Mario Kart DS review

Mario Kart DS for Nintendo DSIn Mario Kart DS Koopa Shells will be flying worldwide. The acclaimed Mario Kart series is going wireless, letting you race and battle with an all-star cast that includes Mario, Luigi, Peach, Yoshi, Donkey Kong, Wario, Bowser, and Toad! The ultimate Mario Kart race is on… and online via Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection.

With over 30 courses and all the crazy items and frantic speed players would expect, this game is a Mario Kart fan’s dream! So it’s no surprise that as of December 31st, 2007, Mario Kart DS has sold 9.67 million copies worldwide.

System: DS
Genre: Racing, Action
Release dates: November 14th 2005 (USA), November 17th 2005 (AUS), November 25th 2005 (EUR)
Players: 1-8 simultaneous, 1-4 online multiplayer
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Publisher: Nintendo
Origin: Japan
Rating: E for Everyone

Mario Kart DS screenshotTime to race … no wires attached. The acclaimed Mario Kart series has gone wireless, letting players race and battle with up to eight karts at once, regardless of whether everyone has a game card. An all-star cast that includes Mario, Luigi, Peach, Yoshi, Donkey Kong, Wario, Bowser and Toad will round out a truly all-star lineup of more than 30 courses drawn from every Mario Kart game. That’s right – players will tour courses from Super Mario Kart, Mario Kart 64, Mario Kart: Super Circuit and Mario Kart: Double Dash!!, not to mention brand-new tracks and arenas.

With all the crazy items and frantic speed players have come to expect, this game is a Mario Kart fan’s dream. The game has a new dimension of fun, since players can battle others around the world by connecting to Nintendo’s new wireless gaming service, Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, via Wi-Fi.

Watch the Mario Kart DS launch trailer.

Let’s go through the gameplay options. While racing, the top screen of the Nintendo DS displays a third-person perspective behind and slightly above the player’s vehicle. The bottom screen lists the current race standings, items carried by each player, and an overhead map of the course. The map can be toggled to show an overall view of the entire course, or a close-up view of the racer’s immediate vicinity. The close-up view is very detailed, showing nearby racer positions, course hazards, item boxes, and even incoming attacks. When racing against other player’s ghosts you’d do well to keep an eye on this map to find their faster paths on the track you’re trying to improve on.

There are 13 different characters total in Mario Kart DS, 10 are from past games in the series. Each of the initial eight (and other) playable character starts out with two karts: one special kart unique to that character, and a standard kart resembling a real go-kart. These karts have slightly different stats, although their general strengths are the same. As a player progresses through the game, he or she can unlock a third special kart for each character, also with slightly different stats. Ultimately, the player can unlock the ability to use any of the 36 total karts with any character. There are three engine classes which serve as difficulty levels for the Grand Prix mode: 50cc, 100cc, and 150cc. The higher the engine class, the faster all the karts go. When a player is selecting their kart for a race, the game lists the kart’s max speed, acceleration, weight, handling, drifting ability, and the quality of items the kart is likely to receive.

You’ll find there are eight Cups in the game. Each of the two Grand Prix (GP) in Mario Kart DS have you racing through four cups, and each cup consisting of four race tracks. So the Nitro GP contains sixteen brand new tracks while Retro GP contains sixteen tracks converted from previous entries in the Mario Kart series. Each course features numerous item boxes that players can drive through to receive a randomly-selected item. Whichever item the player receives is generally dependent upon their current position in the race and, to a lesser extent, the item stat of the player’s kart; Players near the front will tend to receive rear-attack items, while players trailing in the back of the race will tend to receive more powerful items. Most attack items can be targeted forwards or backwards by holding the appropriate direction on the D-pad when using the item against other. New items like Bullet Bill transformation have also been added in the game.

