Nintendo is a curious puzzle of a company, with each decision they make more puzzling and curious than the last. While Japanese companies like Capcom, Konami, Sega and Tecmo drown in a sea of their own ineptitude trying to chase the brass ring of bullshit mobile gaming and what they think westerners want, Nintendo continues to thrive just being Nintendo. It’s kind of scary and kind of awesome. True, Nintendo just announced a partnership with Mobile games company DeNA, but I’m sure what they release will have the usual Big N polish, and not be the typical iPhone garbage like a Sonic endless runner or a Street Fighter or Resident Evil with *shudder* touch screen controls. It’ll also hopefully keep a lid on rip-off crap like Flappy Bird.
But this isn’t about Nintendo’s future, this is about their past, and how they choose to make that past legally available to current gen gamers. Their latest head scratcher is to offer Virtual Console games for the Game Boy Advance and DS not on the similarly portable 3DS but on the WiiU. Sure, the WiiU’s gamepad is a sort-of-but-not-really portable system in and of itself, but it would make much more sense to release games designed to be for short burst gameplay on the go on Nintendo’s current handheld system. But if you’re like me and you only dust off the 3DS when you’re dragged kicking and screaming to your Mother-in Law’s house, having these expertly designed games available on a home console is a godsend. I’ve always been a big fan of the SNES Super Game Boy and Gamecube Game Boy Player, the fun novelty of playing small games on a big screen, and this is just a continuation of that. But why not regular Game Boy games then, which have thus far been exclusive to the 3DS VC? I’d love to play Game Boy classics like Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins, Kirby’s Dream Land and Donkey Kong on either the WiiU’s gamepad or my TV, but by the same token it’d be nice to have a Sony-esque crossplay option for the GBA and DS games on my 3DS. Again, another curious decision. Nintendo is a rare and exotic bird indeed.
What does make sense though is the selection of games available. Some of the first games available for each system have been their respective Mario Karts. Despite being a big Mario Kart fan and a proud owner of several GBA and DS iterations, I somehow never owned or even played the GBA’s Mario Kart Super Circuit(2001) and the DS’ Mario Kart DS(2005). Needless to say when they were put up for sale on the WiiU’s eShop I was anxious to purchase them and dive in.
Mario Kart Super Circuit is best viewed through rose colored 16 bit glasses. I’m not saying it’s a bad game by any stretch of the imagination, it’s actually very good for its time, but between the two games reviewed here, and WiiU’s Mario Kart 8 and it’s amazing DLC (I’ve been playing a lot of Mario Kart lately), this is definitely the weakest of the bunch. But again, for an early GBA game and only the third game in to overall MK series, it’s quite an accomplishment. Think Mario Kart 64 run through a filter of the original SNES Super Mario Kart and you have the idea. The game looks great, with an interface and sprites seemingly taken straight from 64, with the Mode 7-esque tracks of the SNES version, some directly from that version. Yes this was the first game to feature “classic tracks”, as a matter of fact the entire 20 track roster from the SNES game is unlockable.
It’s easier said than done though, as the gameplay here takes some getting used to. 50cc feels waaaaay slow, and bumping the difficulty up will leave you turning all over the place if you try to powerslide. Stick with it though and it starts to feel better, if not still just a tad too slippery. The usual game modes are here, time trials, single races and the battle mode. The emulation here is spot on, with several different options available for viewing the game on the gamepad, your TV or both. We preferred the smoothed out perfect pixel mode, but your mileage may vary. This is a genuinely good game if a little dated. Definitely worth a download and not just for the historical significance.
Mario Kart DS is a different beast altogether, it was released between Gamecube’s MK Double Dash and Mario Kart Wii and it’s more modern pedigree shines through. No half measures this time, character models and tracks are in full 3D and they look outstanding for their time and still hold up pretty well now, even compared to 3DS’ Mario Kart 7. 32 tracks are here from the entire history of the franchise, including classics like Moo Moo Farm and Frappe Snowland that would go on to be immortalized in future installments. The original tracks are no slouches though, with instant classics like Wario Stadium, Tick Tock Clock and Delfino Square making their debut. Gameplay feels spot on, even though the powersliding techniques would still see further refinement in subsequent iterations.
The usual battle and time trial modes are here again but the star is Mission Mode. Curiously never returned to in the series (again, Nintendo works in mysterious ways), this mode gives a specific character a task, say to drive backwards through a portion of a course, or collect a certain amount of coins. They are then judged on their time and allowed to proceed accordingly. Each set of 7 challenge maps ends with a boss fight using the mechanics of the battle mode. These are extremelly fun and reminiscent of the Adventure modes in Diddy Kong Racing. Seriously Nintendo, bring this back! It’s awesome!
Emulation is handled very well and very interestingly, offering up a bevy of options for assigning the DS’ two screens between your gamepad and TV. Some of these are more useful than others but we chose the conventional, having the top screen on our TV and the bottom screen on the Game Pad. Prior to WiiU’s masterful Mario Kart 8 I would probably have said that this was the best game in the series. Seriously, it surpasses MK Wii and MK7 for sheer variety of tracks and tightness of gameplay. And the Mission Mode just puts things over the top. Highly recommended.
What’s next for Nintendo’s most successful nostalgia cash cow? Adding Gamecube and 3DS emulation to the WiiU would allow the entire Mario Kart series to be played on a single machine, which would be very cool. Nintendo is a very patient company, Earthbound fans will tell you that, and if there’s easy money to be made they’ll get it… eventually.