There's no doubt about it, Mario Kart DS is a fun and exciting game. It's full of cool items, loads of interesting characters, and a few tracks that really bring back memories. But the game is far from perfect, especially when you talk about the online mode. Nintendo has been criticized for not embracing the online trend, and it's only now that the U.S. is seeing their first multiplayer online game from the company. You would think that in that time the developers behind Mario Kart would have tested the waters on the Xbox Live or PS2 Online, perhaps seeing what worked and what didn't. But in true Nintendo fashion they have decided to go it alone, practically throwing out everything we've come to know and love from other online racers. Unfortunately this isn't a good thing, since a lot of those things we've come to know and love are important to the online experience. If Nintendo is going to be serious about making games playable online, then there are some things they are just going to have to learn ... so we've decided to offer up a list of the five things that didn't work in Mario Kart in hopes that the next time they will do something about them. -Cyril Lachel
Five Problems With Mario Kart DS Online
Archive: Top Ten Lists
No Talking, Writing, Etc.
Going into Mario Kart DS we knew there would be no voice support (Defunct Games even did a full article about this, A Fight over Gamers First Amendment Rights ). But who knew this online experience would be so anti-communication? Beyond choosing the game (which is nothing more than choosing if you want to play worldwide, in the region, a friend, or a rival) you can't say, write, scribble, morse code, anything. That means when you're done playing somebody you can't ask to be friends, or for a rematch, or even congratulate them. Even when dealing with your friends, you can't really do any of the things all other games do ... like allowing you to send an invite. Every aspect of this game is very cold and makes you feel like you are all alone in this world of kart racing. Some may be happy that they can't hear trash talking while racing, and while I can accept that sentiment I find it hard to justify cutting all communication out of this game.
Missing Levels and Missing Modes
Like the lack of voice communication, most die-hard Mario Karters already knew that Nintendo was going to limit what tracks and modes they would be playing online. But even with this knowledge it seems hard to justify some of the cuts, especially when the best levels were the ones dropped. Offline Mario Kart DS features 32 different tracks, yet only 20 of them made it to the online mode. That's a dozen of the best tracks completely missing, a significant number of levels that we should be able to experience with friends. And the levels aren't the only thing missing from the online game; Nintendo opted to get rid of the Battle Mode, a Twisted Metal-like battle where you race around in an enclosed area throwing shells at each other. This is one of those modes that is great fun with friends and it seemed like a perfect fit online. It's great to race your friends (and perfect strangers) online, but it's also a lot of fun to battle it out in the Battle Mode. Nintendo should be commended for making this an online experience in the first place, but anybody that goes through the single-player campaign will surely notice the 12 missing levels.
Outdated Friends List
These days a friends list is imperative when developing a fun online experience, it's the easiest way to keep track of your friends and play with people you're familiar with. But simply having a friends list isn't good enough, these days you have to go that extra step and make sure the friends list actually does some of the things the users want. Mario Kart DS has a friends list, but there are a number of problems that make it too difficult to use. As we mentioned above you can't invite friends to play games, turning the experience into a guessing game to whether or not you'll really connect with your friends. Furthermore, in order to add somebody to your friends list requires you to punch in their twelve digit (!!!) friends code. The only problem with that is that you aren't able to get that code from people you play, only people you are able to talk to (or chat with online). With most games you can add somebody you play with online to your friends list, but if Mario Kart DS is the only way you know that person, then you will never be able to add them to your friends list.
Things go from bad to worse when you actually try playing your friends online. You have the option of choosing to play "friends" in the main menu, but both players need to have selected that at around the same time, which means you'll either need hundreds of friends or need to schedule your sessions over something other than Mario Kart DS. You are also unable to check your twelve digit friends code online ... you literally have to log off to look it up, which really makes no sense in the grand scheme of things. The friends list does keep track of how many games you've played against a particular person, but outside of that it's completely useless. One gets the feeling Nintendo didn't even try when it came to the friends section of the game.
