Saturday, May 25, 2024

Mario Kart DS (Nintendo DS, 2005)


Back in the day I did most of the Mario Kart series, but couldn't get a couple of the portable ones. That's no longer the case. Doing something a bit different and giving a rundown of every course here. I was never crazy about this game back when I first played it, probably because the DS in general was a system I wasn't crazy about. Also, Mario Kart 7 on 3DS was already out, so I was just playing this for completion's sake before the new one. It was just an appetizer! Yet ever since then I've heard that it's better than its 3DS counterpart. Heck, I've heard that this is one of the best games in the series, so we'll see if I have a higher opinion of it this time.

Mario is rocking a toothpaste bottle for a kart. Gonna try to play as every character, one for each Cup...except Toad, the Dark Chylde. If I fail to capture the gold in any particular Cup, then I have to play as Toad for the next one as penance.

There are eight Cups, four with new tracks and four with retro tracks. Was this the first one to do retro tracks? Because it's a great idea. While Super Circuit on the GBA had some retro tracks mixed in, I believe this was the first Kart game to have retro tracks as their own sets.

Of course, this raises the question of what to do first, or what order to do the Cups. And do you consider the finale to be Special Cup, or the last retro set? Personally I'd say the Special Cup is always the endgame, and the retro sets are just optional.

Figure 8 Circuit - This is what it sounds like, and a pretty basic first course.

The bottom screen is only used for a top-down view (which can be useful when angling shots backwards) but we don't really need to see it, so here's the top screen. Mario is the super-average character with no weaknesses but no massive strengths either, as usual.

Yoshi Falls - This level is awesome because you've got this boardwalk section.

Cheep Cheep Beach: Yeah this is an A+ level and the perfect setting for a track. Already seeing why people like this game so much. Been a fan of beach levels in this series going back to that first Star Cup level in the original.

Luigi's Mansion - Nice tie-in level with a game that was a big deal at the time, with lots of spooky stuff. It's very green.

Never played any of the actual Luigi's Mansion games, and it took me this long to realize that they're basically all takeoffs of the Big Boo's Haunt level of Super Mario 64.

Also, way to sell Luigi short. Mario gets Worlds (and Lands if they're handheld) while all Luigi gets is a house. Then again, given current housing prices, maybe a house IS as valuable as the world. Woah, man.

Here's my gold medal. Rank B? RANK B?? I got first-place in all of those! Well, one gold medal down, seven to go.

Desert Hills - Flower Cup leads off with a cool desert le...oh my God! What's that sun face doing here?

That's right, this track has you being harassed by the sun face. He's a lot older than he was in Teletubbies and he's PISSED.

He even stalks you during the post-race lap. Playing as Wario for this Cup, and think replacing Koopa-Troopa with Wario after the first Super Mario Kart was a pretty inspired choice. Koopa-Troopa was my favorite character in the original though.

Delfino Square - Another tie-in with a game that was current at this moment in time. Speaking of inspired choices, this town was a great idea to put in a Kart game, and works well as a track.

It has a lot of these Europe-style narrow paths between buildings. So far all of the tracks have been good. Makes me wonder if my only issue with this was the dated visuals. Would be a good candidate for an HD remaster, if they were going to do that with any of the old Kart games. Then again they could just port a bunch of tracks from it into the next mainline Kart, if one is on the agenda.

Waluigi Pinball - Much as I dislike Waluigi, this is a cool idea for a level. It's a giant pinball board, with everything that goes along with that.

Shroom Ridge - Probably the most generic level so far, this is just a normal ride through some hills. Not much to see he-




Wario was 33.

Next I detour into Shell Cup (first retro set), really having no idea what order to do these things. Worth noting that Flower Cup unlocks the Star Cup.

Mario Circuit 1 (SNES) - Pretty cool that they led off the first retro cup with the first level from the first Kart game. It even has the rainbow blocks from the SNES.

