The Mario Kart franchise hit the Nintendo GameCube in 2003, this time with double the fun. While Mario Kart 64 greatly improved the addicting racing experience introduced on the Super Nintendo, Mario Kart: Double Dash!! took the tried and true formula of racing and drove it to a whole new level. The most obvious addition was the ability to utilize a tag team of racers in each kart, the only game in the franchise to do so. The characters came in set pairs, such as the brothers Mario and Luigi as well as the villainous duo made up of Bowser and Bowser Jr. Each pair had its own special item too, another first (and the only time I believe) for the franchise. Yoshi and Birdo had homing eggs that dropped more items when broken, while Donkey and Diddy Kong had large angry bananas at their disposal. The cast variety allowed players to mix racing combinations to suit their own playing style. If one pairing didn’t suit your fancy, you could simply try another combo, along with a different kart.
Like always, karts, as well as characters, came in three different varieties: light, medium, and heavy. For the most part, light meant low speed but high acceleration, allowing you to recover quickly from taking a hit. Heavy allowed for high top speeds, as well as tighter turning capabilities, but slower acceleration after crashing. Medium was obviously the middle ground between the two and offered a more balanced experience. When first playing this game, I preferred light characters with light karts, but after becoming more experienced I think I like heavier karts now. My preferred racing combo includes Diddy Kong with Bowser Jr. in the Barrel Train kart, which is a light kart that more or less functions like a heavy kart. I also like Baby Luigi because the Chain Chomp item is probably the coolest one in the whole series.
The jump between N64 and GameCube graphics was a huge one. Where Mario Kart 64 was still stuck using sprites superimposed over a 3D environment, Double Dash!! fully realizes the graphical potential of having 3D racers. The framerate and movements of the karts and racers are impeccable, and the track environments are quite nice as well. You’ll race through familiar territory like a scenic beach set on Isle Delfino, as well as the obligatory Rainbow Road (one of the tougher ones in the series, in my opinion). The music overall is very catchy, but the musical tracks get recycled way too often. One musical track will appear in maybe five of the racing tracks. Such little musical variation is kind of ridiculous. It’s a shame because the music in the game is quite good, and I think this Rainbow Road theme is probably my favorite in the franchise.
Double Dash!! brought a lot to the racing table, and it’s unfortunate that it often gets overshadowed by its predecessor. Call me crazy, but I personally don’t find Mario Kart 64 to be the best of the franchise at all (Mario Kart DS may have the pick for that one). The GameCube iteration vastly improved the N64 one in terms of racing mechanics, graphics, and overall fun, and definitely has a place with me as one of my most played games from the series.
- The music, while great, can get repetitive if you play the game a lot (like me).
- Some of the stages can feel samey after a while, like Mushroom Bridge and Mushroom City.
- The first and only game in the series to allow for two drivers, each with their own unique item.
- The smooth 3-D graphics were a huge step up from its N64 predecessor.