One thing that Nintendo has become known for (especially in recent years) is creating new-and-improved versions of their past classic games for new formats. The newer games play much like the older ones and there's virtually no learning curve for masters of classic games when they pick up a new title. Super Mario 64 begat Super Mario Sunshine, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time spawned The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, and even F-Zero X led to F-Zero GX. In 2003 Nintendo took one of the best Nintendo 64 party games, Mario Kart 64, and added bells and whistles to create the Nintendo GameCube release Mario Kart: Double Dash!!. This racing gem retains the best parts of its predecessors and delivers some new and innovative additions to the Mario Kart series. Most all of the series's trademark items (turtle shells, lightning bolts, mushrooms, etc.) have returned (except for the item-stealing ghost and general use triple shell items), plus some new innovations add depth to this amazing game.

The most noticable change to the classic formula is that each car now contains two characters: one to handle the driving duties and another to deal with items. Both characters are selected by the player from a total of twenty drivers from the Mushroom Kingdom and are then matched up with the specialized car of your choice. No longer are Mario and friends restricted to the same generic style of go-karts, for now there are a number of unique methods of transportation available. Considering that each character and car has weight, speed, and acceleration ratings that effect the overall performance of your team and their car, there are a number of various combinations to pick from. Lighter characters have great acceleration skills, whereas heavier ones have a faster top speed. It's up to each player to find the best combination of characters and car (don't worry; characters can switch positions in the car at any time with a push of the Z button). In addition to all of this, each character has a unique item that only they can wield. Let's go to the breakdown.

  • Lightweight Division
    • Baby Mario - Smallest of the small, he can toss a giant Chain Chomp on to the track to take a bite out of the competition.
    • Baby Luigi - Master of the Chain Chomp as well, Baby Luigi has a little more speed in him than his brother. Listen for the cute speech clip when he comes in second or third place: "Baby Weegie number not one."
    • Koopa Troopa - His ability to hold and juggle three turtle shells makes him a force to be reckoned with. His strength lies in acceleration.
    • Koopa Paratroopa - KT's winged counterpart, the paratroopa tosses triple shells with the best of 'em and can accelerate faster than his cousin.
    • Toad* - The golden mushroom that allows for infinite speed boosts until time runs out from Mario Kart 64 returns, but this time it's a Toad team exclusive. Like the other lightweights, his acceleration is tops.
    • Toadette* - Wow, a new character! This female Toad also controls the golden mushroom, plus her acceleration skills beat that of her boyfriend.
    • Diddy Kong - In yet another appearance designed to remind us that he's a Nintendo character and not owned by Rareware, Diddy can drop a giant banana peel to slip up other drivers. His speed is the best thing about him.
    • Bowser Jr. - Fresh from his debut in Super Mario Sunshine, the youngest of the Koopas can throw a massive spiked turtle shell on to the track. He's quite talented when it comes to top speeds.
  • Mediumweight Division
    • Mario - The main man himself, his seldom used ability to toss fireballs returns as he throws five flaming orbs across the track. His skills are evenly matched, making him part of a good team for novice racers.
    • Luigi - Here we have the legendary Player Two; his fireballs are green in color and his acceleration is just a bit higher than that of his brother.
    • Yoshi - Since the days of Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island our dinosaur pal has been a talented egg tosser. That skill returns, only this time the eggs roll down the track and crack open on impact, dropping three items for later pickup.
    • Birdo - Nintendo's only transsexual character is along for the ride, and like Yoshi she has her own special eggs to throw. She's also the heaviest of the medium-class racers.
    • Princess Peach - Is there nothing this princess can't do? Her royal highness makes use of a new skill, a shield of happy hearts that protect her from flying shells and other hazards. Better yet, when struck she picks up the offending item for her own use! Her acceleration is top notch.
    • Princess Daisy - Peach's tomboy counterpart can also perform the heart shield maneuver, but her speed is just a touch higher than a certain other racing royal.
    • Waluigi - Wario's brother makes another appearance, this time tossing Bob-ombs like nobody's business. He's another evenly matched character; all of his stats are identical.
  • Heavyweight Division
    • Wario - Mr. Greed Is Good is back for another run around the track, and like his brother he possesses the mighty Bob-omb. Speed is his selling point. On a side note, take notice of his car - it's the purple convertible sportscar from the opening scenes of Wario Land 4, making it the only car in the game that has made a previous appearance somewhere else.
    • Bowser - The king of the Koopas is out to claim a victory on the road, and like his son he can toss the giant spiked turtle shell. He has the worst acceleration of anyone in the game.
    • Donkey Kong - The main monkey is back, this time to toss giant banana peels around. His speed and weight are evenly distributed.
    • Petey Piranha* - This is Petey's third game appearance, his first two coming in Super Mario Sunshine and Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour. He's as heavy as they come and he can use any special item available.
    • King Boo - The leader of the Boos has escaped from his fate at the end of Luigi's Mansion and now haunts the racetrack. Like his piranha plant pal he can use any special item, plus he has the best acceleration of the heavyweight racers.
Once you've chosen your characters and car, it's time to hit the track. There are a number of modes available in the game, spanning single player challenges all the way up to sixteen-player mayhem. Single player mode brings us the traditional Grand Prix and Time Trial modes. Players in Grand Prix mode must race through a series of five cups with each cup containing four tracks. Points are awarded based on finishing place, and the team with the most points at the end of the cup wins the gold trohpy. Time Trial mode challenges you to beat the clock (and your saved player ghost data, if any) around your choice of track. Two Player Mode includes a two player Grand Prix mode and a Versus plus a new Cooperative GP Mode and an expanded Battle Mode. The Co-op GP Mode allows for each player to control one half of the character team during the Grand Prix race: one drives, the other handles items. Players can switch tasks by pushing the Z button at the same time, resulting in some real-world planning ("Push it now! No, now! Wait... now!" etc.). The Versus mode is a simple one-on-one race around the chosen track. The familiar balloon-busting Battle Mode is back, only now there's also a Capture The Flag-type mode called Shine Thief where players must retain a Shine (from Super Mario Sunshine) when time elapses and a a Bomb Blast mode where the only available items to toss are Bob-ombs. Three and Four Player modes include only the Versus Mode and Battle Modes. If your social circle expands beyond four people and you all have the right combination of Nintendo GameCubes, Mario Kart: Double Dash!! discs, and Internet hardware then up to sixteen people can duke it out in Battle and Versus Mode. The game includes built in LAN support, but an unofficial unsanctioned project known as The Warp Pipe has come up with a way to allow for play over TCP/IP.

