Double Dash sits by itself next to the other Mario Kart games. It changes much of the core gameplay, but the changes are all in small tweaks, not major overhauls. Most of the features that are introduced in Double Dash haven't been continued in the DS or Wii versions, which is a good thing in some cases and a bit disappointing in others. Overall, Double Dash is a very competitive and moderately difficult entry in the series, and it offers the best offline multiplayer experience of them all.
There's a lot to say about this game, so if you hate words, you'll have to brush up on your skimming skills, skip to the conclusion, or grab a snack. This is another long read.
- Two characters per kart, allows for two items at once
- First game to offer selection of vehicles, which have different speed, acceleration, and weight ratings
- New ranking system in Grand Prix - no more retries
- GP ratings (A, B, C, Star, etc.) that were introduced in Super Circuit are missing from DD
- Touchy controls, very similar to MK64
- No hopping
- No drafting
- Easier to execute drift boost
- Nothing really slows you down
- Levels are tight and feel fast
Nintendo was trying new things with nearly all of its franchises on the Gamecube. Mario Kart's big change was using two characters at once - one drives, the other uses weapons, and they can switch on command. In single player, having two characters isn't much different from having one character like the other games. The main difference is in weapons, but I'll get to that later. The real difference (and the real fun) comes in co-op with a friend, but I'll get to that later as well.
Double Dash introduces the ranking system in Grand Prix mode that we recognize in both versions since - there are no retries. From first to last, the points awarded are as follows: 10, 8, 6, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0. As I explained in the MK64 entry, this ranking system actually allows you to do poorly overall. The old ranking system forced you to either do really well or fail completely before finishing the cup. The system that DD introduced is much more fitting for the online versus mode that you can play with friends in the Wii version. This is the most valuable feature of Double Dash since it set the framework for a viable ranking system in future games that feature online multiplayer.
Nothing has as much of an effect in DD as in the other games. Hitting a wall causes you to simply glance off with only a slight loss in speed. Driving off-road, depending on the characters and kart, will only slow you down slightly. Driving into a course obstacle, such as a thwomp or a fireball or a cactus guy, will spin you out but hardly slow you down. This makes for a more hectic race, granted, but it also allows for a wide margin of error. Someone who sucks at driving in DD won't fall nearly as far behind as in the other games, especially since the drift boost doesn't help as much.
Considering the above, the speed of the game feels pretty fast, especially since the levels are generally tight rather than wide open. However, there are no items that increase your speed for an extended period of time. Even mushrooms don't do much. Weapons in general don't do much, actually.
- Every character has a special weapon in addition to the normal weapons that everyone can use
- Normal weapons - single red and green shells, single banana, fake item box, mushroom, triple mushroom, star, lightning, blue shell
- Special weapons - triple red or green shells, giant banana, giant shell, bob-omb, egg, heart barrier, chain chomp, fireballs
- Physically bigger weapons
- Can't be held behind you
- Have less of an effect overall
- No catch-up-quick items
- Many more blue shells than previous games
Since every character has a special weapon, character selection is about more than simply what type of racing you prefer. You'll pick up your special weapon seemingly at random, even in first place. Some are better than others, but they're all pretty cool. This is one of the features of DD that probably should've remained in the games that followed. There's nothing like racing in Baby Park with two or three giant shells bouncing around.
The most obvious difference in DD from the other games is that weapons don't have much of an effect. Bananas will spin you out, but you don't lose much speed in the process. Rather than stopping completely, your kart spins around a few times and keeps going, much like when you do the trick to avoide the POW in the Wii version. Shells and fake item boxes make you tumble and almost stop, but you can hit someone in front of you with three well-timed red shells and you'll frequently just barely catch up.
Another huge difference in DD is the utter lack of speed weapons. Three mushrooms is the biggest speed boost possible; but since mushrooms don't give you that much of a boost, they can't help nearly as much as something like a super mushroom would. Mushrooms can be used offensively in DD, though, since you can steal weapons from other drivers if you hit them while boosting. This is another feature that should've been kept in future versions.
