Hippo Manchester
November 17, 2005

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Games: Mario Kart DS (Nintendo DS)

Nintendo

***1/2

I used to imagine firing jerk-seeking rockets at overly antagonistic drivers.

In my dreams they would carom off the highway in a fiery ball of fire.

Now, thanks to Mario Kart DS, Iíve replaced those rockets with red turtle shells, and the fiery ball of fire with a comical spin-out accompanied by a frowny faced Yoshi or Luigi. My road rage has morphed from near-homicidal to a more family-friendly but no less entertaining format.

After an astonishing but often-awkward GameCube appearance in Mario Kart: Double Dash the gang returns in their fourth and possibly best Kart-racing title to date. With more than 30 courses, all your favorite weapons and many of the seriesí best drivers Mario Kart DS doesnít skimp on the playability.

The handheld DS provides new opportunities for the venerable racer. Its dual screens can show both in front and behind or layout the map without cluttering the windshield; a decision so useful, itís a wonder that they bothered to make this game for anything other than the DS.

One of the biggest draws for Kart fans is the DSí WiFi capability. Unfortunately Mario Kart DS doesnít fare so well in that arena. WiFi matches are limited to 4 racers, and 12 of the gameís courses are unavailable due to lag issues. On top of that there is no global in-game ranking, and players are automatically matched by the DS, making it unnecessarily difficult to play your friends. On the other hand, with the wire link, up to eight players can go head-to-head in classic kart action.

But, the multiplayer, which IS good even accounting for the WiFi awkwardness, isnít the end all and be all of this superb title. Many of the best tracks, tactics and tweaks from previous incarnations have made it into the mix here. And, new wrinkles like the ability to reinflate your battle-mode balloons by physically blowing on the DS still make my head spin.

Mario Kart DS is an essential addition to the growing library of simply wondrous game experiences for Nintendoís quirky little hand-held that could.

- Glenn Given