Lack of Controls
I'm not talking about controlling the game, but rather setting up your own rooms the way you like them. When it comes right down to it, you don't really have any control over what happens from game to game. You get to choose a character (and his vehicle), once you've done that everybody gets to choose a track (one of which will be selected), and then you're done, time to race. You don't get to choose who you race against, you don't get to choose the speed of the game, you don't get to choose anything. Seems like this type of thing would be perfect for playing friends online; make a room the way you want it and have your friends join. Even Halo 2, another game that prides itself on its matchmaking, allows you to make a room and play in it; yet for some reason Nintendo feels that random is always the way to go. Always. This game's lack of control is not only frustrating but it's actually bad design, since their matchmaking tends to pit new players against seasoned vets.
This Thing Called "Snaking"
There are some cool techniques in Mario Kart DS, including a few that require more than a little practice to get right. When coming around corners the Mario Kart expert will use the cornering boost, a technique that allows you to gain speed quickly when making sharp turns. "Snaking" is an extension of this technique, except that gamers have figured out a way of doing this on straight stretches, constantly boosting through all the laps making them nearly impossible to race against. There are a few schools of thinking on "snaking," but no matter what people say, this technique really takes a lot of the fun out of an otherwise exciting game.
Some people defend "snaking" by saying that it was built into Mario Kart DS in the first place, so Nintendo expected gamers to perform this move the ENTIRE LAP. While it's true Nintendo did add the cornering boost, I have a hunch they didn't expect to see people manipulate it in such a heinous way. When you are "snaking" you don't need to pick up items ... you're not going to be using them. Instead you'll be pushing left and right on the D-pad over and over until you get carpel tunnel from doing this move. Some say that this is the true spirit of Mario Kart, but having played every Mario Kart game since its Super NES debut, I can tell you right now that this is FAR from what Nintendo had in mind. Mario Kart is about battling others with items, not manipulating a move the entire race so that you (cheaply) win. For the record, I do know how to do this move, but would rather win with my racing skills and item management, this seems like the true spirit of Mario Kart ... not wearing down my thumb just so I lap people. Want to know why people leave your game? It probably has something to do with you "snaking" the entire time.
Unfortunately those five Online problems are just the start of Nintendo's troubles. These three still unanswered questions may not rise to the level of importance of "snaking" and a faulty friends list, but they deserve to be asked by somebody. If nobody else is going to ask these three simple questions, then leave it to me bring them up.
Three Outstanding Questions!
Why Are the Items So Unbalanced?
For the most part the Mario Kart series has done an excellent job of balancing their items, often allowing you to defend yourself from just about anything. But Mario Kart DS is a bird of a different feather. There is one weapon in particular (the blue turtle shell) that stands out as being especially unfair. What this shell does is hunts down the first place player and blows them up, often keeping them busy for several seconds (long enough for just about everybody to catch up). You can't outrun this shell, you can't lay something behind to block it, and there's no way to defend against it ... it's really there just to take you from first to last. Online gamers tend to use this on the last lap right before the end, which is especially frustrating when there's nothing you can do about it. Nintendo, it's time to balance your items so they aren't so over powered.
Why Can't I Check My Online Score Online?
God, there are WAY too many things wrong with this online experience to talk about them all, but for some reason not being able to check your online standings online really chaps my hide! If you log all the way out and go to records you can see how you're doing, but why you can't do this online is simply beyond me. When it comes right down to it, the online stuff is so minimal that Nintendo should probably be embarrassed. Not being able see your stats is mind-numbingly stupid ... but then, waiting until 2005 to go online wasn't exactly a Mensa thing to do, if you know what I mean.
Why Does the Mario Kart Website Suck?
On the surface it looks like Nintendo's WiFi website was going to be like a mini-Xbox Live, allowing you to keep track of stats, videos, friends, and everything else. But now that it's launched that doesn't seem to be the case. Not only does it not log you in automatically (something just about every other website does), but it doesn't really give you any personalized information. Considering you can't check your stats online, this website seems like a perfect place to go and find that info out ... but nope, that's just too sophisticated for Big N. You can see what cities play the game the most, in case you've ever wondered. The problem is, nobody has ever needed that information, and they never will. What a waste of bandwidth.