Review: Mario Kart: Double Dash

PAL Review

Nintendo's hope for the holiday season is set on a racing game that involves cartoon-like characters that bomb each other with red and green turtle shells. Sounds like a stupid idea? You know better than that!


The visual style of Mario Kart has always been a refection of the style of the latest Mario game. Super Mario Kart's tracks were based on levels from Super Mario World (both Super NES) and Mario Kart 64 took its graphical style from Super Mario 64 (both Nintendo 64). So it's not a big surprise that Double Dash's looks are reminiscent of Super Mario Sunshine. Apart from some similar locations, such as the beach, Delfino Plaza and the theme park, Mario Kart also uses the simple textures and vivid colours. This, in combination with the absence of many details, causes the environments to have a cartoon-like look. Nice effects complete the picture; especially the desert's heat haze looks great.

For the first time in Mario Kart's ten year history, the characters are actually 3D. This is not only a treat to the eye, but it also makes driving feel more realistic than the 2D karts in a 3D environment of Mario Kart 64. There are sixteen characters on the field and there are a lot of moving elements on the tracks, but it doesn't have a noticeable affect on frame rate, loading times or the sense of speed.


Most of the tracks are based on one of the characters; others are inspired by the Mario platform idiom, so expect an ice track and desert track among others. In true Mario Kart tradition, the Rainbow Road makes a return in the final cup.

Though they lack high graphical detail, the tracks look fine. The design of most is imaginative without affecting the average speed too much. The emphasis lies on alternative routes – they're not always shortcuts mind – and moving elements in the environment. This varies from background effects like the rollercoaster in Baby Park to actual obstacles like active geysers and a stamping dinosaur in Dino Dino Jungle. Some tracks are mostly about surviving obstacles, such as wobbly bridges, quicksand, cyclones, falling rocks and traffic. Some tracks are more about driving skills, such as the excellent Yoshi Circuit. Creating a track in the shape of a Yoshi may seem like a stupid idea, it allows for some great cornering.

There are sixteen tracks in total, almost all of which are great. The rather dull Sherbet Land and psychedelic Rainbow Road with its sometimes poor visibility are less fun, but this is well compensated for by the intelligent track design of Mushroom Bridge and DK Mountain.


No one was expecting a soundtrack comprised of the work of famous artists, but Nintendo could have done better then the happy-but-not-very-memorable tunes that accompany the action now. The music gets repetitive pretty soon, but this is not a big drawback. What is a drawback is that options – and sound options in particular – are very thin on the ground. The game does support Pro Logic II, but it's not possible to adjust the volume of music and sound effects separately. The only possibility is to turn down the master volume, but even this option is rather useless as it doesn't even mute the sound when it's set to zero. The sound effects are satisfactory, but probably won't be missed very much if turned down with the soundtrack to listen to your own music.


Like all Mario Kart games, Grand Prix is the main event. You race against 7 other teams on four different cups. The speed and difficulty increase by using 50, 100 or 150cc karts. The sense of speed is good, much better than at the E3, even at the 50cc setting. Racing at 150cc is rather challenging, though Mario Kart veterans probably won't have much trouble getting gold on all cups soon.

Mario Kart 64 was in many ways an improvement to the original Super Mario Kart. However, for some players the original remained their favourite. Though the SNES version had inferior graphics and lacked a four player mode, the tight handling and the restricted use of 'levelling methods' (ways to help weaker players back in the race) made Super Mario Kart a game of skill rather than a game of luck.

There were two major complaints about its successor on the Nintendo 64. First, the behaviour of the other cars was too much dependent on the speed of the player. If you were fast, the CPU was fast as well; if you were slower, the CPU wasn't by far as fast as it was when you were driving fast. So unlike the original, lapping a CPU controlled kart by skilful driving was nearly impossible, because their driving was highly dependent on what you were doing. The second point of critique concerned the overuse of weapons. If you were driving last in the third lap in Super Mario Kart, you're chances of winning were slim. Only a lightning bolt could help you, but this item was rare. In the N64 version the race didn't have to be lost at all, as you were likely to receive some good items to help you get back in the race. Super Mario Kart was a hard game, but some felt it was more fair than Mario Kart 64, which levelled the difference between good and bad players perhaps a bit too much.

