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Mario Kart: Double Dash!! (GameCube) artwork

Mario Kart: Double Dash!! (GameCube) review

"It's not often that a game leaves me speechless, but Mario Kart: Double Dash!! does just that. "

It's not often that a game leaves me speechless, but Mario Kart: Double Dash!! does just that.

You would think this would be a good thing, wouldn't you? Most would infer that I enjoyed the game so much that I couldn't begin to put the fun I had with the latest in this long running series into words. But that's not the case here; when I sat down to write this review, I realized that there just isn't anything at all I can say to differentiate this game from its peers. Whereas Super Mario Kart had intensity and wonder (think back to the breathtaking first time you saw Rainbow Road) that was well ahead of its time, and Mario Kart 64 had gorgeous scenery (DK's Jungle Parkway) and creatively designed courses (Toad Turnpike) mesh for a memorable ride, Double Dash!! finds itself somewhere in between the two, leaving those of us who expected it to not just carry the torch, but to introduce a new element to the series, unsatisfied.

It does bring the promise of innovation, however; as you've probably heard by now, DD has two characters manning each go-cart instead of a mere one. Though a promising concept, the execution here leaves much to be desired. It just never feels like there are two different competitors in one cart. Whereas previous installments saw each driver not only controlling his cart but also the armaments he picked up as he drove, DD breaks down the menial task into two parts, one man in charge of steering and acceleration, the other dishing out the pain on rival drivers.

It makes no difference for the lone player no matter what though; he's still left in charge of both aspects, the only addition being he can interchange the two on-screen characters whenever he sees fit (which is rarely useful). It's the two-player teamwork ability that is supposed to make the concept worthwhile. Unfortunately, the problem here is if you get stuck controlling the weaponry, you'll remain idle most of the time. Press a button about once every fifteen seconds to release a banana peel or red shell on an unsuspecting adversary; that's all there is to it. This new concept, which is supposed to be the crutch of the game, ends up collapsing in the area where it is supposed to be the strongest. It's no fun being the passenger, so after a quick trial you'll never return to tag-team racing.

Another one of the positives ''two drivers per cart'' was said to bring was the ability to creatively mix and match drivers, in order to obtain a combination that best suits your driving style. While each driver does have a default partner you'll usually see him racing with (Mario and Luigi, Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong), you can team up awkward pairs, though it's disappointing to see a lack of any chemistry between them (or the defaults for that matter). In fact, drivers are no longer distinguishable in terms of top speed, acceleration and weight, but only in the go-carts they can select from (Bowser can't choose a vehicle ideal for the lightweights and vice versa). It's the individual carts that have the variables attached this time around, creating a level playing field starkly different, and more wearisome, than what we saw in the classic SMK. Drivers no longer feel unique.

Throughout the Mario Kart series excellent course design has been a mainstay, and though each installment has seen its share of duds (Koopa Beach 2 and Vanilla Lake 2 in the first; Sherbet Land and Banshee Boardwalk in the sequel), Double Dash!! continues the legacy with some unforgettable loops. Witness:

  • A hectic, seven lap oval known as Baby Park that might just leave you in tears and adult diapers when you when you try to tame it at 150CC. Looking more like a course better fit for bumper cars than mini carts, and taking a mere thirteen seconds to run each lap, the plain layout and kiddy appearance will leave you underwhelmed -- at first. Then one lap in you'll see green shells screaming past from every direction and over the median, banana peels lining the groove through each turn, and rival competitors shamelessly slamming your cart into the walls as they sprint past. Imagine leading the pack with ease for the first few laps as they knock each other around, before things suddenly turn sour -- and it will be sudden -- and you find yourself in line to finish a feeble fifth by the penultimate lap's end. But you're not out of it yet! With the aid of a few items, some timely luck (and if you put yourself in a position to win, you can almost guarantee timely luck) and pure driving ability, you zoom past a dazed leader and pull out the win. Invigorating!

  • Wario Coliseum, which could just as well have been called ThunderDome, an enormous steel monster stretching so long you'll only run two laps instead of the usual three. Filled with thrilling super jumps (think Mario Circuit 2 or Royal Raceway), treacherous spiral turns and plenty of places to fall into oblivion, the Coliseum would be enough trouble without opponents cutting in front to steal solitary item boxes and the using their contents to send you spinning. Its design is an exact opposite from the compact track just described, but you'll find the same action-packed, thrill-a-second racing here.

  • And finally Rainbow Road the way it ought to be: tight corners, no barriers to keep you from flying over the edge and a distracting, trance-inducing color wheel beneath you're tires. You won't find the monotony the 64 version shamed the name with here; it's short, sweet and now filled with speed bursts that you can take advantage of -- at your own risk. Halfway through a lap you'll find yourself being zoomed skywards in a rainbow warp the carries you to a higher plain to continue the race; advancements in Mario Kart technology at their very best! And after a busy straightaway each lap concludes with a spiral turn, the perfect opportunity to make a miraculous last second pass. The only thing missing are the electric thwomps!

But it's not enough.

Aside from these examples and a few other stretches, much of what we encounter is uninspired. Mushroom Bridge is a lackluster race with sparse traffic chugging along with you, never becoming an obstacle. Meanwhile, Mushroom City is much like Toad Turnpike on ''extra'' mode, racing into traffic, though not nearly as heavy, with a few more turns thrown into the mix. The version of Bowser's Castle found here will leave most longing for the classy, extravagant red-carpet straight-aways, grassy, shrub-lined courtyard and bubbling lava pits found in the 64 version, because DD! tries to do the exact same thing but just doesn't do it as well. Dino Dino Jungle is reminiscent of some of the opening tracks of Diddy Kong Racing, and reminds us that we liked those tracks, and the atmosphere they set, more. Dry Dry Desert is ruined by an annoying, inconveniently located pit of quicksand smack dab in the middle of a stretch of track (why?). Daisy Cruise is just a poorly planned trip above and below the decks of an ocean liner, featuring neat ideas (sliding dinner tables) and captivating scenery, but overall too cluttered to be enjoyable.

Simply put, much of what we see here has simply been done better before. And the atmosphere that used to be set, complemented by crafty color schemes and catchy melodies, just isn't the same. Everything's too modern and charmless to truly engage the player; you'll be busy with Double Dash for about a week, but following that you won't return to it the same way you would to its predecessors.

Though the tracks might not stack up, we do see some obvious improvements when compared to the Nintendo 64 version. The tracks are no longer mammoth raceways, replaced by tight corners and narrow paths that turn the heat up a notch. The battle mode courses follow suit; no longer oversized mazes, players engage in close range combat, although perhaps too close this time around. But most importantly of all, the rough-and-tumble nature of racing on higher difficulties has returned, with foes hot on your heels down the stretch, swapping paint and firing items in a ferocious finale. In fact, items like banana peels, turtle shells, mushrooms and other assorted goodies have become less powerful -- but more plentiful -- further intensifying the action and keeping you (and your opponents) in the race where you might have faltered otherwise (a couple of spin outs no longer spell disaster).

Mario Kart: Double Dash!! is an interesting mix of the action we saw in SMK and the beauty we saw in MK64, but ultimately adds nothing new to the series; it just corrects the faults we saw on the 64, adding flashier visuals and replacing memorable tunes with generic audio. In the process, it loses the charm the series is known for, and the lack of meaningful extras, character interaction and brilliant courses is flat out disappointing. Double Dash is solid and well worth renting, but fails to live up to expectation. Put it next to Super Mario Kart or Diddy Kong Racing, and you'll find it doesn't even compare.

I guess I wasn't speechless after all.

drella's avatar
Community review by drella (September 12, 2007)

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