More of the same.
In the spirit of the tag-team, cooperative nature of Double Dash, both Joe and I are collaborating on this one. As usual, the bulk of the vinegar is mine, the more sensible reality check on the game is Joe�s. Sweet and sour, or tart and tangy, you decide.
Boris: Mario Kart, for the SNES, is hands down the best Kart racer. The font from which all Kart racers hath sprung. No matter what the racer is, it�ll ALWAYS have to be compared to Mario Kart. This rule applies to the sequels to Mario Kart as well. The good news: They didn�t mess it up. The bad news: It�s not that original. But, considering it�s close to the template of the original, that�s not that bad as far as news goes.
Joe: I think that the misty waters of time have diluted everyone�s MK SNES memories. Yes, that�s the game that sparked the mascot racing sub-genre, but it�s now like a doddering grandfather left behind in the slow lane. It can�t hold a candle to the visceral experience of Double Dash.
Boris: I don�t even think the manual even mentions one. There�s no reason why your beloved Nintendo owned characters should be in cars, zooming around bizarre tracks. Nobody explains why these tracks exist, or who built them. That�s probably for the best, really.
Joe: A couple levels are obvious nods to Super Mario Sunshine, with the characters and architecture of Isle Delfino� but the game makes no conscious effort to link anything together in some kind of Mario World Rally Cup. And just like the N64�s Mario Tennis, we get to pit Mario and Baby Mario in a time-twisting Grand Prix. We even get Baby Luigi this time!
Boris: Gaping logic flaws aside, it�s a racing game, it needs no explanation. Diddy Kong Racing made the mistake of trying too hard. Just gimme a kart and let me throw shells, why don�t you?
Boris: The biggest change in this Mario Kart is the fact that there are two participants in each kart. I�ll let you in on a little secret: It really doesn�t change the dynamic all that much. Essentially, the biggest character you select has the most dramatic effect on how your kart will perform; if you pick a heavy character, expect to accelerate slowly and reach a higher top speed. If you pick a light character, expect the reverse. The second character is more or less just for show. You can�t squeeze a larger character into a smaller kart, so picking a large and a small character will have you limited to the selection that two large characters would give you. I�ve not noticed any significant difference from choosing two bruisers and a bruiser/lightweight combination, which is a little odd.
So, what difference does the second character make? Not that profoundly much, to be honest. The back character (i.e., the one not driving) gets to be the one that picks up and uses powerups, the question mark blocks introduced in Mario Kart 64. Each character (and his or her twin) can randomly get a powerup specific to their type: The Marios get fireballs, the Bowsers get giant spiked shells, Wario and Waluigi (ugh!) get bombs, Baby Mario and Luigi get a chain chomp, Yoshi and Birdo get homing eggs, the Koopas get triple shells, the Kongs get giant bananas and the princesses get hearts (a shield). Otherwise, they more or less do the same thing every kart can do � throw powerups. If they don�t have a powerup, a back character can punch or kick at a nearby kart; having your heavy characters in the back gives you a little more range, and you can clobber nearby karts off the tracks if you time it right. You can also swipe powerups that the back character on the nearby kart may be holding, although this doesn�t happen very often.
Joe: But then there�s co-op mode, which elevates Double Dash laps ahead of the previous versions. Playing cooperatively puts 1P in the driver�s seat and 2P in charge of weapons. This has several benefits, not all of which are in the manual.
Having a second player as your gunner divvies up the responsibilities and adds some new ones. For one, the driver no longer needs to worry about attacking, just ramming through item boxes. 1P can still collect items through the new double-item-boxes, but he can�t use them. Instead, the driver can happily toss his item back at the touch of a button. The famed drift-turbo also shifts to the rear player, as well as a great sideswiping attack when enemy karts pull in too close. In 50cc, when you�re one lap ahead of everyone else for 90% of the race, your co-pilot won�t have much to do� but in the heated 100 and 150cc races, 2P will be kept plenty busy manipulating items and whacking anybody within arm�s reach.
Plus you can switch positions at any time with no loss in acceleration or bearing. You just have to both simultaneously hit the Z button, a genius stroke of tangible cooperation.
As for the secondary benefits, consider this: co-op Double Dash is perfect for gaming couples where one member simply doesn�t want to drive. Or for the younger set who might be continually outclassed in head-to-head races.
Boris: Fair point � I�ve already gotten in trouble once with the missus for practicing. I still want it to be fun for her, too.
Joe: It�s also a neat way to combat the one big failing of most multiplayer console games: the compressed and warped split-screen. With Double Dash, you can get two people playing a super-fast, super-gorgeous game on a single full size television� how often does that happen?
Boris: Alrighty, fine. Two drivers = good if players =2. Otherwise, consider it an extra item holder. Speaking of items: Most of the same items you�ve lways known and loved have returned. The characters get their character specific items, but otherwise, it�s the same stuff from Mario 64. Red shells, green shells, bananas, mushrooms, stars, fake item blocks and the lightning bolt are all back. The blue shell returns, but not quite as much of a first player cheese as it has been � it�s a flying shell, so only the first player can be hit by it, and it explodes when it strikes, so any nearby kart, including the thrower, will be caught up in the blast. That�s a nice balance tweak, and I appreciate it. The Ghost powerup is gone, sadly, replaced by your ability to swipe powerups from foes. Sadly, the Feather does not return, which is too bad, because it was a useful dodge powerup in the original, and let you get to some fun shortcuts if you timed it right. Coins also do not make a return, which is also too bad; they made an interesting strategic element from the first game.
