players could complete challenges, many of them in unique arenas and featuring characters not seen in the regular game.


The DS was a handheld that easily lent itself to both practical and gimmicky gameplay ideas. Before Mario Kart Ds was released, the hardware was used on games that were all about gimmicks but not about practical gameplay ideas. Mario Kart DS took its innovations and used it in a manner that was both sound on paper an in execution. There was no need to rely on the touch screen. Instead, the game used it as a second map, reminiscent of Super Mario Kart on the Super NES. Players would be able to see incoming opponents as well as items that were littering the track.

Even the wireless features were used to great effect in Mario Kart DS. Whereas Mario Kart: Super Circuit was held back in terms of multiplayer on a handheld, Mario Kart DS went all out. Players could connect wirelessly to other DS systems, eliminating completely the need for link cables. Much like in Super Circuit, those that didn't have the cartridge could still participate using Download Play, but the bulk of the game would be unlocked once all players had a cartridge. The scope of participating players was also doubled, now with up to eight players connecting wirelessly.


If the expanded local features weren't enough for players, Mario Kart DS made history by being the first in the series to feature real online play. Using Nintendo's free Wi-Fi connection service, players itching to prove their kart racing skills online finally saw their dream become a reality. All the features seen in the regular game could be played online with up to eight other players. This dream also came with the Friend Code system. The Friend Code was Nintendo's method of online security. Each game would have a unique code that players would need to trade and input if they ever wanted to participate online. The system was ill-received right out of the game, forcing players to input many codes just to have a full online friend roster. The Friend Codes would remain an important feature for other Nintendo online games on the DS and also the Wii. Regardless, millions of players quickly embraced the online aspect of the game, building a subculture of fans that would exchange tricks and tips as well as shortcuts and various other strategies.


The best way to fully explain Mario Kart DS is that it is a nice mix of the old and the new. The gameplay didn't feature any new groundbreaking ideas, but it all worked so well that players didn't need gimmicks for the game to have everlasting appeal. Its innovations lay mainly in existing ideas that were further expanded upon, the online mode being a fine example. It took nearly ten years of innovations and put it all in one package players kept coming back to time and time again.

Talkback

readyletsgoDecember 04, 2011

Great article!!!

Love MK:DD still, MK:Wii is ok, but never really go back to it. MK64 and SMK, are great too!

Just got MK7, great little game, loads in it! The online feature is brilliant must say, but everyone on there is already a pro at the game lol.

Wondering with MK:Super Circuit in the Ambassador GBA games, will there be online play with that?

TrueNerdDecember 04, 2011

I think I'm burned out on Mario Kart. Double Dash was the last time I felt like this was a franchise that was still trying. I mean, Mario Kart DS is a technically sound game that captures everything good about Mario Kart and I wasn't that crazy about it. It just felt samey. Mario Kart Wii has more fundamental problems and it leaves me feeling cold every time I play it. And I haven't read/seen anything about MK7 to lead me to believe that that would change my mind about things. The ONLY temptation there for me is to play online with the fine people of these here forums. But that's probably not worth $40 to me. Sorry. But if anyone wants to revive that Warp Pipe trick for Double Dash, I'd be game for that!

famicomplicatedJames Charlton, Associate Editor (Japan)December 04, 2011

Super Circuit - You could recover from slipping on a banana skin sometimes, by tapping down and brake. This has never been done since, shame. I love this game because it's a true sequel to SMK!
Double Dash - Baby characters, on rails sections, 2-mile wide tracks and secret shortcuts that took longer than the regular track!? (apologies for the trolling but this is my worst MK game by far)
MK DS - Mission mode, oh how I will miss thee. So good.
MK Wii - nothing beats updating your data to find a friend has beaten your time on a track, only to download his ghost and try and reclaim your title back. Most underrated and overly criticised MK game in my book.


I know MK7 doesn't have the mission modes of MKDS, but I hope the online is as good as MKWii because that's all it needs to be a permanent fixture in my 3DS for the next 2/3 years.

KikoriMinoru Yamaizumi, Japan CorrespondentDecember 05, 2011

> You could recover from slipping on a banana skin sometimes, by tapping down and brake.

Cool! I wish I could dodge a blue shell by the Shoryuken command.

KITT 10KDecember 05, 2011

Super Circuit was NOT the sequel to SMK, MK64 was. But I never had MISCELLANEOUS but with the ambassador program I'll be able to download it for free when it becomes available for the VC for the 3DS.

Ian SaneDecember 05, 2011

I used to see Nintendo as a company that made every game count.  They either did something brand new or if it was a sequel or spin-off the gameplay was unique enough or improved enough to stand on its own.  On the NES, SNES and N64 Nintendo rarely made a throw-away title and they were not only good at mixing stuff up with their sequels but it came across as so natural.  It was rarely forced.

