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One of the biggest video game franchises in the world is the Mario franchise. It not only includes the main series but also several spin-off series. And one of the biggest spin-offs is Mario Kart, a series of racing games with a Mario twist and it’s one of the most successful racing game franchises of all time. The first three games were significant. The series began with Super Mario Kart. Mario Kart 64 was the series first foray into 3D. And Mario Kart: Super Circuit was the first portable game in the series which meant players could take the experience with them on-the-go. The next game in the series would mix things up a little. Developed and published by Nintendo, Mario Kart: Double Dash was released for GameCube in November, 2003. Double Dash not only retains the gameplay of the previous games but introduces some new features, expands the roster and includes a larger variety of vehicles.
Double Dash is a breath of fresh air for the Mario Kart series. It’s not just your typical Mario Kart title. It does so much more. It features new mechanics, new Battle game types, new items, and is one of the few games to take advantage of the GameCube Broadband Adapter, and supports up to sixteen players. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to try the LAN mode but we did play through the two player modes. On a single system, Double Dash supports up to four players. Grand Prix, Versus, Battle, and the Time Trial modes make a return. Double Dash’s main gimmick is two characters in one vehicle or cart and when playing in the multiplayer modes, players have the option to select their own teams or two players can team up and work together in one vehicle.
All of the characters from the previous games, minus Donkey Kong Jr., make a return and the roster has been expanded with several new characters from the Mario universe, some of which need to be unlocked. The game does kind of present you with preset teams but you can pair up any two characters – Donkey Kong and Mario, Paratroopa and Baby Luigi, Waluigi and Daisy – any combination is possible. The characters are split up into different weight classes and each class has its own set of vehicles. When choosing your team and vehicle, the vehicles you can select from will be determined by the heaviest character on your team. For example, the baby characters are lightweights and characters like Bowser and Wario are heavyweights so if you pair up Baby Mario with Bowser, you’ll be forced to select one of the heavyweight vehicles.
One thing we did notice right from the start is that the vehicle handling is similar to that of Mario Kart 64. Vehicles kind of slide a little bit when making turns. If you’ve read our review of 64, then you know we are not fans of the handling in that game. However, in Double Dash it’s not as bad. It doesn’t matter if it’s a light, medium, or heavy vehicle, Double Dash gives you more control on the road than 64 ever did, minus that game’s Battle mode. We were able to easily position our vehicles to drive off ramps and could avoid obstacles and perform quick maneuvers to get around things. Ultimately, the driving is much more enjoyable than it was in 64. One annoying thing is that sometimes, especially in multiplayer, the rear character can block the view of certain items on the courses making it easy to drive into hazardous items like bananas, shells and fake item boxes. It’s more of an issue when you’re tailing behind another vehicle and they drop something that you might have been able to avoid if your rear character wasn’t blocking your view.
Like the previous games, Double Dash is a racing game that features items that teams can use against each other during races and the difficulty is determined by the engine class. The higher the engine class, the more challenging the gameplay and the faster the vehicles move. Each vehicle has different stats in acceleration, speed and weight. The two characters in the vehicle serve different purposes and you can force them to switch positions at the press of a button. One character drives and the rear character can throw and drop items. Items are still acquired by driving through Item Boxes scattered around the courses and each character can hold their own item. A single Item Box will only give an item to the rear character which means they would have to switch places for the other character to acquire their own item. New to Double Dash are Double Item Boxes and driving into these gives both of your characters an item. Unfortunately, you can no longer hold certain items behind your vehicle but with the right timing, you can drop items to block certain incoming attacks.
Some other mechanics have also been cut including hopping and preventing your vehicle from spinning out by tapping the brake at the right time. If you drive over a banana, you’re going to spin out. There’s no stopping it. You can still drift and perform drift boosts and with enough practice, you can chain boosts together to snake around courses. New to Double Dash is the ability to steal items from rival teams. By using certain items to hit other vehicles, your rear character can snatch their items. When playing cooperatively, with two players in one vehicle, things work a little differently but more mechanics become available. Both players have to press certain buttons simultaneously to perform certain functions. Only the rear player can trigger a drift boost but they can also knock rival vehicles around and steal items. Furthermore, both players can double the power of the rocket start. Ultimately, we preferred controlling our own vehicles but the cooperative mode isn’t a terrible way to play and can be quite enjoyable if both players can communicate effectively.
