Back after a two week hiatus. How's your vacation going?
Some important info at the end...
It's been four years since I've really dived into this game. It felt like I never really left it.
When I popped this game into my DS Lite, I took a long look at the title screen. Normally, I'd be seeing something else instead of Mario pumping his fist out on his kart. See, when you clear the game's cups (and in addition having obtained all the gold trophies), you get a picture of Mario resting in his cart with a neutral, yet smug look. Behind him is the portrait roll call of the game's characters. It looks like this.
Many games have gotten into the practice of switching the title screens once the player has fully completed the game, and for good reason. For one thing, it is rewarded when the player has overcome just about everything the game has to offer, and as such provides him with a mark of mastery to prove just how much of a hotshot he is. When you see this title screen on someone else's game, you know you're dealing with a master. I had this title screen. Even though I sucked horribly on playing Wi-Fi matches, just knowing that I still completed the entire Grand Prix with all of the gold trophies gave me that little push of encouragement, and not to mention a huge sense of accomplishment.
That accomplishment is, technically, gone forever. Maybe I'll talk about why later. There's a hint on another post. In any case, I wondered if I still knew my way around the game.
I guess I can thank the game's menu for picking me right up. What I like about this particular Mario Kart is that it just lays out every option for you in plain sight. No dropdown menus or fancy prerecorded footage, everything you need to see is right there. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a screenshot of it, so pay attention to this makeshift menu:
Grand Prix: The meat of the game! Engage in four-race cups to further your own skills and unlock stuff!
Time Trial: Practice to be the very best! Race against your own best times to take your training to the next level.
VS: Race wherever you want! As in, not by the set order of the Grand Prix.
Battle: Fight from the seat of your kart! Deplete the enemy's balloons!
Mission: Take part in fun, abnormally set goals! A new feature to the series.
Whenever I'd take a look at this list before, I wouldn't know which to choose. I'll admit I never really touched VS, but everything else instantly appealed to me and I couldn't pick one over the other. Now having started a "new" game, it was obvious I'd have to get out there in the 50CC Grand Prix.
Now, I'll be frank. My favorite character in Mario Kart? Donkey Kong. I thought he was the fastest character in Mario Kart 64 back when I first got it, and being six, that's all that really mattered to me. I think that was the same reason why I always picked him in Mario Party/Mario Tennis. Is he the fastest character? Not really, but it became over a tradition over the years and he's never left my side in Mario's sporting escapades.
...except this time. In Mario Kart DS, my favorite character is Toad.
We'll discuss that in a bit.
There are eight cups in each Grand Prix, four of which are designed of new racetracks and the rest dedicated to courses from previous Mario Kart titles. I started off with the Mushroom Cup.
The first two courses aren't anything special. I'm apathetic towards Figure 8-Circuit, the opening course, since I have bad memories of people online taking advantage of the track's broad road by spamming every advanced technique in the book on there. Same thing goes for Yoshi Falls, a track littered with waterfalls. To this day I still can't cross through them efficiently.
Luckily it's a different story for the last two. Cheep Cheep Beach, named after the fishy nemesis Mario encounters in his undersea adventures, is a varied course full of boardwalks and sandy beachs. It's a course I always have bad luck on thanks to the crabs midway through, but I have fun with it anyway. Plus, I'd like to think I managed to grab a decent time trial on it today!
The final course is one based off on Luigi's Mansion. Yes, a course modeled after the Gamecube game! I've always held the belief that the best courses in Mario Kart are the ones that reference locations in the main Mario titles, and Mario Kart DS is full of them! You start out racing through the creepy pathway in front of the mansion, and then you race right up the stairs and into the mansion.
From there it's a period of twist and turns through the building, the portraits on the walls depicting the antagonists found in Luigi's Mansion. After avoiding some tables, you rush out the back entrance and into a graveyard, which leads into the most dangerous part of the course. You are to race through a swamp, which slips up not just your speed but your handling as well, so you have to powerslide quickly onto the sparse tracts of land. And watch out for the crawling dead trees!
This is a course I've always had fun racing on Wi-Fi matches, as the many close calls I've had on here all go back to that damn swamp. There were times where I'd completely mess up on my turns and I'd crash into a wall, struggling helplessly as I watched my opponents dash ahead. That's not mentioning the spinning circle that teases a ring of item boxes, and it's very easy to miss these essential item lenders.
I love frustration!
This is Toad.
Princess Peach's main retainer, it's interesting to note that Toad bears the name of his own race: Toads, which are the main denizens of the Mushroom Kingdom. It's hard to tell them apart, but thankfully most of them are adorned with different colored spots on their trademark mushroom caps. Toad himself has red spots, which is the most common color on Toads. But, then again, he's the only Toad out there that's named, well, Toad.