I think on the Gamecube is when they started to lose it but it wasn't due to a lack of trying.  They clearly tried to do something different with games like Wind Waker and Super Mario Sunshine but it came across as forced.  Nintendo couldn't effortlessly change things up.  Double Dash is another great example.  Clearly Nintendo didn't want to just make "More Mario Kart 64" because that's not how Nintendo did things back then.  But no obvious improvement or innovation was coming to mind so they come up with the double kart thing and the whole things feels incredibly forced.

It is the last time Nintendo really tried with Mario Kart because Nintendo changed afterwards.  After struggling to innovative every time out with the Gamecube Nintendo switched to releasing product for the sake of product.  Mario Kart is now disposable.  If you miss one game it doesn't matter because the goal is to just to get a Mario Kart out for each system.

The options were to either not make Mario Karts anymore because they've pushed the concept as far as it makes sense to or make generic Mario Karts.  Since one involves abandoning an established brand I can see why they chose what they did.

Quote from: famicomplicated

Super Circuit - You could recover from slipping on a banana skin sometimes, by tapping down and brake. This has never been done since, shame. I love this game because it's a true sequel to SMK!

64 had it where you could just hit B and avoid the spin.

Quote from: Ian

I used to see Nintendo as a company that made every game count.  They either did something brand new or if it was a sequel or spin-off the gameplay was unique enough or improved enough to stand on its own.  On the NES, SNES and N64 Nintendo rarely made a throw-away title and they were not only good at mixing stuff up with their sequels but it came across as so natural.  It was rarely forced.

I think on the Gamecube is when they started to lose it but it wasn't due to a lack of trying.  They clearly tried to do something different with games like Wind Waker and Super Mario Sunshine but it came across as forced.  Nintendo couldn't effortlessly change things up.  Double Dash is another great example.  Clearly Nintendo didn't want to just make "More Mario Kart 64" because that's not how Nintendo did things back then.  But no obvious improvement or innovation was coming to mind so they come up with the double kart thing and the whole things feels incredibly forced.

It is the last time Nintendo really tried with Mario Kart because Nintendo changed afterwards.  After struggling to innovative every time out with the Gamecube Nintendo switched to releasing product for the sake of product.  Mario Kart is now disposable.  If you miss one game it doesn't matter because the goal is to just to get a Mario Kart out for each system.

The options were to either not make Mario Karts anymore because they've pushed the concept as far as it makes sense to or make generic Mario Karts.  Since one involves abandoning an established brand I can see why they chose what they did.

If Nintendo wasn't really trying with Mario Kart DS they should have never been really trying with the series, because it's the best one they've made.

Troll comment: Mario Kart DS is my least favorite iteration in the series. It's only good for local multiplayer since everyone in the world has it (and you can do single-card).

What don't you like about it? Really creative (and relevant to the franchise) tracks and the best battle mode in the series (though I haven't played MK7 yet). The only way I could see it being any better would be to modernize the online system.

Quote from: NWR_insanolord

What don't you like about it? Really creative (and relevant to the franchise) tracks and the best battle mode in the series (though I haven't played MK7 yet). The only way I could see it being any better would be to modernize the online system.

It just never stuck with me. Though I always forget about Mission Mode. That was pretty novel.

Track comments are very subjective. They weren't super memorable. Any of the memorable ones have showed up as retro tracks in Wii/3DS (Waluigi Pinball is the tits).

It's also one of my least favorite battle modes in the series. Once again, another subjective call.

And every experience I had with online was pretty shitty. Polar opposite of everything I've experienced with Wii/3DS. I recognize I can't totally hate the game for being woefully inadequate for online stuff when it was one of Nintendo's first forays into it, but it still kind of sucked. Snaking ruined it for me.

I really love how vastly people feel about different Mario Karts. While the games are all primarily similar, they each generally have enough individual differences to make them unique. It's kind of awesome.

NWR_pap64Pedro Hernandez, Contributing WriterDecember 05, 2011

Quote from: NWR_Neal

I really love how vastly people feel about different Mario Karts. While the games are all primarily similar, they each generally have enough individual differences to make them unique. It's kind of awesome.

That's why I wrote this series: all the games are similar in terms of gameplay, but all of them have something that make them stand out as being the absolute best or the worst the series has ever offered.

In MY case, I can't stand Mario Kart Wii. Those that have heard episode 10 of Connectivity know that. It is just a very unfair game. It is rubber band-ing at its worst. I realize that the other kart games had that, MK Wii was just awful, and from everything I heard MK 7 looks to follow the same path. I KNOW that Mario Kart is all about the multiplayer, but especially in the newer games you unlock karts and characters through single player, so going through that to get the best is really frustrating.

Pedro, it's not the game's fault you're not good at it. :P

Are there moments of total douchebaggery in recent Mario Kart games? Yes, no doubt, but there are also moments where you get to be a douchebag, too. I've won races I've had no right winning by getting a few lucky item pick-ups. I've also lost races the same way. It's fair in its own messed up way.

Ian SaneDecember 06, 2011

Quote:

I KNOW that Mario Kart is all about the multiplayer, but especially in the newer games you unlock karts and characters through single player, so going through that to get the best is really frustrating.


