Mario Kart: Double Dash!! Review

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Mario Kart is probably my favorite racing franchise of all time. When it comes to other, more traditional racing games, some of them I can play but not really for extended periods of time. I normally get bored unless there’s some kind of action or really exciting gameplay. Not only does Mario Kart represent the Super Mario universe with characters and environments, but it’s fun, accessible to all, and many of the recent games offer plenty of replay value thanks to unlockable content. The racing in Mario Kart is far from any type of driving simulation and I think most of the fun comes from the items you can acquire. Developed and published by Nintendo, Mario Kart: Double Dash was released in November, 2003 for the GameCube and was the third Mario Kart entry for home consoles. I think I played this a bit with my friend when it was in its prime but I didn’t really dedicate any serious time to it until recently. What separates Double Dash from the rest of the games in the series is having two characters per kart.

There is no story but there are several modes to choose from. Grand Prix is where you compete against the AI to win cups and unlock everything.  Time Trials has you racing laps around a course of your choosing in an effort to achieve the fastest time. Double Dash supports local multiplayer with up to four players, and even more over a LAN, and you can vs each other in the multiplayer VS mode or even battle each other in three different Battle modes. Unfortunately, there is no VS mode where you can choose a course and vs the AI so you have to rely on Grand Prix if you enjoy playing solo. Now the unique thing about Double Dash is that it allows for two characters per kart. When it’s time to choose your character combination, you can team up whatever characters you want or decide to let the game randomly choose characters for you. After choosing your characters, you get to choose your kart and there are specific karts for each weight class of which there are three – light, medium, and heavy – and that class is always determined by the heaviest character. Each kart also has different stats in acceleration, speed, and weight which does affect how it performs on the courses. Obviously choosing your favorite characters is all part of the charm but your favorite kart will always be determined by the weight class. More characters and karts are unlocked by winning cups in the Grand Prix mode.

Grand Prix is where you unlock everything. The game starts with only three cups – the Mushroom Cup, Flower Cup, and Star Cup – consisting of four tracks each and you unlock the Special Cup by winning the Star Cup in the 100cc engine class. Whatever position you end up in at the end of a race determines how many points you earn and whichever kart has the most points at the end of the cup wins the trophy. There’s three different engine classes which can also be seen as the difficulty modes – 50cc, 100cc, and 150cc. If you include the Mirror Mode, I guess that could be considered a fourth engine class. The karts will move faster and the AI will be more aggressive the higher the engine class. Eventually you’ll unlock the All Cup Tour which requires you to race on all sixteen courses in a row. One of the cool things about the All Cup Tour is that the first and last course are always the same, but the courses in between are always randomized. Unfortunately, the All Cup Tour is just too long and there’s no checkpoints. If you fail to win the gold trophy, you have to compete in the Tour all over again and that can be frustrating, especially in the higher engine classes. If you manage to win the gold trophy in All Cup Tour in 150cc, you unlock Mirror Mode where all courses are mirrored. Mirror Mode is also just as difficult as 150cc, maybe even more so. There’s a lot of repetition in the Grand Prix, which really isn’t something new, but the unlockable content is what will probably keep you coming back. Besides unlocking more cups, you can unlock characters, karts, and stages for battle mode.

The main draw of Mario Kart: Double Dash is the two characters per kart thing. In multiplayer, each player can choose separate character combos and karts or two players can team up on one kart. Jeremy and I teamed up for two player and basically completed the Grand Prix as a team. Nintendo is normally pretty good at adding new things or mechanics to keep their IP’s fresh with each new release but we just could not figure out the point of two characters to a kart. You can acquire two items and even switch between characters during a race at any time but we still don’t see the need for two characters. It’s not a good or bad thing. One character drives and the other hangs on the back of the kart and can throw items. Driving into a single item box rewards you with an item and driving into a two item boxes connected together rewards you with two items, one for each character. If you want to use an item, the character holding it must be in the back of the kart and switching between them only requires the press of a button. But the whole thing just seems unnecessary if the developer’s goal was just to include the ability to hold two items. And it’s not like the characters really make a difference in how the karts handle on the track. All of the characters within their respective weight class handle exactly the same. Now all characters can acquire unique items, however, two characters can normally acquire the same unique item. For example, Mario and Luigi can both throw a barrage of fireballs. Bowser and Bowser Jr. can throw a massive spiked shell which just acts like a giant green shell. Peach and Daisy can acquire a shield that deflects specific items. And the Baby characters can unleash a Chain Chomp. The final two characters you unlock, Petey Piranha and King Boo, have access to any special item, which I guess makes them the best characters, or maybe just “overpowered” for lack of a better word. With all of that said, choosing your character combination may also depend on which unique special items you prefer to use.

