When Mario Kart DS was released toward the end of 2005, it set the standard for racing games on Nintendo's newest handheld extremely high. Now, with the arrival of M&M's Kart Racing, there's a new benchmark against which to compare would-be competitors, though at the other end of the scale. This candy-inspired kart racer does almost nothing right as you negotiate its 11 uninspired courses, and it doesn't even try to do a lot of the stuff that you might expect to be standard over two years after Mario Kart DS. Even if you're allergic there's more fun to be found in a packet of M&M's than there is here, and given the game's dearth of modes the candy could conceivably last longer, too.
M&M's Kart Racing's eyesore of a menu screen affords you access to only three gameplay modes: Tournament, Time Trial, and multiplayer. Only one circuit and two different vehicles are available from the outset, but if you spend an hour or so playing through the Tournament mode you'll unlock everything else that the game has to offer. Regardless of which difficulty setting you choose, Tournament mode lacks any real challenge because you can retry each race as many times as you need to before unlocking and progressing to the next one. Because achieving any podium position in a field of five racers is good enough to progress you, you shouldn't really need to restart any of the races. But don't feel bad if you do; the game's AI doesn't play by the same rules that you do, nor does it appear to be hampered by the same awful vehicle handling and collision detection that you are.
Choosing to play as one of the five octagonal drivers on the game's roster--Red, Yellow, Green, Blue, or Orange--has no impact on the gameplay whatsoever. Your choice of kart should be based on more than aesthetics, though, not only because they're all equally ugly, but because there are handling, acceleration, top speed, and braking attributes to consider. Most of the vehicles are more noteworthy for their weaknesses than for anything else. For example, one of the two karts available to you from the outset is very slow, while the other has terrible brakes and is tough to get around bends. Cornering in the unlockable hovercraft is even worse, because if you attempt to do so at speed your D pad does little more than move the camera in the opposite direction to where you want to go while triggering a sound effect of tires screeching. You'll unlock a couple of vehicles toward the end of the Tournament mode that perform noticeably better, but they're still no fun to drive.
Adding insult to the injury that is vehicle handling in M&M's Kart Racing are the courses that you'll be racing on. Locales that include a farm, a city, the Arctic, a land of chocolate, and an alien spacecraft certainly offer no shortage of variety, but the eye candy is well past its best-before date and most of the tracks incorporate the same broken gameplay mechanics. For example, driving over arrows that are painted on the track gives you a significant speed boost for a short time, but just occasionally you'll fall through one as if it were a hole. Ironically, the holes that appear as hazards on some courses can occasionally be driven over without incident. Other obstacles, such as bipedal rocks and traffic cones that get up and walk around, should be avoided at all costs, but you'll find that the collision detection doesn't always reflect what you're seeing on the screen. You won't have any trouble hitting ramps that are necessary to jump over some of the larger holes and obstacles in the game, but if you hit them too well you run the risk of hitting an invisible wall in midair that sends you plummeting back to the track vertically.
If you're familiar with Mario Kart DS you'll know that a lot of the fun in that game comes courtesy of an inventive arsenal of weapons and power-ups. M&M's Kart Racing boasts a less imaginative and much smaller arsenal that comprises just four items. There's a homing missile for slowing down racers in front of you, a barrel of oil for slowing down racers behind you, a cup of hot chocolate that boosts your speed, and a chocolate bar that refills your fuel tank so that you don't slow down as it empties. Other pickups include rainbow-colored M&M's that represent score-boosting "golden coins," and, in time trial mode, giant M&M's that hover just above the track surface and serve as checkpoints.
There's really no good reason why you'd want to take advantage of M&M's Kart Racing's multiplayer mode and play with friends, but the option is there provided each of you has a copy of the game. That's right, Mario Kart DS can support up to eight players with a single cartridge, but M&M's Kart Racing supports only as many players as you have copies of the game, up to a maximum of five. All 11 of the tracks are available in multiplayer mode, though you're limited to racing the same number of laps on each of them that you're required to in Tournament mode. Four of the tracks support only one-lap races, while the rest support either two or three.
Perfectly complementing this stubborn chocolate stain of a game is a grating, looping soundtrack that you'll want to switch off at the earliest opportunity and sound effects that add nothing positive to the experience. If you've ever wondered what an M&M sounds like, the answer lies somewhere between the voice samples used in early Worms games and Snarf from Thundercats. In other words, they're squeaky and annoying, though thankfully they're not very talkative.
M&M's Kart Racing, as you've no doubt figured out by now, is a game that you should avoid at all costs. Save for the fact that it won't break your DS or melt in your hand, it has practically no redeeming features whatsoever.