If you consider yourself a gamer and you grew up pre-Call of Duty, chances are you had a Mario Kart of your childhood. A Mario Kart that you devoted yourself to, completing every stage to it’s absolute fastest and then having a few friends over to play multi-player (remember having to do that!?) for hours on end. The fun levels were truly at maximum. For me, that Mario Kart was Mario Kart Double Dash. Having chosen the first Playstation in the nineties, I missed the boat on Mario Kart 64 and Diddy Kong Racing. It wasn’t until the Playstation 2 and Nintendo GameCube I was finally able to join the Mario Kart family, and even to this day, that game does not fail to put a smile on my face.
The Mario Kart formula is standard. Mario and the lads, ladies and various creatures of Mushroom Kingdom decide to settle their differences on tracks based on locations from across various Mario games while driving go-karts and using weapons they find along the way. It hasn’t changed, and it doesn’t need to. Mario Kart Double Dash is this exact formula, just with two characters in the kart instead of one, and the removal of the jump mechanic. Why is having two characters a big deal? Well, kind reader, let me tell you. In Mario Kart, you can pick up weapons. Not violent weapons, turtle shells and the sort, inspired by the Mario universe and the character roster of this particular entry. These weapons do various things, like red shells hone in on the person in front of you, mushroom gives you a boost, banana cause a player to spin out and so on and so forth. Each player has a special weapon based on his/her character. Mario has a special fireball move, Toadstool gets a special boost mushroom that lasts longer, Bowser has a huge green shell, you get my drift. In being able to pick two characters, it adds the dynamic of picking two characters whose specials work well together, and whose weight allows for the best kart to be picked. There are three weight classes; light, middle and heavy, all of whose driving mechanics vary, some drastically,and it is important to pick the right characters to get the right kart for you as well as the right special weapons and pick-ups to conquer the game.
There is no story mode in Mario Kart. Nintendo have always liked to go straight to the action with this series. No frills, just fun-packed racing. When you start the game, you’re asked how many players, up to four. Once in single player, you can pick between the three speed classes; 50, 100 and 150cc. Each mode the racing gets faster and the opponents smarter and more cut-throat. This isn’t something to scoff at, the contrast between 50 and 150cc is huge. I’ve completed every aspect of this game on more than one occasion, and even I get my ass handed to me by 150cc if I haven’t played in a while. There are 16 tracks, split up into four different cups – Star, Flower, Mushroom and Special, with a fifth cup being all tracks combined. These range in difficulty, and are all based on characters in the game, such as Mario Circuit and the ever-present Bowser’s Castle. The levels have a lot of variety to them, some incredibly simply, others more complicated, and all built to challenge the racer, either by the track itself or by making sure there is little hiding from traps and tricks from the opponents. The animation and colours in the levels are all very well done, and still look very well today. In particular, Rainbow Road and Bowser’s Castle still feel really nice to play-through, with their tight bends and tough mechanics feeling as tough and rewarding as they when I was 14 and just playing them for the first time.
The racing in this game is still the highlight though. It’s just fun. Mario Kart is the quintessential easy racer for anyone, and this game is exactly that. The driving is easy to get to grips with, and within a couple of tracks, you will have perfected switching characters for the best pick-ups and utilizing the right weapons at the right time for maximum vengeance on that bastard who leader shelled you in the previous race. Managing your speed and your turning is absolutely pivotal to winning any race, and you will be punished if you don’t take care of both. Thankfully, the controls are incredibly fluid and responsive, you always feel fully in control and as long as you take heed of the kart you are in, keeping your head in the race and not on your game-pad is a piece of cake.
As I mentioned earlier, Mario Kart has also always been a game that kept up the multi-player features. They are all here. Up to four player racing on any level and speed selectable in one player, with battle mode making it’s always welcomed return with the balloon popping ‘Balloon’ mode, as well two newer modes. One is where players via for possession of a ‘shine’ (from Super Mario Sunshine) for the longest length of time, and a mode in which players launch bob-ombs at each other. The arenas are enclosed versions of certain tracks from the game. These multi-player modes are as fun as they sound, and really have an element of nostalgia to them now as you sit there with up to three friends and you try to keep the lead without getting too mad at each other.
Mario Kart Double Dash is the Mario Kart that I grew up with. It along with Crash Team Racing on the Playstation are probably my favorite racers ever, and with good reason. Mario Kart just encapsulates everything I love about simple, fast games. Sure, it doesn’t have a story mode like its peers in Crash Team Racing or Diddy Kong Racing, but it is the original in the genre. Often copied, never duplicated. Mario Kart Double Dash is just the perfect game for having a few friends around, getting some pizza, have some beverages and talking the good ol’ days, and the good days to come. Good times.