Having become a staple of Nintendo’s systems since 1992’s Super Mario Kart, there has been one iteration of the competitive kart racer on each Nintendo format ever since its conception. However, it has only been in recent years that they have managed to tweak their schematic to near perfection, and that came with Mario Kart DS.
After the floaty Mario Kart: Super Circuit on Game Boy Advance, Mario Kart DS represented the first fully 3D Mario Kart game in the portable space and helped spark a formula that has since continued through Mario Kart Wii, Mario Kart 7 and, most recently, Mario Kart 8.
As with all Mario Kart games, you have the Grand Prix mode where you will race against seven CPU players across 50cc, 100cc, 150cc and Mirror modes – unlocking more courses as you progress. There are four Cups with brand new courses and, following on from the success of Super Circuit incorporating Retro courses, it has four Cups plucked from the SNES, N64, GBA and GCN iterations.
There’s also a Time Trial mode for you to set your top scores, a VS Mode to race against various CPU players and a Battle Mode that has its own unique stages and two modes. These are Balloon Battle, which is the standard Battle Mode we know, and Shine Runners where you have to collect the most Shines while stealing them from other players.
The unique feature of Mario Kart DS is one which is much beloved, a lot of fun and has not made a return appearance in the Mario Kart series since. Mission Mode gives you certain tasks to accomplish, ranking you on your progress and later squaring you off against a boss fight. These are fun and will have you coming back to repeatedly tackle them.
There is one thing holding back the Virtual Console release, however. The main thing that people find fun in Mario Kart is the multiplayer, whether it’s local or online and, unfortunately, the Virtual Console version lacks any form of multiplayer which removes much of the game’s replayability. While the customisations such as Emblem Creation still exist, you can’t really show it off outside of Miiverse and not being able to play your friends will mean that this game will likely be short-lived while you play it.
The transition otherwise controls well, using the Wii U GamePad’s D-Pad or Control Stick whereas the button setup works the same as you’d expect for a Mario Kart game – all being incredibly responsive to your input.
The graphics of this game are full 3D on the top screen which worked well with the native resolution on Nintendo DS but hasn’t stood the test of time when blown up on your TV screen, so avoid using the option which puts the Top Screen entirely on the TV. Instead, the best course of action is the Top Screen Focus option or the standard DS View. With that, the graphics don’t look as bad or pixellated as they would when fully blown up, but the game probably looks best when played on the GamePad. However, the art style is clear and works well, although screen smoothing is not recommended.
The Mario Kart DS soundtrack is great. It’s classic Mario Kart music, all immensely catchy and all the sound effects translated well to the Nintendo DS. It may not rival the live Big Band awesomeness of Mario Kart 8, but the music choices here work well.
Mario Kart DS remains a solid iteration, if not one of the best in the legacy. In lacking some of the key features of the game, the Virtual Console release kills a lot of the reasons that many would have had to play it again. Once you’ve finished the Cups and Mission Mode, you may not feel the desire to come back – especially when you can play Mario Kart 8 online or locally with your friends on the same console. It’s certainly not a bad game by any means, but it is definitely held back by restrictions in using its original features.