By James Sweeting
I thought in order to get ready for the release of Mario Kart 8 on the 23rd of May (aside from rewatching the rather excellent Nintendo Direct – the UK version correctly appeals more than the US equivalent) that I would replay a couple of the older Mario Kart titles. Because, judging by its insane sale numbers, everyone and their cat played Mario Kart Wii, I decided to start with what is unfortunately perhaps the least “popular” title in the series, that being Mario Kart Double Dash!! which is also quite possibly still the most unique entry.
Mario Kart Double Dash!! was released towards the end of 2003, a time when the web was a thing, but nothing like the behemoth that it is today. For this was a time when hype was generated via magazines (they used to be kind of a big deal) and multiplayer was largely restricted to the sofa, or the room if it was a LAN party. It was also a time where Nintendo would experiment with gameplay to provide something unique rather than rely on hardware gimmicks or play it too safe. Double Dash!! seemed bizarre back then with its introduction of multiple characters on one kart, different variations of karts, and a cooperative campaign where both players operated on the same kart. Today, because of the games foresight, coupled with the Nintendo charm, the game remains surprisingly refreshing.
Double Dash!! was the last game not to include “classic tracks” and contains sixteen original tracks. The Grand Prix was divided into four main cups which included; Mushroom, Flower, Star, and Special (which has to be unlocked). A fifth cup, the appropriately titled All-Cup Tour, is also unlockable which contains all sixteen tracks which are raced in order one after another. These are split into different “difficulty” levels which are referred to as engine classes; 50cc, 100cc, and 150cc, with a fourth unlockable Mirror Mode class which reverses all of the tracks at the 150cc level.
This was actually the first title to include playing against people on other consoles, as it supported the GameCube’s broadband adaptor which in this instance enabled play via a Local Area Network (LAN) supporting up to eight GameCubes (and therefore up to sixteen players).This helped set the scene for the next title Mario Kart DS and its excellent online connectivity.
Double Dash!! is the most strategic of all of the Mario Kart titles, both past and present, due to the inclusion of the second controllable character. Different combinations of characters can be chosen, with each character having a special item, and also they fit into different weight classes but this can result in Wario (heavy) with a Koopa (light) being on the same kart. When racing each character can hold an item, but only the passenger can use them. This can lead to strategic storage and use of the various different items.
Part of the significance different characters play in the game are the special items that are available. There are around eight special items which are split amongst character pairs and are influenced based on their characteristics. For example the Mario brothers have access to fireballs, whereas Wario and Waluigi have access to Bob-ombs. These special items help mix things up and give more prevalence to the decision of which characters to pick instead of just personal preference and weight class. Many of the special items have since found themselves as regular items in following titles. Outside of the special items the regular items are comprised mostly from the standard range, with the exception of the “Fake Item” box which is devious trap which makes you feel at fault for driving into it.
Double Dash also greatly benefits from some of the most memorable tracks in the series’ history. It is difficult to quantify what makes a track the best but Double Dash provides plenty of variety amongst its cups. All of the tracks are enjoyable and often have something distinct (no matter how small) to separate them from one another. Furthermore these are accompanied by some of the best music in the series. Nostalgia might be doing some of the talking here, but I found they really added to the wonder whilst driving through the delightful environments. Although it should be noted that Double Dash shares the same composer as Super Mario Sunshine, which helps to explain why I loved the soundtrack so much, as Sunshine’s music stands up amongst the other excellent Mario soundtracks.
But what about the gameplay and the feel of the game? Possibly one of the most important aspects. Double Dash succeeds in building upon the giant leap made in Mario Kart 64 and provides a very responsive and satisfying racing experience. Going back to it the drifting initial felt off but this was due to the lack of the little hop that often accompanies the drifting today, or the rather over the top jumps which have graced the more recent entries. Instead pressing one of the shoulder buttons instantly initiates a drift, and once you get the hang of it (which doesn’t take very long) you are power sliding around corners gaining turbo-boosts like a pro. In addition is the addition to the usual rocket start technique which is now supplemented with the eponymous “Double Dash” where the passenger provides an additional boost start.
Mario Kart Double Dash!! was one of my favourite GameCube games during my early teens, and provided many hours of entertainment either on my own or with some friends (with four people but two karts is an interesting and unique experience). Going back to it readiness for Mario Kart 8 was definitely worthwhile as it brought back many great memories but also provided an enjoyable experience today.
Check back again soon as I play through another classic Mario Kart title in the lead up to Mario Kart 8.