Turbo boosts AKA Mini-Turbos are a feature first introduced in Mario Kart 64, returns in Mario Kart DS. Mini-Turbos are momentary speed boosts that can be obtained while drifting. Also featured in Mario Kart DS and not to be confused with drifting is the ability to draft behind an opponent’s kart. If the player is close enough, light blue streaks will start flying by their kart, and their speed will begin to increase. If the player maintains this position long enough, they will receive a noticeable speed boost, allowing them to easily overtake and pass the opponent.

While fans of the Mario Kart series are familiar with getting a Turbo boost when you move between left and right rapidly while drifting into a corner, Mario Kart DS introduces a new technique. The execution of several consecutive mini-turbos, by drifting back and forth across a straightaway, is a technique known as “snaking”, but is officially called a “Mini-Turbo”. Snaking was originally known as performing “Straight-Stretch Mini-Turbos” in the Mario Kart 64 era. A Nintendo of America official has personally described snaking as an intentional part of the game’s design, considering that a similar technique could also be performed in Mario Kart: Double Dash. While it can be fun to snake for the fastest times, some people who don’t/can’t do it might start hating you if you do it non-stop in multiplayer.

You can learn how to Snake with help from this video:

For the first time you can add a personal touch to your kart, this is done through new player icons AKA emblems. Using a simple drawing program interface, you can create a customized emblem, which much like in Pictochat often results in crude drawings of elephants and kittens. During the race, each player’s emblem appears as a decal on their kart, and in multi-player matches, opponents can see the player’s name and emblem prominently overlaid above their kart’s position on the opponent’s screen. The player’s emblem is also, on Wi-Fi play, shown to their opponents once the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection has found opponents and initiated a match.

Then there’s the Versus Mode, where eight players can race each other using DS Download Play or multi-card wireless LAN. Mario Kart DS also supports online play via Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. Up to four players can play with a Wi-Fi connection. When all four races are complete, each player also receives one win for any opponent who disconnected during the match — though if the match cannot be completed due to disconnecting, no wins are given to the remaining player. Disconnecting for a race is looked down on. Not all of the tracks are available in the Wi-Fi mode. Let’s list the different options starting with this above mentioned online mode…

Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection

The Nintendo Wi-Fi USB Connector takes your DS onlineThere’s always someone ready to play!

Now you can take on your friends from around the globe! By connecting to Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, you can match yourself against friends or rivals who are in your same skill level, both domestic and worldwide. Up to four players can race each other on 20 courses as they vie for the title of World’s Best Kart Racer! Check out for more info.

Total Shell-Tossing Mayhem

Mario Kart’s always been an intense multiplayer experience, and now you can connect up to eight players at once for insane multiplayer races and no-holds-barred battles. You can even have eight-person matches using a single game card!

As you race, be sure to watch the bottom screen as you dodge incoming items and keep track of other racers. If you want to change the map view, it’s as easy as tapping the touch screen. The touch screen can also be used to customize your name and kart emblem for personalized racing.

Ways to Race

In addition to Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, Mario Kart DS features five different game modes. VS and Battle are available in Multiplayer Mode for up to eight players, and all modes are available for single players.

Grand Prix

In Grand Prix Mode, the driver who earns the most points at the end of a four-course Cup is the victor. Mario Kart DS features eight different cups, with each cup featuring four different tracks.

Time Trials

Your object in Time Trials Mode is to get the fastest time you can on a single track. You can save your best runs as ghost data and share them with a friend.


In Single Player Mode, you’ll race against computer-controlled karts. In Multiplayer Mode, you’ll race against human opponents who play using their own Nintendo DS systems.


There are two types of battle matches: Balloon Battle and Shine Runners. In Balloon Battle, your goal is to pop your opponents’ balloons before your own balloons are popped. In the new Shine Runners, the driver who collects the most Shine Sprites is the winner. If you can’t find anyone to battle against locally (the mode isn’t online) then you can turn on CPU bots, a Mario Kart series first on the DS.


In this mode, you are given sets of specific missions you must clear in order to move on to the next set of missions. You can be sure that a big surprise awaits at the end.