As you first play MK:DD!! you will undoubtedly experience a feeling of deja vu. Yes, the graphics are all clear and smooth and the frame rates are constant and all, but the tracks seem very familiar. A little too familiar at times, in fact. I regret to say that the majority of the game's racetracks are downright similar to Mario Kart 64's racing venues. There are some creative spots to keep an eye out for, but must of the tracks are roads well traveled. Let's have a look.

  • Mushroom Cup
    • Luigi Circuit - A basic starter course; watch out for the giant Chain Chomp and the two-way traffic. Look carefully and you can see Luigi's mansion in the background.
    • Peach Beach - Based on Isle Delfino from Super Mario Sunshine, Cattaquacks roam the sands and the high tide will slow you down.
    • Baby Park - At first this is a seemingly simple oval built around the Pinna Park amusement park level from Super Mario Sunshine, but with it's multiple laps, large amounts of items, and tight spaces this is one of the game's most fast-paced races.
    • Dry Dry Desert - The requisite desert level; the train hazard from Mario Kart 64 has been replaced with a certain Return of the Jedi-inspired hazard. Keep an eye out for the billboard with the original Super Mario Kart logo on it.
  • Flower Cup
    • Mushroom Bridge - Reminiscent of the classic Toad's Turnpike track, dangerous traffic circles the highway and eventually crosses a large suspension bridge that certain crafty players and find a shortcut across. Ram the car full of mushrooms for a free speed boost.
    • Mario Circuit - Piranha Plants and Goombas call this track home. There's plenty of room for power slides and enough tight turns to make you grip the controller extra tight.
    • Daisy Cruiser - This one's interesting - it's a racetrack built on a yacht! Race across the upper deck and zoom through the dining room. The location of item boxes move from side to side as the ship rocks back and forth.
    • Waluigi Stadium - Based on the Wario Stadium from Mario Kart 64, this track adds giant Piranha Plants, firebars, and more mud to its predecessor. Don't miss the jumps!
  • Star Course
    • Sherbet Land - Revamped from Mario Kart 64's track of the same name, Miyamoto's Penguin has been replaced with iceskating Shy Guys. Other obstacles out to slow you down include icicles and thick snow. Oh yes, and the icy road is downright slippery.
    • Mushroom City - Much like the old Yoshi Valley, this track has multiple routes that all eventually lead to the finish line. This track is a night race through the skyscrapers of the Mushroom Kingdom's downtown district. Watch out for oncoming traffic!
    • Yoshi Circuit - If you like tight turns, you'll be perfectly at ease on this track track shaped like Yoshi himself. There's a few hidden shortcuts if you know where to find them. The Yoshi helicopter first seen in Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island hovers over the track as a fun detail.
    • DK Mountain - Remember the giant jump over the river in Mario Kart 64's Kongo Jungle? It's been replaced with a massive barrel cannon that blasts your car over the track and to the top of a mountain where rockslides are commonplace and parts of the track are out.
  • Special Cup*
    • Wario Colosseum - This is the longest, twistingest, most chaotic track in the game. It's so long, in fact, that it's one lap shorter than the other races. Wario's put together a wild ride where the track weaves around itself, lacks guardrails, and includes frequent jumps. Watch for the little touches, such as the signs that say "Wario Kart".
    • Dino Dino Jungle - A giant dinosaur calls this track home, and when he's not trying to step on you, he's trying to knock you off the little bridge. Other hazards include geysers and logs in the road, but there are a few shortcuts around if you're adventurous enough to find them.
    • Bowser's Castle - Inspired by the previous run through the Koopa King's domain, this track is full of Thwomps, fireballs, and large jumps. A hairpin turn near the end could mean trouble.
