Without doubt this is the biggest game for Nintendo this Christmas period, so it has every right to be a game that is looked at with a very critical eye. Indeed, the developers have gone to every effort to make sure this is a real high point for Nintendo's years, but initial impressions can be deceptive. Labelled slow at E3 and still lacking something when it was shown at ECTS there has certainly been a lot of work on Mario Kart in the last few months, but has it managed to achieve classic status? Just to keep you guessing, the answer is both yes and no.
Approaching Mario Kart: Double Dash!! is much like approaching a beautiful man or woman. You're not quite sure what to do, you just stand there in awe whilst trying to retain your maturity and not turn into an over-excited lump. Of course, anticipation is only the half, and things that are beautiful on the surface can be ugly when you get to know them better. As the saying goes, beauty is only skin deep. Now, this is a Nintendo game, so us being totally biased we're bound to say it is the most amazing thing since sliced bread and give it a 9/10, but we're not. This is not a great game, it is a good game, it has flaws, it has good bits, heck, it has stunning bits, but this is not the complete Mario package that we have all come to expect. Let the wash of disappointment run over you for a moment or two, draw breath and now hear our reason.
As always Nintendo have really gone to town with how they make their game look, and having made the console they know just how to exploit it. Mario Kart shines visually, it is perhaps one of the best solid showings of what the GameCube can do that we have come across so far. As we have mentioned, one of the major quarrels with the previous build was the speed, thankfully this problem has been resolved. What we now have is a title that burns along at 60-fps, even when you are in four-player split-screen mode. The actual environments themselves are wonderfully vibrant, every fun and happy colour in the world can be found within this game and we have to say that the tracks look fantastic. Slow down however, and a marked lack of textures in some areas becomes apparent, however, you will very rarely need to go slow enough to notice, so we're not going to whine on. The characters bring the game to life furthermore. Whilst in the N64 version drivers suffered from severe rigor mortis, here they move about all the time. The animation is fluid and utterly superb and detail on the characters is stunning. Full marks.
Just as important as how a game looks, is what aural pleasures it can give you. And here we start to become disappointed with what Double Dash has to offer. When you consider what Nintendo have done in the past with GameCube sound, this pales in comparison. Luigi's Mansion illustrated how to use sound effects to great effect, sadly, such mastery is far from present here. The characters all have fairly tedious one liners and the various squeaks, revs and bangs that the game manages to execute are lamentable to say the least. Titles like SSBM and Sunshine bought us orchestra produced themes that were a joy to the ear-drum, so why couldn't Nintendo perform the same thing here? Whilst the tunes are perfectly suited to the game and do nothing to offend, this is not Nintendo at their best, and when you start to listen, it does show and does annoy.
Just like in the pervious versions we have come to love, Double Dash brings you the staple game modes of Grand Prix, Time Trial, Multiplayer but alas, no bloody Single Race; thus meaning that if you want to have a go on a particular track again other opponents you have to beat a whole Grand Prix, tedious. The N64 version was renowned for being featherweight on the single-player side of things, but fear not, this is a much bigger games. Not only are there more characters to master, but there is also a plethora of items for you to unlock. New karts, new characters (four of them), new tracks and new cups are all hidden away in the code and it takes quite a bit of work to wheedle some of them out.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it, the words of a wise man, we are sure. Nintendo had found the perfect balance with the N64 version of the game, and whilst many criticised the tracks for being too forgiving and simple, it was a perfectly balanced title, for some reason this balance has been lost in Double Dash. Whilst there are some superb tracks, that really challenge your skill and thinking power, like DK Mountain for example, there are also tracks so mind-numbingly tedious that you might find yourself lifting up the lid of your GameCube to see if the right game is there. Whilst the tracks look nice and pretty, their actual design is badly exposed when you get down to doing some serious racing. We admit it, some tracks are utterly superb. Shortcuts are hidden all over the place and there are some bits that really get you thinking on your feet, or should that be wheels? Variation is also key to what makes some of the tracks in Mario Kart so damn stunning. Chasms that have to be boosted across, seemingly impossible routes that have to be taken, like racing over the top of a giant bridge that is not much wider than your own kart; it is a massive improvement over what we saw in the N64 carnation, but sadly a mass of mediocre and comparatively poorly designed and clunky tracks that let the side down.
Innovation is key to a games success, and even when working with a perfect title you must do something to push the franchise forward. In this case Nintendo have totally reworked how you race in Double Dash, and we can't praise them enough for it. Each kart has two races on it, you can choose any combination you please, and even Mario and Bowser can race on the same hunk of metal and rubber. Of course, you can't just pick random racers and plonk them together, you have to strategise. Pick Mario and Luigi on the same kart and you are doomed to fail. They are essentially the same character, and thus do pretty much the same thing. Allow us to explain.
Each character in the game has special attacks it can perform. Mario and use his trademark fireballs whilst Bowser can fire off a spiked-shell the size of New York. When you go into a race you pick your two racers, for the sake of argument we'll use Mario and Bowser as examples. Starting off the race is great fun. With two characters on the same kart, one starts off behind it, and pushes it off to get a faster start, a bit like with bobsledding. Seeing the characters little legs going ten to the dozen is great fun even to the most cold of minds. With both characters on the kart and the race underway you now have to really start to think. A simply tap of the Z-button is all you need to use to rotate driver and passenger, and only whilst you are passenger can you pick up weapons. Whilst both characters can carry items they can only be used and or picked up if you are not driving at the time, so you'll have to constantly rotate between options if you are to finish top of the podium. It all adds a much-needed depth to the controls and makes even the more tedious tracks come to life with some much needed depth.
