Game Review: Mario Kart: Double Dash

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Written By: Mark Armstrong

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Genre: Racing
Series: Mario Kart
Released: November 7 2003 (Japan), November 14 2003 (UK) and November 17 2003 (US)
Certificate: 3+ (Nowadays 3)
Console: Nintendo Gamecube

It was a whopping seven years before the next Mario Kart game on a home console, which was a surprise considering that fans would have definitely been up for another game on N64. It seemed that the plan would be for each platform to have only one MK game, and therefore fans had to wait until the arrival of the Nintendo GameCube. Even then, it was a few years into the console’s lifespan before the newest MK arrived.

When it did finally come, the game brought with it some innovations. As the name Double Dash implies, every Kart now had two characters at a time, with the option to switch them whenever it was deemed necessary. This not only added a team element to the game, but it allowed for intriguing combinations (such as Luigi and Wario), strategic choices based on the likes of size and speed, and during multiplayer sessions, there was more fun to be had than ever, since you could now have two human players working together to vanquish the competition.

Since it was now a battle between eight teams of two, this necessitated a larger line-up. There were 16 characters initially available, and this was the first game of the series to provide unlockable characters, resulting in a final total of 21. The Mario family had expanded greatly for some of these names to be included here, and this would only grow in the future.

The control scheme and gameplay were generally the same, with a button also now operating the horn (performed by the character in the back seat to boot), meaning that longtime players could quickly get into the game, whilst new players wouldn’t be overawed by the experience. That said, steering was a little easier, making it less cumbersome and erratic than it could occasionally be in MK 64.

The graphics look sharper and more colourful than in MK 64, as expected given the advancement to a disc console, although the graphical leap isn’t as great as that from SMK to MK 64. There are multiple kart options (understandable given the chance to switch between drivers), and there are also unlockable variants of vehicles too for the first time. There are also new weapons, one of which would become notorious in future games for being irreversible if attacked with it (the blue shell), and the rapid-speed colour strips are now rainbow-coloured.

The tracks are very good, with many an extension or update of those in MK 64. Beginning with the Mushroom Cup, Luigi Raceway continues the logical of a simple course introducing players to the game, whilst Peach Beach mixes the seaside with a small town, complete with a cool-looking pink entrance-way (which I strangely felt compelled to want to eat!). Bay Park is unique in that it is a miniature course with seven laps, surrounded by a theme park, all leading to amusingly chaotic driving, and Dry Dry Desert is a fun trek through a warm climate. In the Flower Cup, Mushroom Bridge is a fun, underrated course, while Mario Circuit is more simplified and, to be honest, a little bit dull. Daisy Cruiser is one of the game’s best tracks, as you navigate a cruise ship with a pool, a dining room and lifeboats to bounce off. Waluigi Stadium feels like the next step from MK 64’s Wario Stadium, complete with reactions from a crowd to the more surprising moments (such as a blue shell attack).

Moving into the Star Cup, Sherbet Land is a lot of fun, bringing a winter vibe to the game. Mushroom City is a hidden gem; it feels like you’re driving through a busy Japanese city centre, swerving between some very unusual and eye-catching vehicles. Yoshi Circuit is fairly basic but is shaped exactly like Yoshi, and DK Mountain is a great trip up the mountain itself, followed by you being shot out of a volcano! Closing with the Special Cup, Wario Colosseum is plenty of fun, but its longer design means that it only has two laps, while Dino Dino Jungle sees you try to avoid being stomped on by huge dinosaurs. Bowser’s Castle provides its usual mix of mild chills and maximum thrills in a tough, winding track with a few surprises along the way. As ever, the final track is Rainbow Road, which is not quite as long as RR in MK: 64, and has fewer obstacles (although you can still sail off the sides should you mistime your swerves, especially through the rapid-fire lightning strips). The game is rounded off by an All-Star Cup, where you play all 16 courses in a random order (albeit with Luigi’s Raceway always being first & Rainbow Road always being last). Overall, the courses stand out a little less than MK: 64, but they are still tons of fun (and there are plenty of catchy theme tunes for each track, along with some cool SFX for literally every situation).

The game continues the tradition of providing a Battle Mode (with one such area being the GameCube itself), and it takes the first steps towards online play via a LAN connection. The latter was limited, mind you, meaning that its home console successor is generally regarded as the first to offer proper online gaming for MK. There are also the usual Time Trial options, and there are also various home page menu screens depending on your progress in the game. Honestly, the biggest criticisms of this game is probably that, given the seven-year gap, fans were expecting more of a leap from the previous home console title, and that it felt a little too stripped-down at times; it felt like Mario Kart for beginners, rather than the next giant step in the evolution of the series.

In closing, Mario Kart: Double Dash is one of those games which doesn’t get the credit it deserves because it brought about less innovation than others in the series, despite the cool new features that it did deliver, and the fact that it was released for one of the less successful Nintendo consoles. And that’s a shame because this is a brilliant game: it has very few flaws, it is thoroughly entertaining, it had the best MK graphics to date at that point, it has some of the most memorable courses ever and it has a roster of characters which, at the time, was pretty big. It’s also the easiest MK game to pick up and play, and the easiest MK title to return to after a lengthy break. Overall, I think MK 64 just shades it for overall entertainment, but in a series of such high standards, that doesn’t change the fact that Double Dash delivers hours and hours of fun, and is simply a fantastic game.

Overall Rating: 9.5/10 – Classic