LOS ANGELES--We quickly got our hands on the updated demo of Mario Kart DS that was being shown off at G4's G-Phoria video game awards show taping this evening. We had a good time playing the multiplayer-enabled build of the game that was shown off at E3 several months ago, but this time, we were able to explore eight different tracks at a more-leisurely pace, while battling it out against the game's computer-controlled drivers. We remain impressed with Mario Kart's colorful, silky-smooth graphics and responsive gameplay, and are excited to see how its single-player and multiplayer features (which will include both ad-hoc and infrastructure variants) will come together in the final product.
This new demo of Mario Kart didn't leave much room for tinkering with options. We began by choosing from one of eight classic Nintendo characters--Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Toad, Yoshi, Bowser, Donkey Kong, and Wario--and then we were given a choice between the Nitro Cup and Retro Cup race contests. Each one consisted of four different tracks. As the name suggests, Retro Cup is based on old Mario Kart levels from over the years. The tracks include the original SNES game's Mario Circuit, Mario Kart 64's Moo Moo Farm, the Game Boy Advance title's Peach Circuit, and Luigi Beach from Mario Kart: Double Dash for the GameCube. As for the Nitro Cup, the original levels here include the Figure Eight Circuit, Yoshi Falls, Cheep Cheep Beach, and Luigi's Mansion. Each level has its own distinct theme, traps, and other challenges.
On the other hand, we couldn't really tell the difference between the different playable characters, apart from their unique appearances and verbal quips. Regardless of which racer you choose, gameplay still primarily involves hightailing it through each lap, grabbing power-up items that help foil your foes, and power sliding around corners. The action is much more similar to older Mario Kart titles than to Double Dash for the GameCube, and brings back fond memories of the sort of good old fashion kart racing that this series helped make popular and so much fun.
The action mostly takes place on the top screen, though prior to each race, you get a two-screen 3D panoramic view of the track. While racing, the bottom screen offers a detailed real-time map that's functionally similar to a rear-view mirror. It even shows blips represented loose turtle shells and banana peels that could otherwise harm you. The map's theoretically useful, but the action moves so quickly that there usually isn't much time to glance down.
Mario Kart DS is scheduled to ship late this year, but already feels like it's far along in development just because it's so darn slick. It's got some of the most impressive 3D graphics we've seen yet on the DS, and together with its WiFi multiplayer modes, it seems like it could offer a lot of lasting appeal. Stay tuned to GameSpot for further coverage of this one.