TYP spends quality time with Mario Kart DS multiplayer, both online and locally. The short story: buy your wireless router now.
Inarguably, Mario Kart DS is the biggest game at the Gamers' Summit—and rightly so. I have owned the game for less than a day, yet I have easily put over four hours into multiplayer.
Upon receiving Mario Kart DS we joined international matches among New York, Redmond, Germany, and Canada. After specifying the online mode (Regional, Friends, Rivals, or Worldwide), you are pitted against up to three other players. After each player specifies a character and kart, a four-course contest begins. Every course is chosen democratically: each player's choice is immediately visible to the others and the most popular track wins. Chance breaks ties, and players are awarded points for their performance in each race, much like in a Grand Prix.
The online matches were impressively smooth, considering the circumstances. My game usually stuttered once or twice per match in a room with thirty Nintendo DS systems all connecting through a single NOA router, which in turn connected to similarly crowded gatherings around the globe. Lag can be deadly, since the copy with lag freezes while the others continue, but horrible attacks were rare, even under such worst-case-scenario conditions. I strongly doubt the game will suffer from these issues under normal conditions at home.
The Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection menu interface is surprisingly intuitive. Although techies can tweak the nitty-gritty details (yes, you can look up the MAC address), the partially-automated tutorials make setup a breeze. Nintendo also confirmed a few compatibility questions, definitively stating WPA is not supported and that free (Wayport) connections which normally require browser authentication are supported. There are some disappointments: opponents cannot converse through the DS, players cannot drag items, and (like all Nintendo Wi-Fi games) your online profile is tied to the game-system combination. These problems are forgivable: overall Mario Kart's online mode is very impressive, especially when coupled with the access point location directory and game tracking features found on the official Nintendo Wi-Fi web site.
But enough about online performance—you probably want to know if this is a good Mario Kart entry. HELL YES! My colleagues and I couldn't get enough: we played local eight-player matches on the bus ride to and from dinner, and plan to continue the mayhem later this evening!
Crisp digital controls, varied new and old-school tracks and a shit-load of options blow previous incarnations out of the water. A new mission mode provides skill-honing challenges such as chasing down item blocks, driving through tire hoops, or fighting bosses. Yes, you can relive the glory of
A strong selection of old-school courses, ranging from Choco Island 2 (SNES) and Sky Garden (GBA) to Choco Island (N64) and Luigi Circuit (GC) provides instant familiarity, but the new courses are surprisingly good as well. I appreciated the new courses' details, such as the graveyard gates in the Luigi's Mansion track and the desert track's hopping fireball chain from Super Mario Bros. 3. Waluigi's Pinball course is especially zany. It is difficult to pinpoint, but many of the new courses simply feel good and certainly hold their own against the retro offerings.
The local multiplayer modes are similarly infused with fresh variety. Team battles extend the comradery found in two-player GP, requiring teammates to watch each others' backs and avoid friendly fire. Players may now choose the same character, creating a fairer environment. (Luigi seemed to be popular!)
Balloon battle is quirkier than ever. Although characters still only attach three ballons to their kart, they have five balloons at their disposal. Only one is initially inflated -— players must inflate their extra balloons by stopping and pressing select or blowing into the mic. Failing to inflate balloons fosters premature deaths; eagerly inflating balloons invites balloon theft. Blowing into the microphone also speeds the inflation process. The sound of eight gamers resuscitating their handhelds trumps even the most triumphant "OBJECTION!"
Mario Kart DS also includes a slightly less amusing Shine Runner mode, modeled after the star-nabbing multiplayer game from Mario 64 DS. Shines will randomly appear on the map as a timer counts to zero. When the buzzer sounds, the players with the lowest score are bumped and the timer resets, slowly whittling the contenders down to one. The concept is amusing, but I'm not yet sold on its lasting appeal.
Mario Kart DS has top notch production quality. Believe the hype: this game is yet another killer app for the blossoming Nintendo DS.