Being different gives the world color.
“The following is a contributor post by the Blue Moon Mage.”
On November 7, 2003, the best Mario Kart game in history was released. Mario Kart: Double Dash!! is the fourth game in Nintendo’s popular racing series. The others are Super Mario Kart (1992), Mario Kart 64 (1996), Mario Kart: Super Circuit (2001), Mario Kart DS (2005), Mario Kart Wii (2008), Mario Kart 7 (2011), and Mario Kart 8 (2014).
A lot of people are shaking their heads right now, but you know what I say to that? Haters gonna hate. They apparently just can’t handle the utter awesomeness of Mario Kart: Double Dash!!. Well, I can, and so, in honor of the game’s 15th birthday, I’ve prepared a list of 15 reasons why I think it’s the unequaled champ of kart racing games.
1. What’s In A Name?
Right off the bat, Nintendo gives you a huge clue that Double Dash!! is the king of kart racers. It’s the only one that’s so amazing, they added two exclamation marks to the title. Okay, I admit that’s a bit cheesy, but I’m sticking with it.
2. Character Matters
Compared to the previous entries in the series (which all had eight drivers), Double Dash!! is a veritable character bonanza. Players may choose between 20 different characters, and more so than in any other Mario Kart game, who you choose matters.
As in the rest of the series, the Double Dash!! characters are divided into weight classes that affect the handling of their vehicle. Lightweights (like Toad and Diddy Kong) drive small karts that accelerate quickly but aren’t very fast, while heavyweights (like Bowser and Boo) drive big karts that have the highest top speed but take forever to get there. Everybody else (like Mario and Yoshi) is somewhere in the middle. But weight isn’t the only important aspect of each character…
3. Special Items
Unlike any other Mario Kart before or since, each character is also given a Special Item that is unique(-ish) to them. For example, Mario gets fireballs while Donkey Kong gets a giant banana that, once hit, splits into three normal bananas.
Because both of these factors must be considered (the character’s driving abilities + their Special Item), players are forced to strategize, to consider their own skill as well as that of their opponents, and sometimes, to kill their darlings. For example, you might love Daisy, but her lame heart ring Special Item presents you with a Sophie’s choice. Likewise, I can’t imagine that Toad and Toadette are anyone’s favorite character, so perhaps that’s why Nintendo gave them the best Special Item: the Golden Mushroom.
4. Double Time
And if individual driving skills and Special Items aren’t enough, Double Dash!! has the added element of two-driver teams. This feature is often derided as a failure. “If it was so great, why’d they never do it again?” critics say. And truthfully, I don’t know. I thought it was awesome.
For starters, this feature allows you to combine the advantages of the weight classes with the lightweights’ superior Special Items. Bowser and Toadette might look like an odd couple, but with the speed of the heavyweight vehicles and her Golden Mushroom, you might just be unstoppable.
Next, having two characters allows you to hold twice as many items, and you can then combine them for ultimate destruction. For example, if you get the timing right, you can seed an area of the track with banana peels and then drop a Bob-omb so that karts will spin out on the peels and then be caught in the Bob-omb’s blast before they can recover.
Another of my favorite things to do is play as both the Koopa Troopa and the Paratroopa (whose specials are Triple Shells in either green or red) and then reign down horrifying shell chaos upon the track. *insert evil laugh*
5. Kart Carnage
Mario Kart might look cute and fluffy, but at its heart, it’s a combat racing game, and in my humble opinion, the more items there are, the better. Yeah, sometimes it feels unfair, but items like blue shells, red shells, and even the humble banana make players prove that they are not just good at driving, but also at reacting, strategizing, and dealing with calamity. And thanks to the Special Items, Double Dash!! deals out a dual dollop of delightfully diabolical disaster.
If you want a game where nothing and nobody interrupts your racing, I can give you directions over to Gran Turismo.
