This game has the biggest, angriest banana I've ever seen in a game. In fact, it's a little creepy how all these inanimate objects and bits of scenery are always gazing at me with their beady little eyes.
Mario Kart, despite being such a surreal and wacky game, has always been one of the most prestigious game series in my mind, as each game was fun to play for years after it came out. As one of the video game biz's premier multiplayer games, each in the series was fun to play for both the clueless, 'casual' players and the experts that squeezed out every drop of high-level strategy that their wits could muster, lest they be beaten by the next heartless cart-driving psychopath of a gamer. Oh, and Nintendo sold millions of copies, so Mario Kart: Double Dash has quite a lot to live up to. But, it can't just be the same game, again, y'know. That'd be boring. This time, two-character teams pair up to a single cart, adding a fresh new dimension of wonderful nonsense to the gameplay.
The graphics are solid, there's certainly nothing wrong with the sound, and Wario's lines are as hilariously hostile as ever. Who really cares, though? Gameplay is the important thing, especially in Mario Kart. The presentation of the game is fine, so there's no need to worry about it.
Twenty playable characters (four of them unlocks) rival the roster of plenty of fighting games. Consider that you pick TWO characters, AND get a choice of cart; that's a recipe for a delicious amount of strategy that easily goes way beyond any ol' cart racing game. What cart (er, kart?) is best suited for each course? What combinations of characters get the best items?
There's a catch, though, and that's that LAN play always, without exception, forces random selection of characters. Sure, maybe it would be too bothersome to let people take forever to choose what characters they want, or they wouldn't get the ones they want because some other clown took them. Or, maybe the designers should have implemented what fighting game designers learned a decade ago; how about letting different players choose the same character? I mean, it was even in Smash Bros. There's no reason not to give this option, unless for some bizarre reason, someone thinks that it would be too "unrealistic" for a racing game with an egg-spouting transexual dinosaur thing set in a wacky mushroom world. Whatever. But, hey, LAN play is still awesome, and it's also that much less delay in getting right into a race.
Sixteen courses are playable in racing mode (they can also be mirrored), and there are now six Battle mode arenas. Personally, I seriously recall thinking how cool it would be if there was an all-course GP marathon run, and, surprise, here it is in Mario Kart: Double Dash. Thanks Nintendo! Also, in the realm of simple but fantastic ideas, CPU characters stick with their usual partners in 50cc and 100cc GPs, but 150cc and Mirror GPs see them randomized. It might not seem like much, but that pre-emptively eliminates a whole lot of possible monotony in attempting to beat all of the 150cc cups (which are much harder than any previous Mario Kart racing, by the way).
Let's talk about the new and improved Battle mode! Old school balloon-popping beatdowns are back in full effect. There's Shine Thief mode, where the objective is to Shine Get, so to speak, and then play keep-away with it until the timer is up. Finally, there's Bob-Omb Blast, where every item is a Bob-Omb and explosions rain down in an endless cascade of insanity (it's awesome).
Power slides, along with the power slide boosts, are back with a vengeance in this game. You could probably easily power slide a hundred yards, just for kicks. Hops are gone, but they wouldn't have played the same essential role as in previous Mario Kart games anyway - there aren't really any courses with little corners to hop like before. Here, L or R just goes right into a slide. It seems like starting to slide extremely early is the key to getting the best racing line. It takes a little getting used to, but it's entirely more fun, somehow. Just slidin' everywhere like a maniac, I mean.
The loss of item trailing (dragging an item behind your cart) may seem like an initial disappointment, but there's a balance to everything that changed. Consider that two racers on a cart carry two items, and red shells are slower and show in a warning 'window' when approaching. Although red shells are now smart enough to follow the course (not run into corners), they're not very hard to deflect with an item drop. If there's something to complain about, it's that a banana-induced spin can't be averted after hitting one. Sure, they don't slow a player to a full stop, but they're all over the course as much as ever, and that chance to flex a little skill is sorely missed.
Two players can play as a character each on one cart - the player on back fires his item and does the back-and-forth motion for the power slide boosts. The player in front handles the rest of the driving, and both players must hit Z to switch. It's tricky, but really not too hard for expert players. It's a fun novelty.
Overall, Mario Kart: Double Dash has kept the general elements, while at the same time altering things completely with two-passenger system. Nintendo did it without breaking or rehashing the gameplay, and the end result is a superb game, indeed.