When Mario Kart Double Dash was released, it would create a split in the fanbase where fans would either prefer this game’s unique controls and gameplay or dislike it and prefer the standard gameplay from every other game before and since.
The split currently is divided into 3; as Mario Kart Double Dash, Mario Kart Wii and whichever current game is currently for sale are the most played by people who play the games casually or competitively. This is because Double Dash and Wii contain the most extremes of the franchise being the chaos from items and kart/bike control in each game respectively and the latest game being the one played by everyone as the games continue to sell well.
Focusing on Double Dash, we have to remember when it comes to content, the game pre-dates features from newer titles like Retro Tracks, so we can’t unfairly punish the game’s reputation by claiming that the game “lacks content” by literally pre-dating the games with features that didn’t exist until a future entry. Being said, the game still contains enough content to make the game last but the exclusive content is where the game peaks the most interest.
To shorten this text wall of a review, the game has very obvious unique features I don’t need to dwell on too much, like 2 players per kart and special items, which are cool features we all wish would return eventually and are easily directly advantages to the games appeal but don’t instantly sell the game as “directly better than the other titles” so well need to look deeper.
The game contains both the Grand Prix and Time Trial modes in Singleplayer, which you would expect, but the game also allows you to play in Co-op mode in a single kart with a friend. This allows you to beat the game’s Singleplayer content easier however, due to technically being in a multiplayer mode, you cannot use this gameplay mode to unlock new karts or characters which is a shame. As the game is quite difficult to adjust to, the slight edge of having your Player 2 aim your items for you and increase your turning performance are genuinely useful. These buffs don’t make you overpowered compared to the other racers either, so I don’t see why it prevents you from unlocking rewards playing the game this way, especially as you have to have really good teamwork with your “plus 1” to pull off co-op tricks reliably.
The game’s mirror mode is a nice new way to extent the amount of gameplay the game has however, hiding unlockables behind it is somewhat cruel as you would have to partake in over another few hours of racing to unlock a few rewards. The rewards from this mode are very nice, being 2 characters with access to every special item however again, I feel that unlocking the item roulette to allow every character to use every item should have been an option instead, as both of these characters that have this power, have a huge weakness making them unappealing to use otherwise such as King Boo being super lightweight, making him easy to knock off-track and Petey Piranha being super heavy, lowering acceleration a sizable amount. This gets even more frustrating with the All-cup tour, a mode where you play every cup in the game in one long go without the option to stop. While this mode is fantastic for a long marathon of racing, placing the golden kart behind this is very inconvenient as its one of the only karts every combination of every character can use and is consistently good at balancing out the weaknesses of characters who are very light or characters who are very heavy. If it was possible to squeeze more unlocks into the normal cups I would have more likely preferred that and I would have still done the All-cup mode anyway despite there being no rewards as a victory lap around the game's entire list of contents which would have put less pressure on me to complete 16 races in a row without failing to unlock the car in the first place.
One major feature the game takes advantage of is that you can change how you throw items depending on if you hold the button or not. This is used in the new Bob-omb Blast battle mode which allows you to play the basic Balloon Battle mode with only Bomb items and much more precise throwing controls which allows you to creatively blow up your enemies. This gamemode also allows you to hoard your items allowing you carry many bombs at once.
This game’s content makes it great for multiplayer so playing with friends is a great way to extend the games length, the game also supports LAN play allowing you link 8 systems together to play with 8 friends without split-screen reducing the games performance which is very enjoyable.
However Double Dash itself is a game that is very hard to adjust to after playing the other games first. The controls are somewhat slippery and difficult to get used to, as turning and drifting both swing your kart outwards unlike the other games in the series which sharply turn you inwards instead, forcing you to basically try and play the game a few seconds ahead of time in your mind as you have to predict your karts movement before you make them. As an example of the exact opposite, the inward steering bikes from Mario Kart Wii eliminated the need to predict the future during gameplay, allowing you to effortlessly drive perfectly around the tracks with perfect precision and sharp movement. As someone who has played Wii for years beforehand, the game looking so similar but controlling very differently consistently throws me though loops to adjust as quickly as I can when I start playing again. However, I never feel like I’m not enjoying myself during the adjusting period, as the game as the substance to keep me interested while I’m fumbling around the tracks like I’ve never seen them before.
The base item pool in the game is also quite small as most of the normal items have been made into special items. This means what used to be items for everyone being: Bombs, Triple Shells and Golden Mushrooms are now restricted to the characters that can use them. I feel that the characters should have all had more unique special items instead of binding existing items that used to be available to everyone to a single set of characters. Something like giving the Koopas the explosive black and gold shells from Arcade GP instead of stopping everyone from being able to use more than one shell at once would be a better move in my opinion.
Another small issue I have with the game is that you cannot hold any items behind you or protect yourself with shells like in the other games. This makes you very vulnerable to items which in this game are quite fast and difficult to avoid. You can protect yourself by timing the use of items but as your cart swings around, its very hard to drop anything directly behind you so you could get hit in the sides while taking a sharp turn and attempting to protect yourself.
The last item related issue I have it that the only recovery focused item, the Chain Chomp is limited to the Baby Characters. I’m not sure why this was done by choice but if you ever feel like you’re struggling on a certain track or cup, you can use Baby Mario or Luigi to help you as they have access to the first recovery item in the series. It pulls you along the track very quickly but wildly flings you around when you’re attached to it which is why I assume it was replaced with the Bullet Bill in every game since.
While these seem like major problems to the average player, the less chaotic common item pool and wide tracks allow you to drive confidently without getting stopped frequently by mistakes or being attacked by other players. The game is also built around the fact that items are more powerful than usual with most normal and special items spinning you out (the least slowing damage type) instead of getting you flipped which stops you dead in your tracks.
The game has definitely aged well and has aged significantly better than the games before it. While having the most unique features, it’s still well grounded and feels just like the other entries in the series once you get started. The unique features when you boil them down to purely gameplay changes are mostly mild, quality of life changes such as having 2 item slots instead of 1 and being able to use the loose kart movement to smoothly slide along the width of the track allowing you slide past large obstacles and fluidly take turns that in other games wouldn’t be possible due to the totally different steering style.
Every Mario Kart before and since Double Dash has had its own flaws too and they all even the games out to be consistently enjoyable across the series. Double Dash itself mellows out after its improvements and flaws to be high up on the Mario Kart game tier-list. With great new features and not many flaws to dampen the game enough to be boring or frustrating, the game can be easily enjoyed by everyone and is an easy addition to a game collection or just as a casual pick-up.
Overall, I enjoyed the game a lot and I can agree the game is very special but, if I want the game to come back in the future, I would much prefer this to be a mode in another game rather than game an entire separate game built around it. If you can find it, go and pick it up if you can avoid the current GameCube game value spike.