This is kind of a bizarre flaw with most racing games.  Why do they feel the need to make us unlock everything in single player?  Can't we just have everything available at once?  Racing games, probably more than any other genre, is multiplayer focused.  The single player mode exists to give a player something to do when he doesn't have friends over or wants to practice by himself.  No one is thinking "yeah, I can't wait to beat the new Mario Kart!"  They think "I can't wait to race against my friends."  That's the appeal.  So why does every racing game make us have to jump through hoops in a single player mode we don't really want to spend so much time on to unlock the tracks?  Are they afraid it won't have enough game length?  It's a multiplayer game!  It has near unlimted replay value!

If I didn't have anything to unlock in the game, the likelihood of me playing single-player at all is slim. It's nice having some sort of reward, no matter what it is.

PlugabugzDecember 06, 2011

I wonder if fixes the flaw in MK DS and Wii that online the game ascends/descends (depending on your viewpoint) into less being about fun and more being about how few mistakes you can make to win and get higher up the ranks only to run into nothing but those who play the game to precision-perfect to the point they suck the fun out of it.

CericDecember 06, 2011

Quote from: Plugabugz

I wonder if fixes the flaw in MK DS and Wii that online the game ascends/descends (depending on your viewpoint) into less being about fun and more being about how few mistakes you can make to win and get higher up the ranks only to run into nothing but those who play the game to precision-perfect to the point they suck the fun out of it.

You mean like Starcraft?

Ian SaneDecember 06, 2011

Quote from: NWR_Neal

If I didn't have anything to unlock in the game, the likelihood of me playing single-player at all is slim. It's nice having some sort of reward, no matter what it is.

Is it a reward or a chore?  Gameplay should be it's own reward.  If you wouldn't play it otherwise, you probably just don't find it that fun.

Mop it upDecember 06, 2011

Quote from: NWR_pap64

In MY case, I can't stand Mario Kart Wii. It is just a very unfair game. It is rubber band-ing at its worst.

The interesting thing about this statement is, Mario Kart Wii actually has very little (or possibly none) rubber-banding, certainly less than previous games in the series. Unless you're not talking about AI scripts and instead the general notion of keeping the racers together, which would be something more subjective.

PlugabugzDecember 07, 2011

Quote from: Ceric

Quote from: Plugabugz

I wonder if fixes the flaw in MK DS and Wii that online the game ascends/descends (depending on your viewpoint) into less being about fun and more being about how few mistakes you can make to win and get higher up the ranks only to run into nothing but those who play the game to precision-perfect to the point they suck the fun out of it.

You mean like Starcraft?

Yes. When you get past the "random mix" of new, and intermediate players (around rank 5-6000 on MK Wii) and ascend into 6000-8000 you start to get the advanced players. Beyond that you just get into the cheaters (who can somehow complete a course in 0.4 seconds), and those that play the game with such efficiency they nearly always wind up first or second no matter how well you play.

Efficient Mario Kart stops being fun because you devote so much time to shaving time off your race and getting ahead over fun playing and doing silly things. Playing online with people like that (especially with 11 others online, all the same mentality) sucks the fun out. It's not fun to be 100% perfect.

famicomplicatedJames Charlton, Associate Editor (Japan)December 07, 2011

Unlocking all the karts in Double Dash felt like a chore to me.
Still, didn't stop me getting all the gold karts and the alternate title screen. *sigh*

readyletsgoDecember 07, 2011

Is it just me or is it kinda hard to unlock the other characters in MK7? Have only unlocked my Mii and finished 50c and half way through 100cc atm.

And also when online, why is everyone else driving super fast and any kart I pick that is fast seems to be really slow?
Any help would be great!

Also with this MK7 feeling a little incomplete, does anyone think Ninty will release DLC for MK7? Like new tracks an stuff, at a good price or for free?
Or will they work on another MK for the 3ds to be released in 3/4 years time?

SilverQuilavaDecember 07, 2011

My god, that game must be fun as all hell :O

Fiendlord_TimmayDecember 07, 2011

The true fun in MKWii is in the online. The single player is pretty much throwaway.

As for the rubber banding, no clue about how the AI is programmed, but as for lumping everyone together...I never really saw that. Just by playing the game a lot, I got good enough to the point where I could finish a race with a good 30 second lead on the computers - and my friends. I laugh at blue shells now.

To address Plugabugz's point, I peaked at about 9100 VR online, and I never "practiced" to shave extra seconds off the clock, and I certainly never cheated. I just played the game a hell of a lot and got better naturally. Obviously not everyone likes the game enough to do that, but the matchmaking in this game is surprisingly good for a Nintendo game. I've rarely found myself mismatched in MKWii online.

GrabMyBoomstickDecember 14, 2011

Great article Pedro. I haven't played MK 7 yet but gotta say MK DS is still my fav...although I really enjoyed all the online content from MK Wii.

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