Often depicted as a happy character, Toad is more then willing to assist his highness and the Mario Bros. on their adventures. Unfortunately, he is incredibly cowardly and is perhaps even more averse to danger then Luigi is. As such, he prefers to sit back and accompany Mario from the sidelines, whether it be pointing to the direction of Bowser or requesting to locate a lost comrade. More often then not, he's also a frequent target of kidnappings. Toad's role in the gang's recreational adventures often switches, whether it be referee or a participant.
-Toad's sparse hero career includes two games. In Super Mario Bros. 2, Toad joins Mario, Luigi, and Princess Peach on a quest to save the dream world of Subcon. In a stunning twist, Toad is revealed to be the strongest in picking up vegetables, which are the primary weapon of the game.
-In the puzzler Wario's Woods, Toad teams up with the lesser known characters Birdo (shown on the top right) and Wanda the Fairy to stop Wario's attack on the Peaceful Forest. Armed with Wanda's endless supply of bombs, Toad must match each colored bomb to an opposing creature of the same color. It's addicting stuff. Truth be told, this was the NES game I played the most in Animal Crossing.
-Probably my favorite moment of Toad's referee career was in Mario Party. When a player locates the character on one of the board game maps, he will hand out a coveted Star if the player has 20 coins. Toad's role as host eventually began to dwindle after Mario Party 2, and he finally joined the party beginning with Mario Party 5.
-In Super Mario RPG, Toad claims to own a bazooka, which he briskly mentions that he left it at home. No one knows whether this is true or not.
-I like to say his name a lot.
When I first played Mario Kart DS, I started out using Donkey Kong. It was natural, after all. I used him in Mario Kart 64 and again in Mario Kart: Double Dash!!. Why shouldn't I do the same thing here?
It didn't seem to work out, unfortunately. Donkey Kong seemed much slower then usual in this new title, and I found that I would be eating everyone's dust, particularly on online battles. It also didn't help that his handling was horrendous, which was a major flaw in Mario Kart DS, a game that revolves around a technique known as powersliding.
What is powersliding? Well, it's a technique used when handling. When the player takes a sharp turn with the shoulder buttons (L or R), blue sparks begin to glow around the exhaust pipe, and as player stays in that position, they'll quickly turn to red. When this happens, the player lets go of the button and the kart engages in a quick boost. When used in rapid succession, often on broader tracks or twisting turns, it is a force not to be underestimated. In Mario Kart DS, this technique is vital. Donkey Kong's low speed and awkward handling were not the best way to utilize it.
Now, see, I have this awesome online friend who we'll call Vaztor. My partner in crime for nearly eight years now, Vaztor and I often exchange humorous conversations on AIM and take to playing on many enabled Wi-Fi titles. Several days in, Vaz picked up on my sluggish process with Donkey Kong and suggested I try someone else. I took his advice to heart and began on deciding my new racer of choice.
As much as I adored Mario and Luigi, they were somewhat average in Mario Kart and I wanted to use someone more exciting. Yoshi was everyone's favorite character in the series, and I wanted to stand out from the crowd. The same was true for newcomer Dry Bones. I was never accustomed to using female characters, so Peach and Daisy were out. I never had much luck using Bowser or Wario, and I hadn't yet unlocked Waluigi or R.O.B. That left Toad.
It clicked instantly. As a lightweight character, Toad was not only speedy, but was supplied with an abundance of handling and acceleration, which were essential components of powersliding. People seemed to be drifting towards Yoshi and Dry Bones for this new tactic, so I figured Toad would be a great alternative to those characters.
You know what the really awesome thing about this game is? Selectable karts. It was a concept briefly touched upon in Double Dash!!, and is fully realized in Mario Kart DS. When starting the game, players have a choice between choosing a standard kart and a specialized one for each character. As they clear cups, more and more karts become avaliable to the player until eventually they are all accessible to each character. Guess how many karts each character can use?
That is a huge number, and that's not mentioning the huge variety for each character. Why, take a look at some of these!!
A shooting star...
One based off of Rambi the Rhinoceros from Donkey Kong Country.
And another based off of Stack Up!
So many karts to choose from!
My personal favorite? The Mushmellow.
I love this game.
So guess where I'm going on Wednesday? VIDEO GAMES LIVE, BABY!!!!!
That's right, the orchestra that plays video game music!! I'll be heading down to the Newark show two nights from now and I'm PSYCHED!!! Of course, this begs the question: will I be writing about it?
Here's the thing: I've been to the show twice already (Once in Florida and another in my home state's Kimmel Center) and I wasn't able to get do writeups of both thanks to the bog of shit I was trapped in. This time will be different. You WILL see my review of the show very soon after my visit.
Also expect the following soon:
-My long-awaited Donkey Kong Country Returns review!!
-Another installment in Games I've Been Playing
-A certain feature relating on the "Big Three" Wii games of 2010.
-And Mario Kart DS Laps in between each and everyone!
Looking forward to not just January, but for the new year as well! See you in a few days.