18th October 2011; By Billy
Mario Kart DS, you should already know what to expect here. This title is a similar affair, and sticks with the eight-racer format of the previous handheld title. That said, there were a number of improvements and changes from the demo I tried that are well worth mentioning.
The first thing I noticed was the menu option to choose not only which kart you wanted to ride in, but prior to that, the option to choose what type of kart. Namely, the weight. Rather than automatically having heavy racers like Bowser be forced to choose heavier karts, whilst relegating smaller characters like Toad to sit in the more lightweight vehicles, I had the option of choosing any kart weight I wanted on any of the characters. I tested all different types, and didn't notice any major difference in gameplay, but I assume this will be adjusted and individual kart specs will be made clearer upon final release, when you'll have the option of creating and customising your own very own karts.
The second thing worth mentioning is the new landscape types. We've all seen the underwater and gliding segments of the game from E3, and sure enough they do add a completely new dynamic to the game. Whether they're a worthy addition that make the title feel more like an upgrade upon previous versions is questionable, but they're a nice touch. In the air, you can dip down to meet the ground faster, or stay afloat in the hope of catching some extra coins floating across the sky. The purpose of said coins, which are scattered around each race, was unknown, and upon asking one of the Nintendo reps, they said "they're just in there because it's a demo". Of course, that makes little sense (if any) but I would suspect that after collecting 10 coins, some sort of a positive effect on karts or power ups will be implemented (I was unable to collect more than 10 at any one time). In the water segments, the gameplay is more or less the same, aside from the different environment and new obstacles such as snapping clams that come with the terrain.
Of course, there are some new power-ups too, with the Fire Flower working as one would expect (shooting a bouncy fire ball straight ahead), but sadly I wasn't lucky enough to land myself a "Super Leaf". Perhaps that's because Super Leaf's are only available to losing players. I wouldn't know. I found the game surprisingly easy, and came in first place on several occasions, only failing to make the cut once. I'm hoping the game was on Easy mode, and adds more of a challenge than what was presented in Mario Kart DS, which I'm able to get 1st Place in every time against the CPU.
On the subject of previous Mario Kart's, I'd like to note that the general slide/speed boost combo is more in line with the Wii release. The DS version favoured a technique known online as "snaking", which could effectively give gamers an indefinite number of minor speed boosts throughout each track. This time around, minor speed boosts come from more natural drifting, and are far harder to replicate down straight areas of the track. I should also note that in previous games, the level of speed boost was determinable by the colour sparks underneath the player's kart, but in this release, only one minor speed boost was achievable, which should help to balance things out in the long run.
Still, all the minor niggles I had here could well be fixed by the time the game is released in stores in two months time, and I'm hopeful that the game retains its enjoyable charm without getting too easy. And when all the little touches Nintendo has made come together, I doubt the franchise will wear out any time soon.