Most of the items from the previous games make a return. The Banana Bunch and Boo were cut. Just like in Super Circuit, Red Shells will follow the course while homing in on the opponent in front of you. You can also launch them backwards but unlike Super Circuit, you can’t drop them on the course so they chase the next vehicle that passes them. They can still hit barriers and fail and every now and then we witnessed them disappear. On a few occasions, I’ve seen them pass the team in front of me and go after the team in front of them. Some other items have also seen some changes in their behavior. Fake Item boxes can be launched forwards but will no longer block shells. Double Dash features a new iteration of the Spiny Shell. It now has wings and flies when launched. It heads straight for the vehicle in first and causes an explosion on impact and any vehicles caught in the blast radius will be flipped.
Double Dash does feature Special Items that are unique to preset teams. This means two characters can acquire the same Special Item. For example, Mario and Luigi can throw Fireballs, Bowser and Bowser Jr. can unleash a giant Bowser Shell and Wario and Waluigi can throw Bob-ombs that explode after a certain amount of time. Most Special Items are new and unique and others are simply items that were once standard like the Triple Red and Green Shells. The only Special Items we thought were odd were Yoshi and Birdo’s Eggs. They behave like Red Shells but when they break, they release items onto the course. This is odd because some of the items they release are Stars and Mushrooms, making the Eggs the only Special Items that can be beneficial to rival vehicles.
Grand Prix is the mode you should jump into first. Just like the previous games, the goal is to win each cup for each engine class. Winning cups is how you unlock additional vehicles, characters, Battle mode stages and some other stuff and all of this unlockable content is a great incentive to play through the Grand Prix multiple times other than just doing it for completion. Unfortunately, Double Dash does not feature any retro courses but the Mirror mode from Mario Kart 64 does return. It’s similar to 150cc except all the courses are mirrored. The Grand Prix includes five cups each consisting of numerous courses. The All Cup Tour is the real standout because it requires you to race on every course in the game. Not only that but the courses are randomized with the exception of the first and last courses which are always Luigi Circuit and Rainbow Road respectively. I like the randomized aspect of it because it’s different every time you play through it but the downside of this cup is the length. We didn’t find it too difficult to win the cup in the lower engine classes but in 150cc and Mirror, things are much more challenging and because of how long it takes to get through the cup, and because of how cheap the game can sometimes be on the higher engine classes, losing can be frustrating.
Unfortunately, there’s no equivalent to Super Circuit’s Quick Run mode. This means there’s no way to set up a single player race. You would have to jump into one of the Grand Prix cups. You can also jump into the Time Trial mode and try for record times and if you’re fast enough, you can race staff ghosts. Outside of Multiplayer racing is the Battle mode where you and your friends can use items to attack and blow each other up on different stages, some of which need to be unlocked. If you thought the Balloon Battle gameplay from the previous games was getting stale, then you’ll be happy to know Double Dash comes new Battle game types. The classic Balloon Battle returns but the real highlights are the Shine Thief and Bob-omb Blast game types. In Shine Thief, players must try to retrieve the Shine dropped onto the course and the player who holds onto it the longest, wins. In Bob-omb Blast, players attack each other with Bob-ombs to earn stars and any player hit will lose stars. The first player to acquire three stars, wins. As for Balloon Battle, not a lot has changed but you can steal balloons from other players now which is pretty cool. One thing all of these game types share is that they’re most enjoyable with four players.
The Mario Kart games have always had rubberbanding and cheap AI behavior to some degree. The rubberbanding is usually always noticeable and sometimes ridiculous, especially when racing in the higher engine classes. In 50cc and 100cc, it’s often not hard to win races and this does apply to Double Dash. 50cc will probably feel like a joke to series veterans and because the vehicles are the slowest in this engine class, the All Cup Tour will really feel like it drags on. The action really picks up in the higher engine classes, specifically 150cc and Mirror. Driving into certain items, getting hit and driving off the course will often result in you losing or dropping any items your holding. But on the plus side, this also applies to AI opponents and not all items dropped onto the course are hazardous so they can be used to your advantage.