So far for a little lesson in Mario Kart history and time for a look in the present: how does Double Dash compare its predecessors? It has more in common with Mario Kart 64 than to Super Mario Kart, so hardcore SNES fans may have the same critique, though to a lesser extent. CPU players don't always catch up with you and super weapons don't seem to appear as often, but the emphasis still lies on the use of weapons. The usual assortment has been slightly altered, but it hasn't changed the balance much. The devastating triple red shell has been dropped and blocking shells by hanging an item behind your kart is no longer possible. Blocking can only be done by dropping an item at exactly the right moment. The game hasn't become much harder though, as the homing red shells are now more precise and the bowser shell (the one that takes out the leader) is more powerful than ever. In addition to this, each character has a special attack, some of which are quite powerful. My favourite is the babies' Chain Chomp that pulls their kart forward.


I think many will like the current balance between racing and fighting, but some may find the emphasis is too much on weapons. It's unfortunate that Nintendo didn't bother to include a menu which would allow turning certain weapons on or off, like in Super Smash Bros. Melee. I'm not developing games, but this doesn't seem like the most difficult programming and it would please a lot of people. But like I said, options aren't one of Double Dash's strengths as only versus mode offers a couple of weapon settings.

It Takes Two Baby!

The biggest innovation in Double Dash is the addition of a second driver on the kart. This concept has been thought out well and offers some extra tactics and fun, but it doesn't change the gameplay too much.

In the player select screen you have to choose two characters. Any combination is possible, though each character can only be used once. After selecting two characters you can choose a kart, but this choice is limited by the characters you choose. When choosing a vehicle, the parameters weight, speed and acceleration appear. These can be slightly adjusted by selecting another kart, but more radical changes require another combination of characters. After selecting a team, your car's parameters are fixed and changing drivers during the race won't affect its behaviour.

Another reason for pairing characters carefully is the special attack. This is a weapon found in item boxes, but each character set (e.g. Mario and Luigi) has a different special. Combining two different characters means a chance on two different specials.

When one player controls one kart, the two-on-a-kart concept doesn't change much except for a tactical element. Only the player in the back can pick up and use weapons. Changing places by pressing the Z-button allows you to pick up a second weapon, in case you don't want to use the first one yet. Switching is not always required to pick up multiple weapons, as some blocks provide weapons for both characters.

It becomes more fun when two players control one kart. Both players choose a character which they keep throughout the game. The player in the front has to steer, accelerate and brake, while the one in the back can throw weapons and knock down opponents (in one player mode, the CPU sometimes does this for you) and try to steal their weapons. In order to get good results, players have to cooperate closely, so consideration is necessary. To perform a power slide, the driver has to go into a slide by pressing R, while the second player has to move the control stick to gain the turbo. The player in the back can hit opponents by using the shoulder buttons, but he has to tell the driver where to go. These attacks make the kart shift sideways a bit, so the second player can also help the driver a bit by trying to slide the kart in the right direction.

The weapon changing also applies to co-operative play, though changing players is not always necessary as the driver can toss his item to the other player. Drivers can still be changed at any point, but it requires both players to press Z, so close collaboration is required. Working together can be great fun, but the being co-pilot can get boring when driving on pole position. Steering is still the main thing and the most fun.


The controls are – as we've come to expect – superb. The controls are easy to get into and few buttons are used. This has a downside, as the D-pad can't be used and there are no different viewpoints. The driving resembles that of Mario Kart 64, but it's more direct and the handling feels more realistic.

Back by popular demand is the before mentioned power slide, though it's now pulled off much easier. Pressing R or L gets the kart into a slide, moving the control stick back and forth during the slide causes different colours of sparks to emerge from the wheels. When the sparks turn blue the car gets a little boost to accelerate out of the corner faster. Not that it's always necessary, as the opposition isn't too smart: they still sometimes fail to drive past the most harmlessly placed banana skins.