6. Right On Track
Like the other Mario Kart games, Double Dash‘s 16 tracks are a mixture of newbies and oldies-but-goodies. There’s DK Mountain (where drivers get shot out of a cannon and must then drive down a volcano) and Dry Dry Desert (watch out for the Sarlaac pit). Both Wario and Waluigi represent with ridiculous coliseum-type tracks complete with insane jumps and rings of fire.
The races are organized into cups (Mushroom, Flower, Star, and Special). Then there’s my favorite: the All Cup Tour, which lumps all 16 courses into a single epic competition. Additionally, players can race any of the cups in Mirror Mode for a different challenge.
7. All That Glitters
If you think you’ve unlocked everything in Double Dash!!, you might want to sit down for this one. Did you know that if you race the All Cup Tour in Mirror Mode and win, you’ll unlock the coveted golden Parade Kart? This is the kart used in the trophy ceremonies, and it’s the ultimate Double Dash!! prize. It drives like a heavyweight kart, yet any character from any weight class can use it. It’s a game-changer, trust me.
8. Rainbow Road
Double Dash!! also has what I would consider one of the true Rainbow Roads. If you’ve been with the series from the beginning, you remember the butt-clenching terror of the OG Rainbow Road from Super Mario Kart. With no guardrails anywhere, simply getting around the track without falling is a challenge (never mind dealing with the other racers and their items).
That’s how Rainbow Road should be: a beautiful, yet lethal track that can only be tamed by the most daring and dedicated drivers. And in all the Mario Kart games since, there have been either true Rainbow Roads or sad Rainbow Roads.
The sad Rainbow Roads are the ones like in Mario Kart 64, where a star fence lines the entire track (which is basically the equivalent of adding Rainbow Road training wheels). Or like in Mario Kart 8, where the track is so wide and accommodating that you really have to work hard to fall off (especially with the game’s Smart Steering, but that’s a whole other issue).
In Double Dash!!, Rainbow Road does have a few guardrails, but they are strategically placed (or misplaced?) throughout the course. For example, in the opening section of the track, the guardrails line the straights but not the turns, so you really need to know how to control your drift. Then there is a long, guardrail-less curved section with turbo boosts all along the track. There are too many to miss them all, which forces you to keep your kart on course despite the breakneck speed (and the more-than-likely possibility that somebody dropped a bunch of bananas there). And heaven forbid you get a star. Will you have the guts to use it?
9. “Hi, I’m Daisy!”
As is common in the rest of the series, the characters in Double Dash!! each have voice reactions for certain scenarios: when they win, when they lose, when they hit somebody with an item, etc.
Whenever you get passed by Daisy, she yells out, “Hi, I’m Daisy!” in the most ridiculously obnoxious voice you can imagine. At first, it’s annoying. But then, eventually, it becomes funny. Really, really funny. In fact, when my sisters and I now encounter someone behaving like an idiot in everyday life, we explain it by saying, “The person was like, ‘Hi, I’m Daisy!'” and then we all understand perfectly.
10. Baby Park
Probably the most infamous track in Double Dash!! (and perhaps the entire series?) is Baby Park. The course consists of a single, short loop which drivers must complete seven times. The experience seems to be either a love-it-or-hate-it one. Critics complain that the track is boring and that the design was lazy on Nintendo’s part. But fans of Baby Park recognize it for what it is: a stripped down, no-holds-barred combat arena.
The maps in Fortnite and other battle royale games feature a circle that starts large but then gradually shrinks. Players caught outside the circle will be killed, so they are forced to follow the circle inward as the playing area is reduced, bringing them into ever closer contact with their enemies.
In a nutshell, this is Baby Park. It forces you into the closet quarters possible with your opponents, guaranteeing that there will be bloodshed and chaos from start to finish. Driver talent still matters, but not in the obvious ways. It’s more about quick reactions and dodging disaster than it is putting together the perfect, beautiful drift. Despite the innocent name, this is not a course for driving. It’s a course for destroying.
