bill-swift - January 29, 2014
Here we are again, pushing the boundaries of just what the hell ‘retro' actually means. When you're a renegade no-effs-to-give badass like we are, you can do anything you damn well please. You can ride a flaming motorbike through a river of gasoline like Evel Knievel. You can pick your nose in public with impunity. And you can definitely pretend that the Gamecube's early-2000s heyday counts as nostalgic.
2003, to be precise, saw the release of Mario Kart: Double Dash!!. It was the fourth installment in the series, and is still the most crazy-ass and controversial a decade later. Mario Kart is hardly known for paradigm-shifting revolution with every release (you know the old phrase, ‘If it isn't broken... just give it a lick of paint and watch as everybody dashes out to buy it like their balls are on fire'), but here's one franchise entry that dared to be different.
Well, in some respects. This wasn't the game that brought Grand Theft Auto-esque drive-by shootings and/or drug-running jobs to the series (do Nintendo ever check their suggestion box?). The games' staple elements are present and correct here, with the usual complement of singleplayer cups and multiplayer races and battles. The presentation is as adorably toontastic as you could ask for, and looked rather great in Karts' only second foray into 3D.
The handling is a little eccentric. Or a lot eccentric. Well, first-time players may find themselves drunkenly careening across the road like Justin Bieber, freshly-arrested prince of whiny dumbassery, but otherwise the setup is as expected. Until you notice that someone else is trying to squeeze into the kart with Bowser and his giant lizard ass.
Yes indeed, the first tasty little slice of gimmickry in Double Dash was the dual-racer mechanic. From the generous crop of characters, you select a driver and passenger, both of whom have different functions in races and can switch positions at will. The driver --if you can avoid fouling your undercrackers in amazement at this revelation-- drives. Meanwhile, the guy on the back gets up to all kinds of shenanigans.
They take charge of the weapons you've collected, smiting opponents in the ‘nads with banana peels and shells and all of that good stuff. When unarmed in co-op, they can also perform a sneaky punching move at (very) close range, which will spin other karts out. This gave rise to the shady ramming-punching technique, which was as hilarious as it was dickish and infuriating.
This installment also started the Mario Kart tradition of craptacular novelty characters. Was anybody's life incomplete before they got the opportunity to race as Petey-effing-Piranha? It wasn't. But shit happens, and continues to happen. It happened to all of our faces in the latest game, Mario Kart 8, when the fatass Honey Queen from Super Mario Galaxy was added to the roster. Against the wishes of everybody ever.
Overall, Double Dash was quite innovative by series standards. Along with the two-man(/princess) karts, the item system was revamped a little. Everybody had their own signature pick-up, be it Mario or Luigi's fireballs or Wario's Bob-ombs, which shook the formula up a little. It's telling, though, that few of these tweaks saw the light of day again.
Are the current bikes, gliders and underwater doohickeys more gimmicky, or less? Who the hell knows. All we're really assed about is that the black sheep of the family had some great tracks, and is as important a part of Mario Kart history as any other.
Source of images: gamefaqs.
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