Double Your Pleasure, Double Your Fun.
The Mario Kart series has been around for almost two decades now with its great combination of accessible and deep gameplay. We've seen Mario race in true 3-D in Mario Kart 64, take the fun to the small screen in Super Circuit, and now partner up with two characters in one kart. Is pulling double duty a good idea, or is it just double trouble?
Mario Kart: Double Dash!! gets its name from the new feature implemented into the gameplay. This time around it's two players per kart offering up new strategies and more items to watch out for. One character drives up front while the second character is in charge of using items in back. At any time both characters can switch positions to unleash their item at rival racers.
Aside from the traditional array of items, each character in Double Dash!! has their own special item to exclusive to them. This special item is picked up the same way normal items are through item boxes strewn liberally throughout the various courses. Each characters' item is different from the next, and no item is particularly more powerful or beneficial than the next. Sure, there's several that you'll pick a character just so you can use them, but there is no cheap character in this regard. Mario and Luigi have a series of fireballs that when chucked, spread out and burn opponents caught in their path, Peach and Daisy have a heart shield which defends them against any three items, Donkey and Diddy Kong have a giant banana peel that when slammed into, breaks up into three smaller peels, Wario and Waluigi have Bob-ombs that create a large explosion when they go off, Yoshi and Birdo have homing eggs that when they break launch three items out of them, the pair of Koopa Troopas, green and red have triple shells that they automatically get, both homing and regular, and Bowser and Bowser Jr. have giant Bowser shells that bowl over anyone foolish enough to cross paths with them.
Much like each character has a different item to utilize, every character is categorized in one of three weight classes: light, medium, and heavy. As you can select which kart you'd like to use, this makes a world of difference. Light characters accelerate the faster while heavy characters can bump light and medium karts off the road with ease. Two light characters can only use a light kart, but partner a light character with a medium character, and they can use a medium kart. Partner them with a heavy character, and their only choice is to use a heavy kart. The karts much like the characters have their own personalities to them. You'll find karts shaped like Yoshi, Birdo, Bowser, and shells, Wario's purple convertible, Waluigi's speedy racer, a stage coach turned into a kart, and many more. It's fun to complete cups since you'll never know what you'll unlock next.
The grand prix mode is the main attraction in Mario Kart: Double Dash!! There's four cups in all featuring four races each, and there's four cart classes total. These determine how fast everyone's karts are and the difficult of the AI opponents. Mario Kart: Double Dash!! is a different than past and present Mario Karts as the rubber-band AI is practically nonexistent. You'll face off against your occasional flying blue shell of doom that attacks the players in your first, but if you get a sizable lead, which is possible even in the higher difficulties, you can easily keep it. Opponents won't catch up to you from out of nowhere like past games. As cups on the various difficulties are completed, you unlock new karts, tracks, and even new characters making the total number of races and characters 16:20 respectively. The coolest new addition is the All-Cup mode. This pits you in a competition on all sixteen tracks in a random order save for Luigi Circuit which is always the first track and Rainbow Road which is always the last. The whole cup takes anywhere from fifty minutes to an hour pending on the difficulty, and it's a blast to play through, wondering which of the incredible tracks will be next.
As stated, there's sixteen tracks in all, and Double Dash!! has some of the most creative and fun tracks in the entire series, arguably so. The Mushroom Cup features tracks with simple curves, medium dangers, and shorter tracks while the Special Cup is host to sharp turns, perilous pathways, tracks with no railings for safety, and much longer tracks. Tracks are littered with hazards and obstacles from Goombas patrolling Mario Circuit to Qataquacks parading around Peach Beach. One race you'll be aboard a luxury cruise liner while another you'll be zooming through a busy Mushroom Kingdom city at night. Some like Baby Park are complete chaos as it's seven short laps around an oval track with items flying to and fro. Laughs will be had for sure. Overall, the tracks are varied, colorful, fun, full of interesting shortcuts (though no exploits like Mario Kart 64's Rainbow Road and Wario Stadium), and there's seldom a stinker in the bunch.
Apart from the Grand Prix mode which will make up the most of your time, there's also a time trial and battle mode. Time trial is as it sounds where players race on tracks with the only foe to worry about is the clock. Each character gets a mushroom, an item that gives characters a short boost of speed, to work with in order to access otherwise impossible shortcuts. Battle mode pits up to four players in an arena where the goal is to eliminate everyone. Each player gets three lives or balloons. When hit by an item, a balloon goes away. When all balloons are gone, that player is eliminated. There's also a bonus mode called Shine Sprites where the object is to collect Shines, the main collectible in Super Mario Sunshine. These modes are enjoyable, but there's no option to play with computer-controlled players unfortunately.
The basic gameplay of Double Dash!! is relatively unchanged from previous Mario Karts. You can get a starting boost at the beginning of races, you can get boosts from wiggling the control stick back and forth while in the middle of a power slide, you can grab items, and switch positions on the fly. Switching characters is done by hitting the Z button while initiating a power slide or drift is done by holding down the left or right shoulder buttons. Unlike past Mario Karts, your karts do not jump when the start a power slide. This make tick veteran players off at first, but it's easy to come to grips with and master.
The visuals of Mario Kart: Double Dash!! are exactly what you'd expect from the series-- vibrant, colorful visuals that look good in still-form and in motion. There's never a case of slowdown, and everything's locked at an adequate framerate. Character models are animated wonderfully, and environmental touches on tracks from the tide coming in to trees swaying back and forth are pleasant. It's always hilarious to see a player hit with a powerful item, and the player in back gets dragged behind in comedic fashion. The soundtrack is composed by the pair of Kenta Nagata and Shiobu Tanaka, the former who did work on Mario Kart 64. The music is suitably bouncy, memorable, and fun to listen to. It may be too cheery for some, but it definitely works. This version of Rainbow Road's theme is undoubtedly the best.
Your mileage with this arcade racer will vary depending on whether or not you have friends or family to play with you. Otherwise, the amount of single-player content is about the same as past Mario Karts, only this time with the occasional unlockable goody. Multi-player is truly where this game shines with up to two players being able to participate in Grand Prix mode. They can compete against one another or share the same kart with one player driving and the other assigned to using items. It takes true teamwork to come out on top in later races, and it's a testament to how multi-player in this edition of Mario Kart truly shines.
Mario Kart: Double Dash!! creates a perfect mix of single-player thrills and multi-player mayhem to make a recommendation to almost anyone. With the most characters to choose from in series history, unlockable karts and characters for the first time, a bounty of beautiful and well-designed tracks, and gorgeous visuals to accompany everything, Double Dash!! races past all past console versions of Mario Kart, and steps on the podium with the gold trophy.
[SuperPhillip Says: 9.5/10]