November 01, 2003

Article at 1UP

Mario Kart: Double Dash!! Impressions

Ravi Hiranand

Thanks to the wonders of shops in Hong Kong getting games early, we have the final Japanese copy of Mario Kart: Double Dash!! a week early. And I’m loving it.

Like everyone else, I had my reservations about the E3 build. It just felt too slow in general. The underwhelming top speeds and awful acceleration really hampered a game where you’re likely to be hit (and stopped) frequently. It also lacked any defensive mechanisms as well as a power-sliding manoeuvre. That has all been fixed: The speed, while not overwhelming, certainly won’t have you complaining, the new defensive strategy has a nice element of skill to it, and a power-slide similar to Mario Kart 64 (complete with boost) has been added.

The big change to the formula, of course, is the whole “Double Dash!!” part: Now you have two characters per kart, with one player driving and one handling weapons. The player in the back is the first to pick up weapons (unless you hit a special question block that awards items to both riders) and actually holds the item in question on-screen, which makes for fun from an animation perspective as you watch them juggle and balance the items in their hands. You can switch between the driver and the “gunner” at any time with Z, and if the “gunner” is still holding a weapon when he hops into the front, he’ll still hold it in one hand while driving. Note that no matter which two characters you choose, switching between them will not alter the handling or speed of the kart. It’s tough to adjust at first (to remember that you do have two characters to switch between) and I’ve been caught unaware by that quite a few times!

The doubling-up of characters adds a nice layer of strategy to the game, because it dictates your choice of vehicle (two small characters can’t control Bowser’s kart while Donkey Kong can’t fit into Baby Mario’s kart) and what special attacks you’ll have access to. Each character now has their very own special attack that they can randomly receive through the familiar question blocks. Some attacks are pretty standard — the Princesses have a set of hearts that protect them (similar to how a trio of shells used to rotate around karts in Mario Kart 64) and Yoshi has a homing egg attack — while others are far more over-the-top. Take Bowser’s giant shell or the Chain Chomp that drags Baby Mario along the track before detaching to attack anyone in the vicinity. With two characters, you can mix and match your special attacks…or just pick two similar characters to maximize your chances of getting that one special you want (that Chain Chomp is incredibly useful).

That aforementioned defensive manoeuvre comes in the form of a little indicator that pops up whenever a homing weapon (be it a shell or an egg) closes in on the back of a kart. Unlike Mario Kart 64, you cannot “hold” a weapon behind your kart to block, and so you have to time the release of a weapon that can be laid behind you (like a green shell or a banana) to intercept the incoming homing weapon. It’s not exactly difficult, but it’s not an automatic defense like in Mario Kart 64 and can catch you if you don’t time things right.

To Import or Not?
There is very little in the way of Japanese text stopping you from importing the game. In-game it’s all in Japanese, but there isn’t much text to begin with and anyone with even a basic knowledge of kart games will find their way around without difficulty. With the US release following so close behind, however, it’s probably not worth the effort.

However, the real star of the show here are the tracks. Taking a cue from Super Mario Kart, there are shortcuts everywhere. Some involve the use of a mushroom, but all require absolute concentration and skill to spot and use. One of my favorites from the early tracks is the shortcut across the beach in the Super Mario Sunshine

-inspired town, which is easy to spot but should only be attempted when you see the tide going out. Given that you have about a second or two to watch the tide and then pick a direction (shortcut or safe route), it can get hairy. There are a lot of other great shortcuts throughout the game though, and most are far more cleverly hidden (hmm, are those boost pads on the arch of the Mushroom Bridge?). And Rainbow Road needs to be seen to be believed.

There’s also a lot more interaction on the tracks. Goombas roam free. Piranha Plants and Chain Chomps snap away at cars that wander too close to the edge. One track even has a little pick-up truck with a stack of mushrooms in the rear racing along with normal traffic, and if you hit the truck you loosen the pile of mushrooms enough to put them all over the road. Run over one, and you’ve got an instant boost.

I’ve spent most of my time with the Grand Prix mode in multiplayer (as with all Mario Karts, you can play Grand Prix with a friend), and it’s been a lot of fun thus far. There’s a lot of variety to the tracks, and while the computers aren’t the toughest, they also don’t display that false “rubber band AI” often seen in games of this sort. You can pull away from the computer with good driving, and even lap backmarkers. One little balance problem, though, is that when you’re stuck in the pack, you will get hit and you will get attacked a lot, while the front-runner escapes most of the attacks and can accelerate away in (relative) peace.

A note on the Battle modes: I did briefly play around with Battle, but with only two players it wasn’t the best experience. Having said that, the arenas are much smaller and much more open, so it does make for a better game for only two players (unlike the massive levels in the N64 version). The standard Battle mode is well and good, but the Shine Thief is a novel twist to the format. Players race around to grab possession of a Shine. Once someone has the Shine, a clock counts down (starting from 60 seconds). The last player with the Shine when time runs out wins. If you rip the Shine away from a player by attacking them before time runs out, the clock either pauses, or resets to 20 seconds (whichever is more). It’s a lot of fun and a simple game to get a hold of. The Bomb Tag mode isn’t so simple and to be honest I think I’m missing something there, so I’ll go back and play it more to figure out what — aside from a lot of explosions — is going on.

There is a lot more to say about Mario Kart: Double Dash!!, but I feel I’ve only scratched the surface here. It’s also filled with some rather nice touches, including nods to previous games (one battle arena is a giant cookie from Yoshi’s Cookie and the sound a koopa shell makes when it bounces off a the wall is ripped from Super Mario Bros.) and a bevy of unlockables, which are sure to extend the life of a game already guaranteed to be an office favorite with a great multiplayer mode.,2053,1493637,00.asp