Monday, November 29, 2010

Mario Kart DS ~Lap 1~ Introducing the DS, Mario Kart, and a Period of Isolation


December is going to be an unpredictable month, what with upcoming finals, an essay and writing two reviews. But I won't give up.

To kick off the end of the month, I present to you: Mario Kart DS!!!


It is 2004.

Nintendo had just opened a can of whoop ass at E3. The excitement over the new Zelda automatically reached stratospheric levels thanks to its realistic graphics. Sequels to hits Paper Mario, Metroid Prime, and Pikmin looked to be just as much of an AAA-title as their predecessors, and had everyone salivating at the mouth. Reggie Fils-Aime, who back then was an executive in Nintendo of America's marketing, took the stage to introduce himself with the following:

"My name is Reggie. I'm about kickin' ass, I'm about takin' names, and we're about makin' game"

Poetry at it's finest.

And we were also presented to this little beauty.

This new gaming machine was dubbed as the DS (as in, "dual screen"). When it was announced several months earlier, many were baffled by its premise. Two screens? A touch screen? A stylus for gameplay? As fan mock-up pictures spread throughout the web, cynical fans shook their heads and wrote it off as just another nail in Nintendo's coffin. That May, the gaming world turned upside down.

Easily the crown jewel of the conference, the DS awed all with not just its functionality, but the games announced for it. A remake of Super Mario 64 was the highlight of the list. Metroid Prime Hunters impressed the media by having a first-person viewpoint with control via a stylus. New Super Mario Bros. was announced to be the first sidescrolling Mario in over a decade. New entries for recent series such as Wario Ware and Animal Crossing only sweetened the deal.

And of course, a certain game we'll be discussing later.

The DS had many other attractive features. The graphical engine could now reach a level quite like the three-dimensional Nintendo 64. The use of two screens, one of them interactive with touching, gave birth to new gameplay innovations that developers never dreamed about before. The use of a stylus and touch screen alone grabbed the attention of the gaming public; it was as if we had the chance to interact directly with our favorite characters.

The console was an instant success upon launch. As the years went by, Nintendo launched several redesigns of the system.

The DS Lite: A sleeker version of the original model. No major differences other then a brighter screen, a new look, and the power button moving to the left side. Released in 2006. I currently have a red one.

The DSi: A major overhaul from what we had before. The startup menu screen has been completely revamped, and users now have access to a camera and an online gaming purchasing system. Released in early 2009. I don't have one.

The DSi XL: A much larger version of the DSi. If you look at the picture above, it compares the screens for both the new model and the DSi. That's about the only difference. Nintendo released this in regards to older folk with dimmed eyesight, but many couldn't find the point of it. Personally, I think it might've been a cash-in but you can't deny how awesome it looks.

And next spring, we'll have this in our hands.

The 3DS: A complete reimagination of the DS. Boasting state-of-the-art 3D technology, this baby will literally pop out our games out of the screen without the use of 3D glasses. It kicks ass and I want one.

Throughout all of its models, the DS has enjoyed what is no doubt the healthiest life of any console. While the console had slow beginnings, the release of titles such as Kirby: Canvas Curse, Animal Crossing: Wild World, and Mario Kart DS were not only critically applauded but huge sellers. It was when Nintendo began aiming for the expanded market with Nintendogs and Brain Age, along with the release of New Super Mario Bros., that the console exploded in popularity and has topped sales charts ever since. No matter how much gamers slam the Wii today, no one can deny the richness of the DS library. With virtually every major Nintendo franchise represented and the backing of every third-party publisher out there, there's something for everyone on the device. It's no wonder it's the most successful handheld system ever made.

But where does it take us on this blog entry?

Once again, we must turn back the clock.


It is 1992.

Shigeru Miyamoto, fellow game designer Hideki Konno, and the rest of the gang at Nintendo are developing another racing title for the Super Nintendo that was to supersede futuristic racer F-Zero. While a success, the game had a noticeable lack of a two-player mode, and the development team went to work on a new title that would include the now essential feature. Several months into development, the designers noticed that the test character looked oddly similar to Mario.

And thus, Super Mario Kart was born.

It was a wise move. Launched in Fall 1992, the title was an instant success thanks to riding on the Mario name. However, those who purchased the game found an enthralling racing experience like none other. This wasn't just another racing game, oh no. It was a game where the entire Mario cast were cruising through Mario-themed courses, shooting Koopa shells and dropping banana peels and boosting via Mushrooms and popping balloons via Battle Mode and driving on Rainbow Road. In short, more of the wacky antics only Nintendo can get away with.

The title completely transformed the racing genre and is still labeled as an influence today. For one thing, it gave birth to the "mascot racer" breed of games that included other infamous characters to raise sales, such as Sonic the Hedgehog, Crash Bandicoot and even the cast of Chocobo's Mysterious Dungeon. The game was also lauded for including the use of items to help the player catch up, whether they be offensive projectiles or speed-boosting objects. Perhaps most influential of all is on the Mario franchise itself, as it marked one of the first times the plumber didn't have to set out to rescue Princess Peach. He could go racing, become a doctor, play tennis, or maybe even play golf. As Nintendo discovered, he is truly a versatile character.

Of course, Mario Kart didn't end here. Having sold over eight million copies, Nintendo found itself another cash cow, and sequels followed.

Mario Kart 64: The racing debut on the Nintendo 64, dating back to 1997. Mario Kart 64 was yet another instantaneous hit and became the console's number one choice for parties, thanks to the availability of four players and the addicting premise of Battle Mode. It also established characters Donkey Kong and Wario as permanent members of Mario's entourage.

