After last week’s lengthy report on Metal Gear Solid 2 and the reasons I did not enjoy it, I’d like to break things up with a brief ode to one of my favorite games from my college career: Mario Kart: Double Dash!!
Double Dash was released in 2003, 7 years after Mario Kart 64, it’s direct predecessor. If you have played a Mario Kart game, you know what to expect here. You pick a pair of racers and a kart and then try to cross the finish line first while throwing all manner of debris at your opponents to try to slow them down. There are a few different modes, but I usually just stick to the grand prix.
The other modes are “Balloon Battle”, “Shine Thief”, and “Bob-omb Blast”. These are more direct pvp modes where you drive around an arena and try to pop your opponents’ balloons, steal the “shine sprite” from them, and blow them up with bombs respectively. I don’t know much about them because I’ve only ever played the grand prix mode. I play Mario Kart to race, and that’s what we’re going to talk about in this post.
I would estimate that I’ve put at least 200 hours into this game since I got it in 2005, almost all of it devoted to multiplayer with my college roommate and other friends. I am a person who spends a lot of time playing video games and loves them from deep within the recesses of my soul. When I got to school I was met with a college roommate who had grown up on a farm and never owned a video game system. He dabbled a bit in fighting games and SSX with me in our first year, but it wasn’t until we played Double Dash at a friend’s house that he found a game that really clicked with him. We still play it to this day whenever we get together! There are a few reasons for him liking this game that I think also point to why it’s such a great multiplayer experience:
Cartoony, timeless visuals
Double Dash is a Mario game produced by Nintendo, so it follows that the visuals are goofy and timeless. Nintendo really understands how to create graphics that don’t age and I would wager that Double Dash still looks just as good in motion as it did when I first got it. You haven’t lived until you see a pleased Petey Pirahna flapping his leaves in the wind after a victory.
Perfect learning curve
The game has 4 different difficulties disguised as engine sizes for your kart (50cc, 100cc, 150cc, and mirror) with 4 grand prix circuits of escalating complexity for each difficulty. Essentially, Double Dash has 16 difficulty levels that slowly force the player to introduce new techniques like powersliding and slide dashes into their game in order to compete. The circuits are short too; if you find yourself out of your depth, you only have to suffer for 4 races before you can go back a circuit and practice your technique.
Like riding a bike
The controls for individual actions, even the advanced techniques, never ask you to press more than one button at once in conjunction with the control stick. This makes controlling your kart a simple endeavor and it’s easy to pick Double Dash up again after you haven’t played for a few months.
You’re never out of the race or Screw your friends
In Double Dash, you can pick up items to use against your opponent by running into the item boxes that litter the track. If you’re in first or second, you’ll probably just get a green (non-homing) shell or a banana peel, but if you’re close to the back of the pack, your chances are high to get lightening bolts that shrink all of your opponents or a blue shell that homes in on the lead kart. Rather than using a “slingshot” mechanic, whereby racers in the back get increased speed in hopes of catching the lead kart, Mario Kart uses this item based system to keep every race fair. At least fairer for the people in the back anyways.
If you’re playing the single player mode, the losing racers’ ability to get powerful items is an infuriating decision, because the computer blue shelling you at the end of the last race of a circuit and knocking you into second is awful. However, in multiplayer mode, this gives every player a chance to win, particularly if they’re smart about using powerful items and forcing people into ditches or pits. Mechanics like this don’t make a balanced game fit for a tournament, but they do make it a lot more fun to play with friends of varying skill levels.
Consistent computer controlled threats
Petey Piranha, King Boo, and Wario are the “best” computer controlled opponents, meaning that they end up in first a lot. I think this was a great choice by the developers. Having a full racing field, but only having 3 of them be truly threatening, gives them a bit of extra personality that makes you try harder to hit them with shells and cuss a little more when they pass you. The three have earned the nicknames “The Plant,” “The Ghost,” and “The Fat Kid,” from my roommate, which, even if they’re not the most creative names, shows that they engender a bit of extra animosity from players who aren’t even familiar with the Mario universe.
The voice acting in Double Dash is a small point and it was a criticism against the game in some circles, but I love the character voices in this game. Using a combination of Daisy and Birdo to annoy your opponents or anyone else unlucky enough to be in the room by switching them repeatedly and having them alternately say “Hi I’m Daisy!” and “ROOOWWWRRR” over and over again is still one of the great pleasures in video games. Here is a short video of the technique in action:
See how annoying? It’s just brilliant.
That’s Mario Kart: Double Dash!! I imagine that my roommate and I will continue to play this game whenever we meet until our Wii’s crap out. It’s not a great single-player experience, but I don’t think it’s meant to be. The game embodies everything that a multi-player game should be about: accessible controls, handicaps for the people who need them, and screwing your friends.