If you fall behind, your best chance of catching up is to rely on the AI's slower driving and their uncanny ability to hit any items strewn across the course. Like MK64, the AI's speed is directly affected by the human player's position. If you're in front, they'll drive faster, and if you're behind, they'll drive slower. It isn't as exaggerated as in MK64, but it's still fairly obvious. They'll also run into pretty much any weapon (bananas, fake item boxes, shells) laying on the course.
The result of the above is that catching up is mostly out of your control. Of course, you need to drive well and use whatever weapons you get; but most of the catching up is the direct result of the AI letting you catch up. Granted, it isn't nearly as easy to catch up in DD as in MK64, since you'll usually place in third to fifth if you drop too far behind in any given race after mid-second lap. Basically, the AI is an improvement over the previous games, but it still doesn't put the results of the race in your hands. It doesn't allow you to rely on good weapons or even good driving to catch up; rather, the AI changes its own tendencies to make it easier for you to catch up.
Weapons can't be held behind you, but that doesn't mean that they can't be used defensively. Bananas or green shells must be plopped as you hear the red shell warning in order to block them. This requires a bit more attention and strategy than any of the other versions. Red shells can also be avoided by drift boosting just before the shell hits your kart. The brake trick to avoid spinning out on bananas is missing from DD, though like I said, they don't do much damage anyway. Bananas and shells are also physically bigger than in any other game, making them harder to avoid.
Compared to any previous game, there are a ton of blue shells, but there aren't as many as in MKDS or MKWii. Double Dash introduced the winged blue shell, which is one of the things that most people argue should've only been in DD. The old blue shell that travels along the ground is superior, since it actually helps the person who uses it by potentially hitting the people between him and the leader. The flying blue shell only hits the leader and maybe a racer or two in close proximity, so it helps the karts that are already in second and third, not the karts that are in seventh and eighth who launched the shell in the first place.
Lastly but most importantly, items are fairly well balanced amongst all the racers from first to last. The leader will only get shells and bananas and fake item boxes, while the person in last will get mushrooms, blue shells, red shells, and lightning (lots of lightning). The spectrum of racers in between get weapons appropriate to their ranking, even amongst the AI, who seem to get the same weapon selection as human players. This is a huge step up from any of the previous games and has been present in both versions since.
- Grand Prix - single player, two- three- and four-player co-op
- Versus - up to four players, any combination of co-op and single
- Battle - same as versus
- Time Trial
- LAN play for up to eight human players
Co-op mode is just plain fun. Each player controls his own character, which means that they can switch off driving and weapons at any time during a race. The starting line boost can be doubled if both press the gas at the right time. The drift is controlled by the driver while the drift boost is controlled by the weapons guy. The weapons guy can sideswipe other vehicles to steal weapons by pressing the shoulder buttons. It's hectic and strategic and awesome. Every mode except Time Trial can be played co-operatively.
In Versus, you have the option of changing the number of laps and the frequency of weapons, and you can even turn weapons completely off if you want.
Battle mode includes Shine Thief and Bob-omb Blast for the first time, as well as the traditional balloon battle. The downside is that the six battle courses all pale in comparison to the N64 stages.
Double Dash is a great game because it tried lot of new things. The problem is that some of those changes were for the worse, and some of them remained confined to Double Dash when they should've become standard for the series. The AI is much improved over the N64 version, but the AI in the more recent versions is much more refined. The weapons are balanced, though the players at the back of the pack aren't offered anything of significance that will help them catch up. The co-op modes offer the most fun of any MK game, and that fun is only trumped by the online play offered in its successors.
If nothing else, Double Dash introduced the series to improved AI, improved weapon balance, improved multiplayer experiences, and an improved ranking system that have all remained in the series since. It had more to offer the series, such as individualized special weapons, and it's a shame that Nintendo didn't recognize those strengths and allow them to remain in the evolution of the series.