Of course also the super start makes a return, but unfortunately the handbrake turn has been deleted. It wasn't useful in races, but turning on the spot (by pressing A and B at the same time) was great for chasing in battle mode.


Multiplayer Madness:

Essentially it's the multiplayer option that gives Mario Kart such a famed name, it's what will make this disc a close companion to your Cube for a very long time.

Grand Prix is still only for two players, unless two players control one kart which allows up to four players at once. Four player split screen is not possible in Grand Prix mode, but it is in Versus mode. This is basically the same, though there are no CPU controlled players.

The most fun is still battle mode, in which players have to fight each other in an arena. The last one standing wins. Two new modes have been added. Shine Thief is similar to capture-the flag-games, though the player carrying the shine can still use weapons. The player who has the shine when time runs out wins the game, but he'll be hunted down by the rest, which leads to great chases. The third game involves a lot of bomb throwing (you can carry up to ten at once). The player that hits three or four opponents in a row wins. In four player mode, this can be absolute mayhem.

There are five arenas, not all of which are very good. One is on top of a giant GameCube. This is a funny concept of course, but as a battle arena it's pretty useless as there are no hiding places, which means nearly every red shell fired is a hit. The Yoshi's Island inspired Cookie Land is too small and Block City is just a disgrace to Mario Kart 64's excellent Block Fort arena. This scaled down version is way too small which makes chasing and hunting nearly impossible. Fortunately one or two good arenas can make up for a handful of failures and superb Pipe Plaza saves the battle mode. The unlockable Luigi's Mansion is second best. Though it's a little confusing, it reminds of N64's Double Deck.

Mario Kart 64's battle mode was unrivalled and it's still one of the best multiplayer games. I expected Double Dash's to be at least as good, but hoped for something more. It ends up being about as good as it was. Don't get me wrong, this still means lots of hours of brilliant battle-fun, but there's so little improvement. There are two new play modes, but where are the handbrake turn and the bomb car? Six years after the last Mario Kart on a console they come up with three average arenas?


The game offers a reasonable challenge, though it can be finished pretty quick. There are quite some unlockable features, like a mirror mode, an extra battle arena, some extra karts and some characters (we're not telling who they are, but you probably won't be disappointed).

If you're into improving records, time trial may keep you busy for a while but it's the multiplayer option that has the biggest potential of extending the game's lifespan. Though it's not perfect, it's still worth getting an extra controller for (or making some friends to play against).

LAN Gaming?:

I know a lot of people are curious about the LAN possibilities (linking up to eight Cubes together). I know I am. Unfortunately, we haven't been able to test it. The Cubes we played with at Nintendo headquarters were completely sealed, so no one could get the game disc out – or get a broadband adapter in for that matter. As the LAN option will be of little importance to most gamers, we didn't want to postpone the review for this. We'll have an additional report on the matter as soon as possible though.

Final Say:

Double Dash is a fantastic game. It has excellent controls, many great tracks and a good multiplayer mode. The two-on-a-kart concept is a nice addition; especially the co-operative play is a blast. Despite all this, I didn't get hugely enthusiastic about the game. It improves on earlier versions of the game, but it also has some of the same flaws and in some parts it's even a step back.

First time Mario Kart players don't have worry about this and get the game right away. If you've already played a Mario Kart game, Double Dash is still worth days of your time. However, it might lose its appeal sooner than other versions did, because for ninety percent it's just more of the same.

Die hard fans of the SNES version may be disappointed, but to everybody else: this is a high quality game that despite its shortcomings will guarantee a great holiday season.

N-Europe Final Verdict

Not entirely new, but still outstanding.

  • Gameplay4
  • Playability5
  • Visuals4
  • Audio4
  • Lifespan4
Final Score



Imaginative tracks
Two player coop


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