GameCube Week continues on In Third Person! Did I wrongfully dismiss Mario Kart: Double Dash when it first came out in the early 2000s?
From its origins on the Super Nintendo, to the magnum opus that is Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on the Nintendo Switch, I’ve been with Nintendo’s kart racer since its inception. Though it’s never had any real competition to its throne, I haven’t always been high on every entry in the series. I bounced off of Mario Kart 7 on the 3DS really quickly for feeling stale. Mario Kart: Super Circuit on the Gameboy Advance was another weak entry in the series, as the hardware simply didn’t have the horsepower to translate the high-speed thrills to the small screen.
And then there’s Mario Kart: Double Dash. I remember really disliking it upon release. My distaste for the game was so strong that I dropped the game out of my rotation almost immediately. When I hooked up the GameCube again in 2019 to stream it, I had totally forgotten why I hated it in the first place. Do I still feel the same way about it now?
Mario Kart: Double Dash is the one game in the series that is immediately identifiable at a glance. Unlike the other console games in the series, Double Dash is the only one that asks players to pick two different characters to play as. They ride together in a special car built for a driver in the front, and a buddy in the back who can punch nearby karts or launch weapons.
Having two drivers opened up a few new gameplay possibilities. Up until this point, players would “fake” their way into two items by holding the first item out behind them while storing a new on in their item slot. With one slot per driver, you got two right away without having to hold down the item button.
Picking up items also gave you a chance at getting a character-specific special item. Yoshi and Birdo could get a homing egg that would not only hit another drive, but also drop three random items onto the track. Before Chain Chomp became a standard item, it was a special item that only Baby Mario and Baby Luigi could use. Mixing-and-matching different special items was greatly encouraged, though I don’t know exactly how much it impacts the balance of play. Nevertheless, it gave players more options as they careened along the track.
This two-driver system had one big benefit to me that I completely overlooked at the time: co-op play. Whether you were chauffeuring a younger sibling or a grizzled Mario Kart veteran, being able to work as a team was a big selling point for many. At the time, my brother and I were skilled enough drivers that neither of us wanted to relinquish full control. In hindsight, this feature probably went a long way towards easing players into the franchise.
Having played it recently, the thing about Double Dash that I took for granted were its tracks. I’ve always loved the giant cannon from DK Mountain and the so-simple-yet-brilliant Baby Park, but there are a bunch of great tracks here that I’ve grown to appreciate more as they returned in future games. I think the only course I actively dislike is Mushroom City, but the rest of the tracks are great.
Looking back on it, I don’t really remember what made me so upset about Mario Kart: Double Dash. The two-driver feature doesn’t really shake up the gameplay balance in any particular way, but it does give players the opportunity to play as a team. It also has some really great tracks that continue to shine when they appeared in later installments of the franchise. Did I get caught up in the 7.9 hype train? Was I already being an old man gamer who liked the good old days of karts with only one driver? My memory fails me, but in retrospect, it was a pretty silly beef to harbour for the past 10+ years.
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