Tuesday, December 13, 2005

VG REVIEW: Mario Kart DS

Nintendo, for the Nintendo DS
rat­ed E for Everyone, $34.99.

Nintendo is usually credited as being a company on the forefront of innovation. Yet there’s been one area of the video game world it has barely explored: the Internet.

The arrival of "Mario Kart DS" suggests that a change is finally in the air as the perky little racer is the first title in the DS library to let gamers go online.

Anyone who’s ever played any of the games in the "Mario Kart" series (and even those who haven’t) will have no trouble with this version.

As before, it’s all about taking your favorite Mario character — be it Princess Peach, Wario or the cute little Italian plumper himself — and racing them through a series of colorful but hazardous tracks.

This iteration is a "greatest hits" of sorts, collecting beloved tracks from the GameCube, SNES, Game Boy and other previous versions.

Winning races means not just keeping your finger on the acceleration button, but learning how to slide into turns, as well as picking up mystery boxes that will give you items that can speed you up or slow your opponents down.

The most significant feature of "Mario Kart DS," however, is the ability to take the game online via a wireless connection.

The setup is pretty basic. You can connect through your home Internet setup (assuming you have a wireless router), a third-party wireless "hot spot" or through one of the Nintendo-approved spots at various McDonald’s restaurants nationwide.

Getting online at a local Mickey D’s was a piece of cake. After searching for other players for a minute or two, I was racing with folks like "milkman99."

The setup won’t tell you the real names of the folks you’re playing against, and you won’t be able to tell where they’re from. You also won’t be able to talk, type or communicate with them in any fashion. You can, however, be a poor sport and dump out of a race if you’re losing by shutting your DS off.

I, for one, am quite happy not to have to hear an endless stream of "smack talk" from my fellow players. If you really want to play online with your friends, Nintendo makes it easy by giving every player a "friend code." If your friends are close by, though, you can connect with them in the same room on one "Mario Kart" game.

If you have no home wireless network and can’t or don’t want to head to your local fast-food restaurant, you can buy a Wi-Fi adapter from Nintendo for $35. Without the online connection, "Mario Kart DS" is a fun but unchallenging arcade-style racing game.

Take it online, however, and the fun factor increases considerably. While I’m not thrilled with the idea of having to down Quarter Pounders in order to play with others, the game shows a giant stride forward in Nintendo’s online strategy.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2005


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