Review: Mario Kart: Double Dash!!
Published by Jack Taylor May 20, 2012
Is Mario Kart: Double Dash!! fondly remembered or best left unmentioned?
About this game: Racing game, developed and published by Nintendo
Version reviewed: Nintendo GameCube
These days, one of the most loved aspects of the Mario Kart series is each game's ability to bring something new into the fold, be it bikes, gliders or single-player missions. That all started with Mario Kart: Double Dash!!, which, complete with one more exclamation mark than is the norm, also came with one more driver than usual. It was the most unique Mario Kart ever at the time, but little did we know it would introduce so many of the series' fundamental aspects. Whether that makes Double Dash the best Mario Kart, however, is an entirely different matter.
The obvious difference in Double Dash is the addition of a secondary driver in each kart. Because of this, karts look completely different, since they require standing space at the back for whichever character isn't currently driving. There are twenty racers to choose from, considerably more than in previous Mario Kart games, and even now a total beaten only by Mario Kart Wii's roster of 25. There are sixteen racers initially - two to each of the eight karts on track - and, for the first time in the series, four new characters can be unlocked by placing well in grands prix.
Both drivers can hold an item and can be switched at any time by pressing the Z button, since the current driver isn't able to use the item they're holding until they're stood on the back of the kart. The standing driver picks up item blocks while racing, though double item blocks have been introduced to let both players collect an item from the same block. Each driver also has a "special" item which only they can collect, such as fireballs for Mario and Luigi, big bananas for the Kongs, large Bowser shells for Bowser and Bowser Jr. and Bob-ombs for Wario and Waluigi.
Classic items also return, such as Koopa shells and banana skins - you can't have Mario Kart without them - though some items have been given little twists and the way they can be used or collected has changed. The blue spiny shell, for instance, travels through the air instead of on the ground, missing anyone who isn't in first place. Other items, such as the Golden Mushroom and triple Koopa shells, are only available as special items to select characters, meaning you'll need to pick your drivers wisely if you want them. You're able to strategise, in a way, by picking two drivers with the best unique items, giving you a better variety to find in item blocks.
Moreover, any triple item - banana skins, mushrooms, or shells - will be thrown off the kart if you're hit while holding them, since they're now visible in the hands of the driver and often are being juggled mid-air. Because of this, none of these items are as useful as in other games, either where the banana skins are trailed behind the kart or the shells rotate around you to act as extra protection. It's not particularly fair, either, that when you're at the back of the pack and you really need these items, you can lose them so easily in this way.
The ability to easily lose items isn't even the most disappointing aspect of the game: the major downfall of Double Dash is its controls. You'll notice how much looser the karts handle as soon as you start playing, even just in 50cc, and how quickly you stop when you hit obstacles and items. While this isn't a major issue early on, when you're trying to finish first in 150cc cups you'll often find yourself struggling with no way back in, purely because most of the karts are almost impossible to handle well. The slower karts might be easier to handle, but since they're often lightweight you'll be bullied beyond belief by the heavier characters. It doesn't help that hitting items still slows you down as much as it does in 50cc cups, so beware of hitting obstacles unless you don't mind plummeting down to last place.
The tracks in Double Dash have a unique feel to them, unlike any other tracks in the Mario Kart series, which more often than not is a good thing. Yoshi Circuit is by far the best track in the game thanks to its brilliant layout, whilst the likes of Mario Circuit and Bowser Castle (one of the best Bowser Castle tracks in the series in our opinion) are also excellent. The soundtrack to the game is also a very good one, which each track's theme an excellent fit to the environment. One issue that does seem to crop up in more than a few tracks is the width of the tracks themselves: when handling is as difficult as it is, and items strewn all over the place are so easy to hit, having narrow tracks doesn't necessarily help unless you enjoy constantly hitting walls. This is only really a problem if you're going like a bat out of hell in single-player, though, so tracks are still a lot of fun to race on.
The obvious highlight of any Mario Kart game is multiplayer mode, and Double Dash is no exception here. Up to four players can take part in Versus races or battles with a single system, or if you're loaded and have several dozen friends you can link up a maximum of eight GameCube systems using LAN adapters and a hub (we haven't tested that, but then, who has?). The battles in Double Dash are the most fun in the series, though: the classic balloon battles remain, while two new modes have been added alongside, one of which sees players trying to collect and hold onto a Shine Sprite and the other of which has players throwing Bob-ombs at each other to amass points.
All three modes are an awful lot of fun, and oddly enough these might be the main pull for the game's multiplayer festivities. There's also a co-op mode, which lets two players race in the same kart - one at the front, one at the back, with the option to switch if both press the Z button at the same time or if a double item block is picked up - but this can get complicated and is the weakest of the multiplayer options. It's a shame, but when the action is so fast-paced it's not really the right environment for quick-thinking and serious strategy. Co-op also somewhat takes the fun out of Mario Kart, a competitive series at heart.
Nintendo must be commended for trying to rework the Mario Kart series as much as they did with Double Dash. To be fair to them, the majority of the game's new features are now permanent fixtures to the series, such as the characters, various unlockables, a whole host of new items, and even eight-player multiplayer. While Double Dash reinvented the series, and definitely for the better, as a game it didn't quite hit the mark, mainly due to control and handling issues. It's still a lot of fun and it has its fair share of fans, but there are better Mario Kart games out there for most people.