Mario Kart Online - insight and opinion
Mario Kart DS Online: Hugely anticipated and received, but is it a false start for Nintendo’s Wi-Fi connection service? SFFWorld investigates… To imagine how far Mario Kart has come since its humble beginnings on the SNES is little short of staggering. The classic formula of simple car handling mechanics and banana throwing still thrive in game systems around the globe – most recently in Mario Arcade GP, but more importantly in the Nintendo DS. Mario Kart DS is one of the most important games Nintendo have released. With it, the weight of the new Wi-Fi connection service rests on its shoulders, while also flying the flag for Nintendo DS in a dominated portable games market that has seen fresh adversary in the form of Sony PSP.
So how does Mario Kart DS handle online? Here’s what the Nintendo mags won’t tell you… Like every other Mario Kart fan, I was more than just slightly eager at the prospect of taking my game online. I bought a Nintendo Wi-Fi usb connector (which is surprisingly hard to find in the shops here in the UK) and after a short installation process, I was ready to roll. Upon entering the server selection screen, you are prompted with a choice of playing worldwide opponents, those on your continent, your rivals, or your friends. Lets say that as your kart has learner plates, you decide to select the ‘rivals’ option, which should pit you against other players with a similar wins to loss ratio. Whichever mode you choose, you’ll most likely have to wait a good few minutes while a game is found for you. I’m the patient type, but 2,3,4 minutes waiting for a game that hundreds of thousands of others are supposedly playing can be slightly irritating.
On top of that, you are not guaranteed to play the maximum 3 players to race against – in this particular example I waited 3 minutes to get a one-on-one rivals game against a player with a record of 1152 wins and 108 losses. Is that a rival? No, it’s a death wish – and unfortunately this is quite common within the rivals setting – you may get a couple of strugglers with an equal amount of wins to losses, but you’ll also get the token kart shark who’ll eat the others alive. For a Mario Kart player who is looking to improve his game steadily, the rivals option is simply not accurate enough to use.
I’ll admit that my common sense was no match for my enthusiasm and false sense of racing ability when I first went online. I didn’t go for the rivals option first, I selected ‘Worldwide’ and got matched against what I guessed would be 3 Koreans, judging by their name text. For those of you less-informed, Korean gods take the form of Mario and Lara Croft – a church to us is a Gamecube to them. Hardcore to say the least, and it showed when ‘4th’ was splashed across my screen 4 times in a row (ask me and I’ll rattle off an excuse about my thumbs freezing up or something).
It’s fair to say that should you want to venture worldwide, you should be pulling out the stops on the continental option - my personal favourite as wait times seem shorter and I got more opponents to play against - something that is imperative if you want to rack up a good record. Here’s why: A Mario Kart DS online game consists of 4 racers, 4 races, and a point scoring system that sees the best player of the 4 races take 1st place. After the tournament your position is recorded according to the number of points gained throughout the game – so it’s in your best interests to finish first and get 3 wins to your record – that is, if your fellow gamers don’t bail on you. If your points tally fails to break into two digits, it means your nan could probably do better and as a reminder it should be engraved into your wins/losses record.
Unfortunately, it is more likely that your opponent will quit to avoid a loss on his record, and deny you a win on yours. The more players you have makes it more likely you’ll record at least a win if you finish first, but it shouldn’t be this way, nor should you have consider easing off the pedal a tad in order to keep your opponents from quitting a tourney that you deserve to win. Integrity it seems, is not on the menu at Chez MK. It’s the most common user complaint with the game – and as every game should reward fair and skilled play, it’s disappointing that a fundamental law of gaming has been naively overlooked on Mario Kart DS. Finding fools to play online is easy, finding friends is harder.
Mario Kart DS uses a friend code system that only becomes effective when you meet the player outside of the game. At no point is your code visible to others online, and the absence of communication between players other than the ‘your opponent has disconnected’ message make finding an honest game against a Mario rather than a Wario a difficult process – though online clans and communities formed through message boards and websites are helping to solve this problem. Join one of these and you’ll be able to play people you can converse with outside of the game, and adds character to the faceless masses you compete against. If your opponents aren’t quitting, there’s a good chance they’ll be snaking – a difficult technique that exploits the mini turbo attained while turning corners. I’d sooner encounter a real snake than a snaker if it meant I had a better chance of a fair game. Although snaking is effectively available to everyone, it makes life difficult for less-skilled players and casual gamers who don’t want to spend hours practising a skill that takes advantage of an innovative racing idea. If you see somebody select Yoshi, beware: his egg car excels in handling and acceleration making it the ideal snaking mobile.
Again, this is another factor you shouldn’t have to think about in Mario Kart and what results is a sense of disappointment that gamers are so desperate to win that they’ll exploit and cheat their way to a 5-star rating. There are however, glimpses of hope on the horizon – there is talk of Nintendo renovating the online functionality of Mario Kart DS this year after concerns prompted a survey to their users to highlight areas of despair within the service, cheaters being the focal point. Whatever steps are taken to overcome the initial naivety displayed by Nintendo will surely be for the better. Anything less and what remains of Mario Kart DS will be a disappointing reflection of an amazing idea undermined by negative players in an environment far removed from the online gaming utopia Mario Kart fans always dreamed about.
Matthew Long © 2006