Obviously enough people realize (and appreciate) this, because Baby Park made an encore appearance in Mario Kart 8. In fact, the first time I played Mario Kart 8 with my sisters, they looked over the tracks for a few moments before gleefully shrieking, “BABY PARK! BABY PARK!”
11. Fun For The Whole Family
When producer Shigeru Miyamoto was overseeing the development of Double Dash!!, he wanted a game that would be welcoming to newcomers to the series a decade after the release of the first game. I, for one, think he succeeded perfectly.
The dueling forces of challenge and easy playability are almost perfectly balanced in Double Dash!!. The controls are simple and responsive, but still demand practice to reach their full potential. The tracks are brightly colored and well-designed enough to still be fun whether you’re a noob or a veteran. It’s a game that does not sacrifice the enjoyment of one group to satisfy another, which means that you can continue to enjoy it from the time you buy it until long after you’ve mastered it.
12. Skillz To Pay The Billz
After Double Dash!! was released, that perfect balance between challenge and easy playability began to skew. At first, it started small. In Mario Kart Wii, an option was added in which drivers could select automatic drifting to make the game easier. Then in Mario Kart 8, we got the full-on Smart Steering nanny mode. This wouldn’t be so bad except that it’s turned on by default, and you really have to hunt for the place to turn it off.
This is a useful feature to help level the playing field for young and/or newbie players, but I prefer my Mario Kart old school, where everything is trial by fire. Double Dash!! is one of those beautiful, harsh, and unforgiving Mario Kart games where big risks can lead to big rewards. Short cuts are everywhere to entice the bold but also punish the unskilled. If you can master one of these difficult tricks (for example, driving up and over the bridge supports in Mushroom Bridge or going head to head with giant fireballs before jumping over lava in Bowser’s Castle), it gives you an immediate advantage over your more safety-minded friends.
Of course, this quality is not specific to Double Dash!!. All the Mario Kart games have this. But Double Dash!! simply puts it together in a way that represents the best of what the series can do.
Want to know a guaranteed formula for a fun night? Get together a bunch of people that non-gamers would probably say are too old to be playing video games. Give them way too much caffeine. Play Double Dash!! on split-screen for hours. Nourish yourself on their screams of agony and tears of defeat.
14. The Randomizer
If you want to make multiplayer even more fun, play it completely randomized. On the character selection screen, pressing L+R together will generate a random selection of two characters and a kart. Press them again on the track select screen to be given a random course.
I love to look at the expressions of players when they see what the Mario Kart gods have handed them: who thinks they’re screwed, who thinks they’ve got it in the bag, and who is annoyed because they now have to race while looking at the back Petey Pirahna’s giant head.
15. The Switcheroo
You know that moment when you’re in first place and a blue shell is coming for you, so you let someone pass you, and then they get hit with the blue shell in your place?
That moment is my favorite.
When picking their favorite Mario Kart, most people tend to fall into one of two categories: those who, by default, like whichever Mario Kart is newest and shiniest, and those who prefer whichever Mario Kart they played the most growing up. It’s a battle of progress vs nostalgia.
But Double Dash!! is neither of those for me. If I’m picking a Mario Kart based on nostalgia, I choose Super Mario Kart. My sisters and I played countless hours of that one. Mario Kart 64 is fun, but doesn’t speak to my heart. By the time Double Dash!! was released, I was well into college.
Nope, I choose Double Dash!! simply because it is the Mario Kart I keep on playing, even 15 years later. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve erased my save data and started over simply for the fun of it. I love all Mario Kart games, but I adore Double Dash!!, and I’m looking forward to the next 15 years.
The Blue Moon Mage, aka Blue Williams, is a nerd of many layers: video games, film, anime, manga, and cars. You can find her on Twitter at @wrytersview or at her other writing locales: The Loot Gaming, The Gamer, Hot Cars, and 799 Books.
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