Mario Kart: Double Dash!! Impressions

We test the latest installment in Mario's kart racing adventure series.

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The latest fan-favorite Nintendo franchise to be updated on the GameCube is Mario Kart. While fans were disappointed with Mario's Nintendo 64 kart racing outing, the GameCube version appears to breathe a bit of life back into the franchise, thanks to some unique gameplay twists. We checked out a build of the game and were pleased to see that it appeared to be well on its way to a return to form. Mario Kart Double Dash offers an engaging presentation and refined gameplay that is accessible and fun.

The version of the game we played offered a robust, but apparently incomplete, roster of racers to choose from. While the basic gameplay is the same as it ever was--get to the finish line first--there have been some changes made to the mechanics that bring a lot more variety to the game. This time out you'll have to pick a team of two racers to use in the game as well as a car. The roster of drivers we saw included Mario, Luigi, Peach, Daisy, two Koopa Troopas, Donkey and Diddy Kong, Baby Mario, Baby Bowser, Wario and Waluigi, Bowser, and Yoshi. The cars came in a range of sizes that actually affected who could use the cars. For example, larger characters such as Donkey Kong and Bowser couldn't fit in smaller vehicles like the karts used by the babies.

When you're in a race you'll find all the power-ups seen in previous Mario Kart games as well as a few new ones. The most interesting power-up is the special power-up that allows the character that collects it to perform a powerful unique attack. For example, the Mario Brothers can fire a special fireball that breaks up into four smaller ones, while Peach and Daisy can significantly increase their kart's boosting ability for a short time. The two characters you'll use in a race also come into play by allowing you to hold more than one power-up at a time. Once you've collected one power-up with one character, you can swap which of the characters is driving in order to hold one more. While this may seem like it will make racing easier, it actually makes things a bit more challenging because if you slam into another player during a race your characters will try to snatch your opponent's power-up.

The graphics in the game offer clean, cartoony visuals that make good use of the GameCube hardware. Mario and company look good and are detailed, and their character models reflect a lot of personality and animate nicely, especially when you switch your drivers during a race. The tracks have a zany, surreal look that manages to bring the 2D look of the 16-bit Mario games into 3D without losing their charm. You'll see a plethora of quirky background details, such as grimacing volcanoes and jovial flowers peppered throughout the landscape. You'll also find some dramatic launchers that will send you blasting to other parts of the track, which keeps things interesting.

The multiplayer component of the game also does a fine job of keeping the game engaging by supporting four players in split screen and eight players via LAN. While we have yet to try our hand at a LAN game, the split-screen mode worked great and was very fun.

Mario Kart Double Dash is an impressive new entry in the Mario Kart franchise that offers some new twists to the tried-and-true gameplay the series is known for. The multiplayer modes are promising and should give the game the same appeal as its previous incarnations. In terms of gameplay, there should be an impressive amount of unlockable content to be discovered by dedicated players. Mario Kart Double Dash is currently slated to ship this summer.

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