The character specific powers are unbalanced. The Koopas are the only ones who get access to triple shells. Whoopdefriggindoo. Triple red shells can be abusive, but triple green shells sucks compared to the other powerups. By far the most powerful is the Babies� Chain Chomp, which both steamrollers enemies and pulls you along the track at a greatly increased speed (which can be disastrous if it pulls you off the track, but I�ve never seen that happen). Birdo and Yoshi get a short range homing egg (treat it like a short lived red shell), which, upon exploding, drops 3 randomly generated items. Which means that you could be treating your victim and other drivers to free stars and mushrooms. Gee, great powerup there, Yoshi. The giant shell that the Bowsers get is nice enough; treat it like a green shell that survives multiple impacts, but it�s likely to run you down if fired in a tight area you�d need to drive through � which is just the situation where rogue green shells work best in. The giant banana�s a large target, and when hit, sprays 3 little banana peels around it � best dropped on zip ramps to really kill off your pursuers. The Princesses get a heart shield, and it survives two impacts by any dropped or fired item. Not only do you survive it, you get that powerup, meaning you can turn right around and lob it back at whoever fired at you. Not terribly abusive, but certainly a powerful ability. The plumber�s Fireballs are fairly low power compared to some of the other abilities; you send out a spread volley of 5 bouncing fireballs which die off after a short while. And, lastly, there�s Wario and Waluigi (sheesh)�s bob-ombs, which will almost always explode on you if you make the foolish mistake to throw them forward � the timing is such that by the time you catch up to your hurled bob-omb, it�s ready to explode. Great. If you drop it behind you, expect it to blow up when nobody�s around to suffer it. Great.
(I should point out that if you�re in first place, you�ll mostly get green shells and bananas. You can pull your character specific item in first place, but the odds are not good.)
The tracks are varied, and most defy description. Very few aren�t fun, but none of them are overwhelmingly cool, either, and the Jump of Death! tracks from the original game do not really make a return. What few short cuts there are may or may not require a mushroom to successfully leap, and it doesn�t really do all that much fun stuff for you, where in the original, a well timed JoD would place you waaaaay ahead of the pack if done correctly (or down a hole if done
incorrectly, which was also fun). Some tracks have very constrained areas where a wrong move drops you down a hole; these are perfect ambush spots for banana peels and fake out blocks, because there�s really no choice but to hit them. A number of tracks are so twisty that if you�re about a screen away from the guy in front of you, you may NEVER have a chance to attack them with an item, but they can, of course, drop items in wait for you. That�s a little unbalanced, and it makes the computer AI godly simply by nature of the track, rather than any skill on their part. There are nods to the original and the sequel; Rainbow Road makes a return, and it�s pretty fun. One notable improvement is that you can set the number of laps you�d like to race on Versus mode... but, sadly, you can�t customize the lap number in Grand Prix mode, which stinks for cooperative player team up versus 6 computer players.
Joe: The tracks are beautiful. Each one is packed with little details and hidden paths that you�ll only notice during a replay or an especially lucky turn. (Check the sides of the vehicles in the highway levels!) Since there are no uber-cheat paths, you just have to rely more on careful driving and smart item usage to get first place.
Boris: I like the uber-cheat paths. It gives a player that would otherwise be aaaay behind a fighting chance to catch up, but the risks are great. If you�re already ahead, and you pull off a showy short-cut, it�s humiliating to your soon-to-be-lapped foe, unless they try it too, which always carries with it a risk of failing miserably.
Joe: But, wow, there�s only 16 tracks. That�s complete crap. This is 2003. That disk should have 30 tracks on it, plus a couple of remixed classic tracks. Where�s the Boo track and the cloud track? Super Circuit, the GBA version, had more tracks than this.
Boris: Agreed. That was a critical failing from Mario Kart 64, too. Diddy Kong Racing had a crapload of tracks, and while few were particularly fun, at least that�s more effort than 16 tracks. The original had 5 per cup, for crying out loud.
The skid turn from Mario Kart 64 returns, but seems a little less powerful � you do the same trick (rock back and forth while skidding around a corner) and when you let go, you get a brief 5 mph boost. Like real brief. Like, maybe 3 seconds worth. It�s almost not worth bothering with, and the computer doesn�t seem to use it very much on 100 cc mode. Perhaps they�re skid turning bastards on 150 cc, but I�m still working up to that challenge.
Joe: The mini-turbo is more trouble than it�s worth. I�ll have to go back and check, but I think the turbos in previous games were longer. Rhonda and I have cleared all but one gold medal at this writing, and we�ve used nary a skid-turbo.