    • Rainbow Road - It's a tradition to end every Mario Kart game with a Rainbow Road level, and this edition of the track doesn't disappoint. Full of wobbly sections of track, large jumps, missing guardrails, falling stars, speed boosters, and all sorts of other hazards, this track will put your driving skills to the test.
  • All-Cup Tour* - Every GP course in the game is organized randomly with two exceptions: Luigi Raceway is always the first course and Rainbow Road is always the last course. Everything in between is randomly selected from the other cup tracks.
  • Mirror Mode* - All cups become available in reverse; that is, tracks are flipped horizontally.
  • Battle Mode Courses
    • Cookie Land - Based on a giant cookie from the Super NES version of Yoshi's Cookie, this track takes a page from Mario Kart 64's Big Donut track.
    • Block City - Based on the classic Block Fort, this level relies on blocks to create a series of dead ends instead of bridges. Personally, I like Block Fort better.
    • Nintendo GameCube - This is a large, flat, open arena where there's no place to hide. A minimalist course, here's your chance to join in some fast-paced action.
    • Pipe Plaza - A series of warp pipes move you around this two-leveled track. Seemingly simple to navigate, the frustration mounts as your target disappears into a pipe, only to reappear behind you.
    • Luigi's Mansion* - Based on - what else? - Luigi's Mansion, this track is a mazed-up mansion where all the rooms and corridors look alike. Four levels make up this track.
    • Tilt-A-Kart* - Now this is intersting. Shaped like the Mario sprite from the original Nintendo Entertainment System smash Super Mario Brothers, this track tilts back and forth, enticing you to drive or fall right over the edge. Item blocks fall from above and are also effected by the moving floor.
So now that you know who's driving on what tracks, let's have a look at how the cars are controlled. The control scheme has been carried over from Mario Kart 64 for the most part. The control stick steers the car, the A button accelerates, the B button brakes, the X or Y button uses an item, and the Z button switches characters. Nintendo has seen fit to remove the hop from the game, so the R button is now devoted to power sliding (in which you hold down the button during a turn and tilt the control stick back and forth to gain a burst of speed). The camera stick and control pad go unused.

The graphics and sounds in Mario Kart: Double Dash!! are on par with other Nintendo releases from this generation of video games, although you'll definitely hear some 8-bit classic sounds sprinkled around the game, such as when a turtle shell collides with an obstacle or when a mushroom is released. The music is, unfortunately, fairly forgettable. Koji Kondo, where are you? And like in most Nintendo games featuring Mario and friends these days, the characters just won't shut up. Everybody has something to say and they say it often. It's fun the first few times, but after a while it becomes annoying (however, one sound clip I never grow tired of is Wario's angry sentiment when he loses: "I lost... to a bunch of losers!").

After all is said and done, Mario Kart: Double Dash!! is one of this generation's must-own Nintendo GameCube titles. While it's largely based on Mario Karts from the past, it's still quite addictive and extremely fun (especially in multiplayer mode). Like I've said, there is some "been there, done that" feel to the game, but don't let that hold you back. The more you play, the more the game will grow on you. Nintendo has been pushing this game at retail like there's no tomorrow: it's half of the required purchases to score a free The Legend of Zelda Collector's Disc and anyone who preordered the game gets a free demo disc with playable levels from new and upcoming games such as Mario Party 5 and Sonic Heroes. Hardcore serious racing enthusists will probably be more at home with F-Zero GX, but for some traditional Mario-style gaming fun, there's no contest: Mario Kart: Double Dash!! wins this race.

* Denotes a hidden character or track.


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