Many of the classic Mario Kart items are here and you can launch most of them forwards or backwards. Whenever you acquire an item you can hold onto it but your items can be stolen by opponents that collide into you and you’ll even lose them if you fall off the course which becomes annoying. You’ve got your banana peels which cause karts to spin out of control when they drive over them, green shells which are basically projectiles that fire straight and can bounce off of things, red shells which home in on racers in front of you, the invincibility star, the fake item box, lightning, and even the dreaded blue shell which homes in on the kart in first place for a guaranteed hit. One thing you can’t do easily is defend yourself from behind. You can’t hold items behind you to block offensive items like the shells but you can throw items behind you and if you time it right, you can block specific incoming attacks. As you may or may not know, Mario Kart games become clearly cheap the higher the engine class. By that I mean the game basically decides who should win, especially in this game. The difficulty spike going from 100cc to 150cc is quite noticeable and winning races in 150cc is just all about luck sometimes. Racers at the bottom of the pack normally get the best and most powerful items while racers in the lead get less offensive items. However, the AI will clearly slaughter you if you get too far ahead and the rubberbanding just becomes so noticeable. You can be in first place and then get struck by a few attacks and then quickly find yourself in last place. You may get pummeled by a couple of green shells, then maybe a red shell, followed by a lightning blast. You’re almost guaranteed to get struck by a blue shell at some point if you stay in first place for too long. It’s very transparent when the game just doesn’t want you to win and sometimes it feels like you’re getting attacked by everything in a noticeable effort to keep you, and only you, out of first place. It’s just never subtle. The races are much easier to win in 50cc and 100cc, almost too easy once you master the controls. You can accelerate, brake, and drift. While drifting you can build up a boost by quickly moving the analog stick left and right and if you practice, you can snake which means quickly drifting left and right to build up and unleash boosts repeatedly. However, the turning in this game is a bit off. I have a similar issue with Mario Kart 64. It may just be because I’m used to playing the newer games. When you start turning, the kart kind of shifts to the opposite direction and it’s just takes some getting used to. Because of this, avoiding something on the track that is directly in front of you can be a bit of a challenge, especially if it comes up quick in which case you may not have enough time to move out of the way and sometimes you don’t have a lot of room to maneuver.

In multiplayer, you have the option to vs each other in a race or you can Battle each other in three different battle modes – Balloon Battle, Shine Thief, and Bob-Omb Blast. You first choose the battle mode, characters and karts, and then you can choose from one of six battle stages, two of which need to be unlocked. Balloon Battle requires you to pop all of the other opponents balloons. In Shine Thief, you need to acquire the shine and hold onto it until the timer reaches zero. If you get hit, you drop the shine. In Bob-Omb Blast, the only items you can acquire are Bob-ombs and you must throw them at your opponents to earn a star. If you get hit, you lose a star. The battle modes are fun but I think they’re best enjoyed with three or four players. Jeremy and I were only able to battle each other and got bored after a few minutes in each mode. Time Trials is my least favorite mode where you choose your characters and kart, and then choose a course and race around it as fast as you can to achieve the fastest possible time. If you earn a specific time on a course you’ll unlock the staff ghost to race against on that course. You can also save your own ghosts and race against them. If you don’t really care for setting time records like me, then Time Trials is a good way to learn the courses. You’re also given two mushrooms to use for boosts whenever you want and there are no item boxes.