Watch a Mario Kart DS race video.

What are the main features in Mario Kart DS?

* Drive the competition off the roadways anytime, using Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection.

* Compete with up to four people wirelessly using Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection or up to eight people using one game card with local wireless connection. Players can even race seven other pals over local wireless with only a single game card via DS Download play.

* Race on 30 courses designed to replicate the best tracks from past games as well as all-new courses. Players will tour courses from Super Mario Kart, Mario Kart 64, Mario Kart: Super Circuit and Mario Kart: Double Dash!!, not to mention new tracks and arenas.

* Keep one eye on the map and the other on the action with dual-screen gameplay.

* Crazy items, frantic speed and a new mission mode make this a Mario Kart fan’s dream.

Funny Japanese Mario Kart DS commercial. The “Hot Mario Bros.” are played by the Japanese comedy duo Ninety-nine.

As a conclusion let’s rate Mario Kart DS on its fun-basis.

Mario Kart DS was the first game to take the Nintendo DS online with the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. It’s also the first game in the Mario Kart series where up to four players can race online and the game offers 8-player multiplayer locally (both racing and battle). Don’t let the clean box cover fool you, this isn’t a realistic racing game by any means, the elements of pure luck the various power-ups bring to winning the racing matches can be downright brutal, but that’s really part of the fun… never knowing if you’ll win right down to the last seconds leading up to the finishing line.

You’ve got your Grand Prix, Time Trials, Versus, Battle and a new Mission mode that altogether pack a lot of options and near-endless replayability in one small cartridge. Mario Kart DS is a treat and a must-have for every DS owner, because it combines a lot of gameplay from what made older games in the series great. So when that adds up to a total of 32 tracks (both old favorites and new ones) and six battle maps (two old ones) you’re getting a sort of compilation of the best of the past with a lot of new features thrown in. Don’t shy away from this game if you don’t like racing games, because you’ll be missing out on loads of hectic and addictive single- and multiplayer fun.

Graphics – 9.0
Mario Kart DS runs at a smooth 60 frames per second at all times during single- and multiplayer. There’s barely lag when you’ve got eight players racing together. The visual style is kept relatively close to the GameCube’s Mario Kart: Double Dash from which some of the tracks are included, but of course the 3D hardware of the DS can’t reach that at its N64+ level. All the tracks are very colorful and fun to race through, as is a staple with the Mario Kart series. The character details and animations are nicely done and charming in a cartoony way. The game’s 3D engine makes sure everything in the games moves fast.

Audio – 8.0
The sound effects are mainly weapons firing, engine noises, and each character has their own one-liners that are used to great effect as you get hit by a power-up weapon or claim victory over your opponents. The soundtrack delivers a cheerful happy score through the DS’ stereo speakers.

Ingenuity – 9.5
Mario Kart DS plays every bit as well as its predecessors with a great weapons balance during races across superbly designed tracks. All the familiar Mario Kart gameplay with steering, powersliding (around corners for speed boosts), and strategic power-up employments are back and you’ll have to use them all to win out in a race to the finish line.

Replay Value – 9.5
The single player modes can keep you going thanks to the fun CPU/bot players to go up against and the Cups and Battle setups have a great variety in courses, characters and modes with many favorites from classic Mario Kart games returning! But as with any Mario Kart game, single player is great, but the game always becomes more fun and competitive in multiplayer!

Online multiplayer is a great addition, but you’ll have to exchange Mario Kart DS friend codes and be online at the same time to race against each other, and even then with some friends I get an unexplained error. The lack of ghost data trading and no online battle mode is a shame. So it’s not perfect, but for what it is (a free service) you still get an awesome addition to have the simple option to race against other human players with the same experience level (rivals) or friends from around the world! Two and a half years after release I still play this once in a while to improve my top lap times and there’s always a group of people to race against available online, so I see this game going strong for many more years of portable fun.