Honey, I think we're just driving in circles…
With a system as unique as the Nintendo DS, it's always fun to see what form classic series will take when they arrive on the new handheld. Mario Kart DS looks great, certainly better than the sprite-based N64 version, although it shares more in common with that game than with Double Dash, since there is only one character per kart and (so far as I've seen) no type of cooperative racing.
Although very early and strictly limited to eight-player wireless races, the version I played has a good sense of speed and virtually all the features expected of a Mario Kart game: weapons, power slide hops (with orange smoke boost), and dramatic turns of fate. In my first race, I was in dead last for two and a half out of three laps, thanks to some initial confusion over the button layout. But the handicapping item boxes gave me an invincibility star followed by a golden mushroom, and I ended up blasting my way to first place in only half a lap. In my next race, my fortunes balanced out, as I went from being the leader to almost finishing last after a deadly blue shell. Yeah, the DS version feels like a true Mario Kart game, that's for sure.
Wireless play works great and is clearly the game's key feature, although it's unclear how much, if anything, will be available as a single-card download. I can't help but feel disappointed in the game's current form, though, because it adds wireless multiplayer and literally nothing else to the series. The gameplay is a carbon copy of every Mario Kart since MK64, an impression not helped by the fact that most playable tracks in the demo are direct remakes from previous games, or that the eight-player mode randomly chose our characters and the track…yes, just like the lame Double Dash LAN mode. As of now, Mario Kart DS has not been named as an online title, even though everyone wants it to be. Nor are there any details on battle mode, a perennially disappointing feature that could be so awesome if Nintendo would just give it more options and more balancing.
I love the Mario Kart series, and the DS version is certainly a faithful adaptation that captures the multiplayer madness of past games. Will it offer anything new, though? The demo version I played honestly does not, but there is plenty of the game yet to be revealed, and Nintendo has a few more months to pack in more.