The basic handling of the karts is also dependant on which character you are. DK's kart has a massive top speed, but getting it there will take you an age as it has the acceleration of a Transit van. Pick Yoshi however, and you will get to top speeds far quicker, but you wont go as fast. Its all about picking the racer that best suits you at first, and then moving on to master every single character in the game, which should keep you going for a fair amount of time.
The learning curve is also very fair. People who have played Mario Kart on the N64 will only have the character switching-feature to contend with, so half an hour will get most into the swing of things. However, total virgins to Mario Kart and its ways will take a bit longer to work out what makes it tick and for that matter tock. The first cup is a perfect place to start. It allows you to master the skids and power boosts in a simple and forgiving environment, before you tackle hairpin turns in the latter stages. Much as they were in MK64, power slides can be executed via the use of the L and R buttons and a precise slant of the analogue stick to charge it up. Turning is made much easier because of this well thought out system and means you don't have to battle with the controls when racing, intuitive and we would say, just about perfect.
Something that we have never seen Nintendo do before is allow so much for the casual gamer, and being stuck in our ways we don't like it one bit! There are more weapons pick ups, tracks so unchallenging they will make you cry and more luck to winning sometimes than actual skill, in parts it doesn't feel like a Nintendo game, thankfully in others, it most certainly does. The biggest flaw that Nintendo have made in trying to open up Mario Kart to more gamers is the increased use of weapons pick-ups. On the more tedious tracks you will often find yourself sitting pretty out in third on 150cc and suddenly get hit by a maelstrom of evil weaponry that hits you all the way back into sixth of seventh place, frustrating to say the least. A quick note on one element that we have really taken to, stealing items. Before this was done with the 'boo pick-up' now all you have to do is boost into the back end of an opposing kart and speed off with all their weapons. It's a wonderful way to gain revenge in both single and multiplayer modes.
So what of the multiplayer. It was the central component of the N64 title and once again Mario Kart is not the game for hermits. Double Dash positively glows in the multiplayer modes. The Grand Prix modes can be played thorough with two players, and it is this that is perhaps one of the best things to happen in Double Dash. New ideas are a bit thin on the ground around these parts, if anything the options have dissipated a bit. However there is one fine addition. A new cooperative mode that lets you and a friend share one kart, allowing you to do battle with another pairing on a kart. You will often find yourself shouting orders at you friend as they cower in the corner grasping their WaveBird for dear life. Pure, undiluted, vintage multiplayer magic.
However, it was not the racing that got most gamers feverously hooked to Mario Kart on the N64, the Battle mode will sit dear in the hearts of many. Three new options greet you here. Balloon Battle (as seen in Mario Kart 64), Shine Thief and Bob-omb Blast (both new additions). Bob-omb blast is totally inspired and involves you and preferably three mates racing about like maniacs on a giant arena trying to blow each other up whilst not getting obliterated yourself. You might remember something similar in the N64 title, in four player battles the first person to be destroyed got the pleasure of becoming a small and rather speedy black bomb, whilst the other three battled it out for who won, you could zip about slamming into them and exploding. This is essentially an evolution of and will no doubt have you hooked for months to come.
Whilst some of the arenas are dull and lifeless, like the giant GameCube lid (a large square shape with a Mario Kart feature in the centre) there are others that will soon become favourites within your gaming circles. The variety may be lacking, but the few good tracks that are on offer are enough, more would have been nice though. The best fun comes into the unlockable arenas, such as a Luigi's Mansion themed one. With a superb multi-level design it is this sort of thing that will keep you playing, not the generic slabs that you are given in the first place.
Fun, intuitive and innovative, Double Dash does some great things, and some not so great things. Track design in places is just plain shoddy and laborious, however there are some fine designs. New additions like having two people to one kart spice things up nicely along with the staple Mario Kart diet that we know and love. Controls are sharp and well thought out and the whole thing is solid and in places outstanding.
This game is quite simply beautiful. Wonderfully vibrant and alive with glorious colours the visual style perfectly compliments the focus of the game. With smooth animation and a constant 60-fps display Nintendo have proven once again that the GameCube can do some stunning things.
Bitterly disappointing. Whilst the compliment the game well enough they are not a scratch on the full-orchestra sounds of say, SSBM or the glorious effects found in Luigi's Mansion. We would have hoped for more, thankfully your mind should be on the racing most of the time.
Whilst the N64 version lacked much weight in the single-player department Double Dash has a lot more content. More characters, loads to unlock and even the multi-player has been beefed up. Will keep you going all the way into the New Year and beyond.
No, not 9.9, the game as a whole doesn't warrant it. There are quite a few basic flaws here, like Nintendo's stupid attempt to fill levels with piles of weapons pick-ups and the somewhat odd decision to design some of the most tedious tracks ever seen in a Nintendo racer. A game that anyone with a GameCube should consider buying, but don't expect perfection.