Boris: Pretty without being overwhelming. Tracks are detailed, but not so detailed that you have no clue where you�re supposed to go, which was a big problem for Diddy Kong Racing. It�s obvious where it is you need to go in almost all the tracks, and arrow signs are plentiful when you�re going to be exposed to a sudden sharp turn (Bowser�s Castle is full of signs, and it almost ruins the experience). I guess it�s a concession to neophytes so there�s not a massive skill difference between those who�ve memorized the tracks and those who�ve not, but it�s a little less cool for those who have memorized the tracks � it just turns into a dumb luck fight for who got the best item. A minor quibble, but there should be an option to ditch the signage.
There should also be an option to mute the characters. Dear God, some of them are annoying. Every time � EVERY TIME (let me stress this again) EVERY DAMN TIME you toggle characters, they say hello. A quick "Yoshi!" or "Eku eku!" from the koopas isn�t so bad. "Itsa Mario time!" and "Hi, I�m Daisy!" is teeth gratingly annoying. They woohoo or gasp whenever they pass/get passed by another kart, fine, and the laughter/screams from hitting/being hit with an item is ok. But please, don�t say hello all the time. We know you�re there. We can see you on the screen, changing positions. We don�t need to be told "Hi, I�m Daisy" every damn time.
The funniest effect is when you recover from a hit. The character at the back of the kart falls off and maintains a desperate grab onto the bumper of the kart, all the time complaining until they pull themselves back up. There�s nothing you can do to help them, and your speed is diminished while you�re dragging your fallen accomplice around the track like a Just Married can line. My favorite is hearing adult Bowser groaning, "Arrrrgh! Stop!" while getting an asphalt belly rub.
I can�t leave this out: (edit by Joe: Toad doesn�t show up until you get a gold trophy in one of the final races). Toad was always the chosen kart of my best friend, and I�d eternally chase after the unloyal retainer as Princess Toadstool. Many a grudge match we had, and without a playable Toad, it just won�t feel the same this Christmas when we sit down for some Double Dash action. Instead, we get Baby Luigi, who�s essentially Baby Mario, Daisy (c�mon, Daisy had ONE appearance in the first GameBoy Mario game, and now she�s elevated to starring character? What is this crap?), Birdo (does anybody else remember that Birdo is Nintendo�s only transvestite? Birdo�s a he dressed like a she!), and frickin Waluigi (ptooie!). C�mon, Nintendo. Wario�s funny, because he�s like the fat, evil Mario. Mario is SOMEBODY. But does poor Luigi, who�s forever going to be cast as the stupid kid brother who tagged along with his more talented elder sibling, really need a nemesis? Hell, a day in the limelight is Luigi�s nemesis; creating a lanky, sinister looking version of Luigi is insult to injury. It�d be like creating an evil version of Sunday. Sunday�s never going to be more popular than Saturday. If you�re church going, you�ve gotta go do that on Sunday morning, and of course, you�ve got work the next day, so Sunday night isn�t more fun than Saturday night. We don�t need WaSunday to rub it into Sunday�s face. Waluigi indeed (pbbt).
Joe: Online play. Double Dash needs online play so badly that it�s almost absurd and annoying to complain about it. It�s like that Thai restaurant in town that has only one waiter. They just need more waitstaff and that�s all that need be said.
LAN play is a poor substitute. Actually, it�s a rich substitute since you�re going to need a ton of extra �Cubes and Double Dashes to get it to work. It�s a nice bonus, but I doubt anybody outside of a frat house or a tech support clan is actually going to use it.
Boris: And that�s just a lot of hassle for a �Cube game anyway. If there were multiple LAN games, it�d be worth considering hooking �em up, but just to do it for Mario Kart? No thank you.
Joe: This just makes the wait for Nintendo�s eventual online solution all the more painful. I mean, I can see where they�re coming from: online gaming blows because online gamers blow. What they should have done is set up a private box-to-box connection accessible through IP addresses and passwords. That way you only get to chat with people you know (unless you venture into a publicly broadcasted IP) so there�s no danger of swearing, slurring, screaming and other such roadblocks to a family-friendly atmosphere. Those who want to play with random idiot opponents can figure out how to do so; those who just want family and friends simply trade IPs.
Boris: Never underestimate the appeal of spanking feebs online. Putting up with jerks is just the price paid for the opportunity to make �em really get down and lick boot. But yeah, playing from the comfort of one�s living room with people who actually bathe and go outside is probably going to always be limited to people who you already to talk to in real life.
Boris: It�s Mario Kart. If you like Mario Kart, and you want to play another set of tracks, get it. If you�re looking for some ground breaking use of licensed Nintendo characters... um.. what are you thinking? Nintendo doesn�t DO ground breaking anymore. Their stable of characters have been doing the same things since 1987. Mario Kart: Double Dash is essentially the same game as Mario Kart 64, which was essentially the same game as Mario Kart. If they changed it too much, nobody would like it. More to the point, if it ain�t broke, don�t fix it. Mario Kart�s a sound formula, and some generous percentage of the proceeds from MK: DD should go to the forgotten programmers of the SNES version for coming up with an eternally milkable formula. I doubt that�ll actually happen, but hey, here�s trying.
Joe: HI, I�M DAISY.