With the launch of the GameCube in September 2001, Nintendo finally broke away from the once-mighty cartridge and caught up to the rest of world with a disc-based console. Of course, the discs were half the normal size and the system lacked DVD playback, a major selling point of its competitors, but the GameCube was certainly not lacking in the karting department. Mario Kart Double Dash!! released in November of 2003 and brought the Mario Kart into the new generation.
But let's back up a minute. If you haven't been following, this is part four of a seven-part series leading up to Mario Kart 8 on May 30. In it, I'm revisiting each of the main Mario Kart games and sharing some memories, impressions and other fun content celebrating this unique and groundbreaking series. Catch up on the SNES' Super Mario Kart, the N64's Mario Kart 64, the GBA's Mario Kart Super Circuit, and then head back here to keep reading!
Here's the thing: the launch of Sony's PlayStation console made a serious dent in Nintendo's fan base. During the Super Nintendo era, Nintendo fans got a steady stream of high quality third party content, including some of the best Japanese role-playing games (JRPGs) of all time. To name a few: Final Fantasy II, Final Fantasy III, Secret of Mana, EarthBound, and Chrono Trigger.
Oh man, Chrono Trigger. But that's a topic for another post.
It's well-known at this point that Sony and Nintendo worked together for a while to release a CD-based add-on drive for the Super Nintendo in a deal that fell apart before anything hit the public. This led directly to the development of the PlayStation and helped cement Nintendo's decision to stick with the cartridge format for the Nintendo 64. That meant that lots of big third party content, including the seminal JRPG, Final Fantasy VII, became a Sony exclusive. Lots of gamers, myself included, felt a little burned by the N64 era (despite a number of truly great games), and decided that maybe a move to the PlayStation 2 (and its ability to play DVD movies) was a better bet than Nintendo's GameCube.
So why am I drudging up all of this history about consoles and JRPGs? Because it directly contributed to my never having played much of Mario Kart Double Dash!! With that in mind, I decided to take a slightly different approach with this game and record some video of my first cup in MKDD!! I didn't do any warmups or test runs, so it's not a perfect playthrough by any means, but hopefully this is a fun look back at the game.
By the way, here's that infamous 7.9/10 IGN review.
Without a lot of nostalgia around this title, specifically the multiplayer, it's hard to feel a whole lot of connection to this game, but it is certainly a fun and unique entry in the series. I enjoyed experimenting with the two item system, but I think it's a little bit at odds with the broader Mario Kart strategy. Kill Screen recently posted an article called "An Ode to Mario Kart's Almighty Blue Shell" that wisely points out that the reason the series is so powerful: "it's a noncompetitive competition." It's a level playing field that nearly anyone can enjoy.
On its face, the two item system doesn't really change that fundamentally, but it does represent a choice by Nintendo to innovate on a more complex, strategic gameplay element. To gamers looking for more control and options in their Kart experience, this was great. But for the larger "blue ocean" audience that had historically shown up at the starting line every time a new Kart game released, it was a statement of intent in a potentially confusing direction. In the video, you might have noticed my own confusion around the fact that each character can have their own item, and only the character in the rear can use the item. It's really pretty easy once you get the hang of it, but it's a bit of a distraction from the core driving/item mechanic that makes the game so instantly accessible. Even the character selection process (pick two different characters and a kart) adds that slight layer of friction for the casual karting fan.
Even so, the game moved over 3.8 million units in the US alone and was a best-seller on the GameCube, so it certainly resonated, but it was the lowest-selling home console Kart game. My lack of a third and fourth GameCube controller in my house likely mean it won't get too much playtime at any future parties, but I did enjoy my brief time with it.