I don’t think I’d be alone in saying that Mario Kart DS is my favourite game in the entire series, and when a series carries a name as big as Mario Kart that’s no small praise. Whereas Mario Kart 64 evolved Super Mario Kart, I felt that Mario Kart Super Circuit was a step backwards and Mario Kart Double Dash felt gimmicky, this one felt like a true step forward.
The focus was brought back to the tight and responsive handling and the weapons which have been tweaked and balanced well over the series, the graphics sit somewhere between Mario Kart 64 and Double Dash, and the power of the DS has been used to add much more interactivity than the last great one, Mario Kart 64. On top of that they were clever enough to throw in a nice selection of classic retro tracks (although some of the choices of “classics” could be debated), fully-featured multiplayer with one copy of the game, and the game’s huge new addition – online play.
Nintendo were slow to adopt online play but they certainly made a good choice of a first game to do it with, and despite teething problems on their first attempt (the overly safety-conscious friends system, the lack of punishment for quitting when losing to protect your record, etc) they did a great job. Not only does this make it one of the best games of the year, it’s also proof positive that the DS is a serious system that isn’t only about touch-screen minigames and half-arsed console ports.
I’ve just seen IGN’s ten reasons to wait for a Revolution, but has the irony escaped anyone else that the second reason they give is “Same Games, Prettier Graphics” and then goes on to list a new Zelda, a new Metroid, and a new Smash Bros as reasons to get a Revolution? Those won’t be the same games with better graphics?
OK, so we’ll get them with some quirky new control scheme but will they really be new gaming experiences or will they be the same games shoehorned onto the new controller? To give Nintendo credit they’re far better with original concepts than either Sony or Microsoft, but even their new stuff isn’t always as new as they’d tell you – The Wind Waker took a shocking new direction but was essentially Ocarina of Time with cartoony graphics and dull sailing sections, and although the DS has some great stuff now what was Nintendo’s first big game for it? Super Mario 64 with either less-than-ideal digital controls or unworkable analogue controls. While a Metroid Prime might work with the Revolution controller without any concessions, I really can’t see a Zelda or Smash Bros on that controller without some kind of add-on, which essentially makes them the “Same Games, Prettier Graphics”.
Maybe Nintendo will prove me wrong, but if they want to gain the popularity that Mario, Zelda, and Metroid can afford they’re going to have to stick to the status quo and not make it so that we have to swing a remote as if it was Link’s sword. Their original concept really needs original games, as the DS has shown, and when one of the main selling points is that it plays Nintendo’s whole back catalogue (same games, same graphics?) is that going to happen?
I mentioned in a couple of the Japan posts, but I absolutely love Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan on the DS. It’s by far the best DS game that I’ve played which really demonstrates to me what a good system it is, even if it can’t match the power of the PSP and probably isn’t as good at the traditional genres. I’ve reviewed it here (of course, you can find it permanently in the review index), so check it out and then buy it. It really is brilliant.