Bowser is the next one up, and he starts so slow that it gives me the chance to actually get some good power-ups, like the Power Star. Not sure if this is the first Kart game to do this or what, but you only get good powerups if you're doing poorly. Stay in the lead and all you get are bananas, which are more terrible than usual for a reason I'll get into later.

Moo Moo Farm (N64) - Pretty basic farm level. I'm gonna go ahead and say Bowser is the worst character to play as in this game, between his poor acceleration and his gaping tailpipe.

Peach Circuit (GBA) - Seriously, that tailpipe is really distracting. No other character has a giant hole in the back of their Kart. Anyway, this track is one of the more generic tracks from the GBA, and basically Mario Circuit because they didn't know what else to do for Peach back then.

Luigi Circuit (Gamecube) - The Bowser segment mercifully ends with this cool outdoor stadium zone. Chain Chomps are always a fun obstacle to dodge, and Bowser can't wrangle them as a weapon in this one.

Donut Plains 1 (SNES) - Banana Cup is the next retro set and I go with Donkey Kong of course. Now he's his DKC version rather than the old-school version. Not sure when that changeover occurred. In any case, this is another level from the original Super Mario Kart and it's what I remember.

Frappe Snowland (N64) - It seems that all the retro cups follow the formula of SNES level, N64 level, GBA level, Gamecube level. Big fan of snow levels in N64 games. Can't explain it, but something was magical about them.

Also, DK's Kart is a Rambi the Rhino mobile. I hope he didn't hunt Rambi and mount his ACTUAL HEAD on his Kart.

Bowser Castle 2 (GBA) - This one features some lava pits which can really mess up your race standing. And also THWOMPS. This would be a good time to mention how great the handling is in this game. You can easily swerve and dodge things without losing control or going too far in the other direction, so negotiating the edges of pits, or obstacles, is much easier than in previous games.

Baby Park (Gamecube) - Always had it in my head that this was a DS level, but nope, it's a Gamecube level. Probably the simplest level in all of Mario Kart-dom, it's a basic oval with very short laps (thus having 5 instead of 3). Also, glad the Baby characters weren't a thing yet in this one.

Koopa Beach 2 (SNES) - Onto the Leaf Cup, the third retro set. Yeah, decided to just go ahead and continue these before getting back to the "main campaign". Unfortunately this is my least-liked of the two Koopa Beach levels, by far, from the original. First stage in this game that I'd say is a miss, which is kind of amazing given I've played half the stages.

Choco Mountain (N64) - I like how the retro levels really do resemble their system of origin. The N64 levels in particular look like N64 levels, with the same shaders and flat pixel-art trees / foreground objects. Even has the same draw-distance. This level brings back some N64 memories and I like it quite a bit.

Luigi Circuit (GBA) - Not to be confused with Luigi Circuit from the Gamecube, which was in the previous Cup. Kind of difficult to confuse them, since that was a big stadium race while this one is a significantly more pixelated outdoor race.

It also has POURING RAIN which makes for a great visual (and gives you puddles to watch out for as a stage obstacle). Another great stage, the game still has yet to miss. Definitely sold it short in the past. 

Mushroom Bridge (Gamecube) - Much like Shroom Ridge, this is pretty much a normal countryside...with oncoming buses! HONK HONNNNNK


Back to the Main Story Quest, the Star Cup is a step up in challenge, as is tradition. 

DK Pass - This one's just a full-on careen down a snowy mountain, for snowboarding-thusiasts.

Tick Tock Clock - This Mario 64 level was an interesting idea to turn into a Kart level. It's nowhere near as scary as the platformer level it's based on, and mostly just consists of giant rotating platforms. I kinda wish they'd done more with this concept and brought back more levels from Mario platformers.

Mario Circuit - This one drives around the acres of Castle Toadstool. Shouldn't this have been Peach Circuit instead of that other one? Plus they're copyright-infringing on the original Mario Circuit!