The courses, themselves, are all pretty varied and if you start with the Mushroom Cup, the further you progress through the rest, the more challenging and intricate the courses become. The earlier courses are easy enough with wide open roads and not much to worry about. Later courses involve more narrow roads, environmental hazards, and sharp turns. Mastering drifting and boosting basically becomes a necessity for winning in 150cc and track memorization can be helpful as well. You’ll have to avoid Shy Guys skating on the ice in the Sherbet Island course, Cataquacks populate the beach in the Peach Beach course, and courses like Mushroom Bridge and Mushroom City contain traffic you need to avoid. Many of the courses contain shortcuts, boosts, and ramps which can be used to your advantage. In many of the later courses you’ll need to be careful as to not drive off the course and lose your position. This is especially true in Rainbow Road where a large chunk of the course has no barriers. All of the courses except for two consist of three laps. Baby Park is a very short course, you can complete a lap in under twenty seconds, therefor there’s seven laps total. There are no hazards in this course but the real challenge comes from avoiding all of the items. Wario Colosseum is one of the largest courses in the game and only consists of two laps. When playing solo, at the end of each race, you have the option to watch a replay but, unfortunately, this option is absent in multiplayer.

I think Double Dash holds up pretty well in terms of visuals. The character models are a bit blocky but the karts and courses are detailed, the texture work is solid, and the game contains that classic cartoon-y Mario look and feel. The game is bright and colorful, there’s some good depth of field effects, and also some nice little details to admire. You’ll see a helicopter flying around Yoshi’s Circuit, boulders rolling down DK Mountain, and even a city far below the Rainbow Road Course. When racing in multiplayer many of the small details are sacrificed for, what I assume, is a better frame rate and performance overall. Some of the background details in the courses will be absent, there may be fewer enemies populating the tracks, and other little things you may notice if you play religiously. Some of the missing details you may not even notice, especially when playing local multiplayer where the screen is split. One of the downsides to playing in split-screen is that the camera can be a bit wonky and position itself in spots where it’s difficult to see ahead of you. As for the audio, the music is fantastic with plenty of catchy and memorable tunes. The sound effects are what you would expect if you’ve played any other Mario Kart game. Characters will grunt, roar, or say basic lines during races and even after finishing. As for the performance, we experienced no slow down or major glitches and it ran at a solid frame rate in both single and two player.

As of this review, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is my favorite Mario Kart game but Double Dash was still a lot of fun to play. This was my first time really dedicating time to it and I had a blast despite some of its issues. I expected the game to get frustrating when racing in 150cc and I was right. Completing the Grand Prix in multiplayer alleviates that frustration a bit only because one player has to win a cup and you can still unlock things. I would say Double Dash is still far behind Mario Kart Wii in terms of aggravating AI. The All Cup Tour is an interesting addition, I like the randomized course order, but the fact that you have to complete it one run is just ridiculous. It’s just too time consuming in my opinion. The actual handling of the karts takes some getting used to but once you master it, it’s just like any other Mario Kart game with two characters per kart instead of one for reasons we still don’t understand. I’m going with the unique items as the reason, many of which became standard items in future games.

Mario Kart: Double Dash is an excellent game that I would highly recommend to fans of the racing genre or fun in general. It’s a lot of fun when playing in multiplayer and the multiple engine classes make it accessible to anyone. The 150cc engine class and Mirror Mode become frustrating very early on and winning races in these modes requires mastery of the controls and good knowledge of the courses. Even then, you’re not guaranteed to win thanks to a luck factor because of cheap AI. The battle mode is fun enough but I think it’s best enjoyed with three or four people. The Mario Kart series has always fused the Mario universe with the racing genre while at the same time adding in it’s own elements to create a unique racing experience. Double Dash’s two characters per kart thing may be more cosmetic than anything but it’s not a bad thing and the game offers plenty of fun action packed racing to enjoy.

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