Holding onto certain items is more important in the higher engine classes because they can be used to block incoming shells which the AI will use more often in 150cc and Mirror. A mistake can drop you several positions and the AI is aggressive and will be up your ass frequently if you’re not drift boosting and using items strategically or tactically. That said, Double Dash can be frustrating when racing in the higher engine classes because it’s sometimes obvious when the game just doesn’t want you to win. It’s possible to be the victim of an insane chain of attacks. The problem is that it’s very obvious when something like this happens. It’s one thing to get hit once or twice in a row, or get hit because you made a mistake, and another when you’re assaulted by a crazy series of attacks as if it’s a game of kill-the-carrier. And this shit can happen when you’re not even in first place.
Double Dash has, by far, the most interesting and enjoyable courses in the series up to this point. I’d be lying if I said we enjoyed every single course but I can’t say there’s any here that are terribly designed. They come in different lengths and have different hazards and obstacles to avoid. On the Mushroom Bridge and Mushroom City courses, you’ll have to avoid traffic vehicles. You’ll have to avoid a tornado and sand pit in Dry Dry Desert. And Baby Park’s small size usually results in very chaotic races because items will often be lying all over the course and shells will be moving around everywhere. Many courses include jumps and boost pads, there’s shortcuts to find, and you can be launched out of pipes. Double Dash does include one of my least favorite Rainbow Roads in the series. I do appreciate that it’s more challenging and more visually interesting than any of the previous Rainbow Roads. It features a spiral that can a real bitch to navigate because of the lack of barriers and the abundance of boost pads and if a lot of hazardous items were dropped onto this part of the course, which is not uncommon, it just becomes frustrating, especially with how the vehicles handle. I always find this Rainbow Road nerve-wracking.
Visually, Double Dash looks great, even today. The presentation is bold, colorful, vibrant and detailed. In multiplayer, some hazards, effects, and details are removed from courses but even with those things missing, it still looks great. The presentation really pops and the characters are well animated. The rear characters will move around and certain hits will result in them being dragged. The game utilizes the depth of field effect nicely and you’ll often seen cool things going on the backgrounds like things moving around, a helicopter flies around a segment of Yoshi Circuit and you can see a city in the background of Rainbow Road. The gameplay is accompanied by excellent audio work. The soundtrack is catchy and memorable and the characters will often shout and yell things. On the technical side, the game ran smooth in single player and multiplayer and we encountered no major bugs or issues. Keep in mind, we were only able to try out the single and two player modes so we can’t comment on the performance with three or four players.
We had a great time with Double Dash. It’s one of our favorite games in the series. Even though some remnants of Mario Kart 64’s cart handling remain, driving in Double Dash doesn’t feel nearly as bad. If we exclude Super Circuit, Double Dash feels like a much bigger and better sequel than 64 did. It not only retains the gameplay we all love and come to expect but features more content, tries some new things, and as a result, feels more alive and fresh. The audiovisual presentation is excellent, none of the courses feel bland and uninteresting, and it’s just a lot of fun to play. That’s not to say Double Dash is a perfect game. The rubberbanding can still be ridiculous, the higher engine classes will often exhibit obvious and frustrating cheap AI behavior, and I, personally, was disappointed with the lack of a “quick race” type of mode in single player. These problems aside, there’s a lot to like about the game. Double Dash feels like the start of the developers really experimenting with the formula. You can see they were trying mix things up to make the gameplay more than just cart racing with a Mario twist. It’s such an improvement over its predecessors and 64, specifically. Some of the improvements are due to better technology and we’re not going to fault the previous games for that, but a lot of the improvements are simply due to better design and while some things may look and feel dated now, Double Dash still holds up really, really well.
We would absolutely recommend Mario Kart: Double Dash to anyone. It’s fun, action-packed, it looks great, it sounds great, and it plays great. It’s the kind of racing game that will appeal to different audiences and skill levels and should keep you entertained for hours. Definitely check it out.