Airship Fortress - Another interesting idea, this is what it sounds like. A fortress with a bunch of airships. Would have been a good time to see some Koopalings, but not in this game.


TOAD WATCH: Still have yet to not come in 1st overall for a set of races, so we've staved off the looming era of darkness...for now.

Finishing Star Cup unlocks Special Cup. Before that, I've got the fourth and final of the retro cups. Not sure if this is supposed to be equivalent to the Special Cup in threat level, but it isn' all.

Choco Island 2 (SNES) - Gotta say the Choco Island levels are my least-favorite from the SNES and this is probably my least-favorite so far. Just not into the entire chocolate theme here and how everything looks muddy.

Banshee Boardwalk (N64) - Not sure if this is supposed to be a spooky level or what, but it's a dark boardwalk. This would be a good time to mention what a problem bananas are. When you're in 1st place, all you get are bananas (and sometimes green shells, which aren't good, but at least serve some purpose if you need to land a crack-shot on someone who gets in front). The problem is, in this game the CPU NEVER HITS BANANAS unless you drop them immediately in front of an enemy racer.

This means that your dropped bananas start to collect...and pile up.

Which means that your bananas end up just being a stage hazard that you have to avoid. In other words, bananas are worse than useless, they're an actual hazard that makes your life more difficult every time you drop one.

Sky Garden (GBA) - An interesting idea for a level (a cloud zone with beanstalks) that I feel like I should like way more than I do. Couldn't really get into this one, but it has a cool jump midway through.

Yoshi Circuit (Gamecube) - Kind of a winding track where you can make heavy use of drifting to take corners. Lot of fun to be had here. Also has memorable, if simple, music that brings me back to Double Dash.

Finish Lightning Cup and it unlocks noted secret character, Daisy. Remember when Daisy and Toadstool were the same character? Pepperidge Farm remembers.

That's perfect because I can bring Daisy to the Special Cup. That's right Toad! I didn't have to play as you at all!

"Deny me for now! My time will come!"

Hey Toad, why are you wearing that mushroom suit?

"Why are you wearing that man suit?"

Wario Stadium - Now THIS is a stadium. It's bigger and nicer than any of the others in the game, with an upper level. Gigantic-sized place here and that alone makes it a really memorable level.

Daisy isn't anything particularly standout as a racer, but she's still fun to play as. I mostly just drift everywhere.

Peach Gardens - Notable for having a bunch of hedge mazes that look cool in action. TBH I'm not sure why this wasn't part of that "Mario Circuit" level earlier that's outside Peach's Castle and shoulda been named after her. A hedge maze would be perfect for that environment.

Bowser Castle - The last, and prettiest, of this game's Bowser Castles. We've got the fires of Mordor in the background and a lot of shifting platforms to drive over.

Rainbow Road - This one reaches a happy medium between the super-hard no-railing SNES version and the super-easy railing-everywhere N64 version by having railings in some key areas but not most of the level.

It's also a very vertical level, with some outright loop-de-loops that are fun to traverse.

I had to get 1st place on this course to win, since the CPU character in 2nd place was basically tied with me in the overall standings due to issues I ran into in the earlier Special Cup levels. These levels really are a step up. Either way...

...I landed 1st here, barely scoring my 8th and final gold medal for the game.

Rank D? RANK D? I got the gold medal again! What does this game want from me??

Well, that was a really good game. Interesting how the Lightning and Special Cups share end-screen space here. Maybe they are intended to be on the same level. I appreciate how the Special Cup can be unlocked on 50cc, unlike the SNES version where you have to play on 100cc. All in all, I think I sold this game way short in the past, probably because I played it back to back with the (graphically superior) 3DS Mario Kart 7. Which I'm gonna play now, but I wanted to get some thoughts down on this one first.

Super Mario Kart

Super Mario Kart, Part Two

Mario Kart 64

Mario Kart: Super Circuit

Mario Kart: Double Dash

Mario Kart DS

Mario Kart Wii

Mario Kart 7

Mario Kart 8

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