This is a title I look upon very fondly, as it was actually the first game I ever bought* for myself. Come to think of it, it was the game that made me realize red was my favorite color. Take a wild guess as to why.

*As in, sulked by the display case until Dad gave in and bought it for me.

Mario Kart: Super Circuit: One of the earliest titles for Game Boy Advance in 2001. The game was well-received as successfully porting the Mario Kart experience for handhelds. I never played it, unfortunately, but I've heard good things.

Mario Kart: Double Dash!!: Released midway through the Gamecube's lifespan, Double Dash!! introduced the concept of having two characters per kart, an idea many aren't sure was executed well. From my viewpoint, I don't think it had the spark Mario Kart 64 had, but I still obsessed over this for a few months. And hey, it introduced unlockable characters for the first time.

Mario Kart Wii: Another title that had a mixed reception, mostly due to an unbalanced set of items (GOD I hate that thundercloud) and the chaos twelve racers bring in a race instead of the usual eight. However, those who looked passed these issues found an in-depth racer with lots of fun courses, a huge cast, and the best Wi-Fi setup for any Nintendo game. I mean, hey, it's not one of the all-time best selling games for nothing.

I still haven't given this game the time it deserves. I'll have to get around to that.

And believe it or not, there were a couple arcade versions of Mario Kart that included Pac-Man as a playable character!

Mario Kart is a wonderfully diverse franchise, and one of Nintendo's top sellers, but it's a series I won't be going over too much on the blog. Unfortunately, there's only so much you can talk about while discussing a racing game. So which games can you expect?

There won't be any features for Super Circuit or Double Dash!!, and the same might be said for Super Mario Kart. You can definitely expect Mario Kart 64 sometime in the distant future, and perhaps Mario Kart Wii.

However, there is one Mario Kart game I definitely want to discuss, and it's the reason why I opened up the post with the DS in the first place. It was a title briefly announced at E3 2004.

That game is Mario Kart DS.


There are a number of reasons as to why I chose Mario Kart DS over the other games in the series.

-Mario Kart DS is often praised as being the best game in the series. The reasons for being such include most of the best courses in the entire franchise, a perfected battle mode, the new Mission feature, the scoring system for the Grand Prix, its abundance of selectable carts, and is especially notable for being Nintendo's very first foray into the world of online gaming. It is a landmark in every way, and my friends and I agree with every single point above.

-It came out five years ago. Anniiiversaarryyy! Plus, I wanted to catch up with it before Mario Kart 3DS comes out.

-As I said earlier, there's only so much you can gush about regarding a racing game. I mentioned in my Intermission post how I wanted to focus on retrospective pieces on future games, and I think this is the perfect title for it. Which leads me to my final point.

-This game came out in 2005.

That year was not a pretty year for me. It was the year that I experienced the full consequences of being a teenager, and I was one of those who took that wave the worst. It was the year I began to hate the world around me and as such I isolated myself as a safeguard. It was the year my brother first began his journey through drug addiction, and I remember being dragged to every one of his drug meetings. It was the year where I effectively removed myself from the crowd at my school and I dreaded waking up every day to 8th grade, viewing everyone else around me as losers (ironically enough, the only one was me). I remember playing Tales of Symphonia all day and retreating at night reading manga volumes of Dragon Ball and SGT Frog, treating them as I would the Holy Gospel.

This game came out in November, and was one of the only sources of comfort that I could craw over to and feel safe. It was just me, Mario Kart DS, and whoever played with me. It is one of the only aspects of that year I can positively comment on.

I want to talk about that time.

For my third feature, you can expect the following.

-Comments about the game, of course. The mechanics of Mario Kart, the Wi-Fi system, some of the courses, and more will be discussed.

-For those not familiar with the cast of Mario Kart, and as such the cast of Mario as well, don't fret! You'll be receiving character biographies with nearly every post.

-What was going on around me at the time, such as dealing with my brother, staying awake all night, and the Mario Kart DS community.

I'm not sure how long this will least 8-10 posts. But I'm looking forward to it.



I'm not sure how much I'll be able to update this week. I'm just going to focus on getting that review out there. I'm having too much fun playing Epic Yarn to write about it!



  1. Terrific history of Mario Kart! Even I didn't know there were arcade versions (let alone ones with Pac-Man as a playable racer).

    In my opinion, I think Double Dash was better than MK64 (though obviously the slanted sales don't agree with me). My reasoning for this being that it added an extra, and unique, coop feature that's virtually absent from all other racers. The closest parallel I can think of is an old arcade shooter called Lucky and Wild, a driver/on-rail shooter hybrid. Additionally I thought Wii was somewhat disappointing because the Motion controls were more gimmicky than functional (a player using the nunchuk would almost always beat a play using the "wheel" in my experience). However, I'm totally behind you with Mario Kart DS being the best of the series. The stability, variety, and portable multi-player experience (I remember actually playing on the job a few times but don't tell anyone). Additionally I understand where you're coming from somewhat in how the release of the game affected your life (though honesty it was a different game for my generation *cough* *Starcraft/Diablo* *cough*).

    Lastly, I too am looking forward to the 3DS, and the many remakes that will be available for it (Starfox 64 remake? Heck yeah!). I'll be looking forward to picking up my own when it comes out (along with my long awaited Skyward Sword). Keep up the great entries, looking forward to a detailed scoop on Donkey Kong.

  2. You can expect the full review of DKCR before Christmas. I'm really going to be busting my butt getting the reviews for both that and Epic Yarn in time..planning on cramming the latter tomorrow before it gets in the way of a big essay! Not to mention I have to beat the game first..aagh!

    And yes, the SF64 remake is what I'm looking forward to as well. Please bring back the old voice actors!!!