There was quite a line assembled around Mario Kart DS at Nintendo's large floorspace at the Electronic Entertainment Expo today, even though there were eight demo stations set up. That's probably because this latest installment in the classic series turns out to be a lot of fun. Or maybe it's because Nintendo was handing out cool Mario Kart-branded DS styluses. But we're pretty sure it's the first one. Anyway, we got a chance to see several different levels and to try one for ourselves.
We ended up placing second as that mushroom-head Toad, even though someone zapped us with lightning right near the finish line. The game runs fast and silky smooth, and its fully 3D visuals look great on the DS's bright screen. The top screen is where the racing action takes place, while the bottom screen features a real-time 3D map that helps you gauge your distance from your opponents, but since this is a superfast game, we didn't have much chance to look away from the top screen while bumping our opponents off the track, nailing them with turtle shells, and so on. The game controls very responsively and involves the time-tested mechanics of powersliding around corners by hopping into them, and running into power-up boxes and then using your different pickups to give yourself a boost. The competition obviously heats up when you're playing against human opponents, though we expect it's probably quite fun against the AI as well.
The character roster in Mario Kart DS includes the usual suspects like Wario, Donkey Kong, and Toad, though Mario isn't actually in the game, for some reason. Just kidding. The characters are probably a little different, but we weren't even given the choice of which one to play. We did get to see several different levels, though. The one we played on was probably the coolest--a creepy boo mansion, along with the outlying swamps. Scary tree creatures could be seen lurking around in the waters, stomping on those drivers foolish enough to get in their way. The other tracks were a lot sunnier. One was a pleasant beachside drive, featuring lots of water to slosh through, and the other was a straightforward paved circuit, filled with twists and turns.
Our first impression is that Mario Kart DS isn't planning to mess with a successful formula but instead will deliver what has always been the series' draw: fun, fast-paced, easy-to-get-into racing mechanics, colorful characters, and competitive thrills. Mario Kart DS doesn't seem to go out of its way to take advantage of the DS's unique features, but its impressive 3D visuals and Wi-Fi support, not to mention its good controls, should certainly be enough to make this a compelling experience for DS owners.