Mario Kart: Double Dash!! (2003)
“OK, class, get into groups of 3 or 4” – words from a teacher more fearsome than the usual guff they give you. I didn’t mind being told by the teacher that I had detention, or that I was to see them after class, or that the lock on the boy’s changing room was double-bolted and I could scream as loud as I liked because nobody was coming to help me. But teamwork? Find a group of people willing to come together and work in harmony? Leave it out. It’s always a dreadful affair – if the teacher places you into random groups, you could be put alongside a group of drongos, or worse still, ambitious people who are hunting to get an A+. And they’ll get that goddam A+ if it means slitting your throat from ear to ear.
Or maybe it’s more torturous for the teacher to leave the class to form their own groups, which can lead to a few moments of excruciating embarrassment when you’re left all on your lonesome and you have to be put into someone else’s clique like some sort of charity case. Does teamwork sound good now?
Things don’t get much better in college. Because it can go two ways, college group work. You could find yourself being the only one with any kind of initiative to do anything, and therefore get yourself lumbered with the bulk of the work as a result. As you slave away, the rest of the slackers go on booze and coke-fueled orgies and go missing for weeks on end.
Or else you’re treated like a leper and you don’t get a look in, don’t know what’s happening, until suddenly you’re up there and it’s your turn to present and speak. Your face goes puce-red and the ground won’t open up and swallow you, no matter how much you implore it to.
If any of the above applies to you, then I’ve got some potentially bad news sunshine, because they want you to be a “team player” in the real world of employment as well. Now, ‘team player’ is usually put in job descriptions as a sort of Human Resources shorthand for “we’re looking for someone who isn’t a prat to be alongside, because you’re going to be with the rest of our staff at least 8 hours a day”. But when the work piles up, a big project comes in, and roles have to be ‘assigned’ and employees brought up to ‘speed’, you have to pretend to want to be part of a group effort. And that, as we know, is distressing.
One wonders how much teamwork and groupthink and brainstorming (me neither) goes on in the white collar sweatshops that are Japanese game development studios. Apparently, some Nintendo bod was so keen on the horrible idea of being a team-player and being extroverted and united for a common goal that they actually decided to make the GameCube Mario Kart game have a two-racer-per-car gimmick.
Step forward Double Dash, one of the quintessential games from the odd experimental era where Nintendo were doing some crazy things with their main franchises. A Mario game where you scrubbed the floor? A Zelda game where you played as an upright cartoon cat? They happened, and there was even a first-person Metroid game into the bargain.
In Double Dash, we have an oddball Mario Kart from a series that had yet to garner the megapopularity it enjoys today. If you think about it, if Double Dash had really taken off, we could be seeing 3, 4, even 5 to a kart today. The premise itself sounds difficult to swallow. After all, in Mario Kart you’ve got enough trouble keeping one character from being hit by a litany of green shells, banana carapaces and mangled Toads who’ve been flung from their karts in violent, high-speed collisions.
And even if you can stop yourself from being whacked, you’ve got to ensure that your character isn’t lardy enough to be a mobile chicane around the track, and yet they must also not be so light that the wind from a flying Blue Shell knocks them into the abyss.
Double Dash introduces individual karts and kart stats for the first time, which means not only will you need to regulate your two chosen characters’ waistlines, but you’ll need to make sure the character combo meshes well with whatever jalopy you’ll have them running in. Honestly, with the amount of variables in your setup, you’re so stressed out by the time you even take to the track that you need hardly worry about giant Bowser Shells flying about the place.
That’s another thing, the items. Ah, here’s an original sin for you – this game is where the flying Blue Shells debuted. There had been Bluesys in the N64 and GBA games, but they were mercifully ground-based, actually beneficial to the person using them and not even used by the computer AI anyway. Here, they’re just one of a number of things that will steal another victory of yours from the Piranha Plant jaws of defeat.
You aren’t going to have much luck defending against the onslaught either, incidentally. You will be told when Red Shells etc. are inbound, but if you’re coming to Double Dash after having played more recent entrants in the series, time and time again you’ll find your defending banana to be released either far too early or just that one frame too late. And if you’re turning a corner, forget about it – the red shell will just T-bone you instead. Sometimes your character and kart combo are quite literally too vast to even be able to see the road in front of you, so you’re vulnerable from the front as well.
But there’s a lot more to deal with. In this game only, there are unique items for each character pairing, e.g. Mario and Luigi have fireballs, or Yoshi and the ever questionable Birdo have item eggs. You can mix and match characters and karts as well, of course, so if you want to finally entertain the grand Mario Kart cuck fantasy and have Waluigi drive Daisy around his own personal stadium in Luigi’s ride, then you can do it. That’s not something I’ve ever done, of course, but the point is that everything is fully customisable, and you’ll get a good laugh out of all of the wild combinations you’ll see out there.
Let’s get out on track. For a start, and probably the biggest drawback in the game outside of Donkey Kong’s foreskin, is that there’s only 16 tracks to work with, four cups of four. This was the same as Mario Kart 64’s tally, which is regrettable, though it must be said that a lot of the tracks in Double Dash rank right up there with the best on the Mario Kart calendar.
There is an All Cup Tour, a final test of the game where all 16 tracks are run through in random order – get 160 points in that, like yours truly has, and you can call yourself the master. But it’s unfortunate: this game came at a time when Nintendo hadn’t added the Retro Cups to the series (they would do so beginning with the DS entry), probably the greatest innovation the series has had.
When the race starts, you will notice quickly that you’ll have one driver and one rear-gunner at all times. They can be switched with a quick dab of the Z-button, but until then, your rear-facing man or woman or Birdo will be throwing items, throwing punches at other opponents, helping you to steer and trying not to get their bum set alight.
Each of your two also-rans can pick up items, though only the person in the back can use them. This is where the teamwork element kicks in – it doesn’t really intrude so much when you’re playing 1-Player. Just another factor to keep track of, like wind speed for incoming Bob-Ombs and acute angles in case Chain Chomp starts nipping at you.
No, only when you and a pal team up and try to get your rubbish kart over the line in first, that’s where the fun begins. Because then, it’s no longer a case of just accelerating and braking. Oh, no. It’s a full shouting fest between two friends similarly losing their minds, each pulling in different directions, swapping positions at the wrong time, whiffing powerslides and falling off track, and generally getting in each other’s way.
It’s teamwork in a microcosm really. It didn’t work in school, it didn’t work in college, it mostly doesn’t work in professional life unless you’re a useful waffler, and it doesn’t really get you the laptimes in Mario Kart: Double Dash either. And yet, it’s the co-op and multiplayer mentalness that makes this game so great, and I haven’t even mentioned the Battle Mode yet.
In a series where the incompetent and uncoordinated can still get the luck and finish first, Double Dash stands out as one of the shining lights of the GameCube era. As one of the bonkers GameCube experiments, it possibly yielded the most positive results of the entire scientific operation. Whether alone or as part of a team, Mario Kart still hasn’t gotten as hectic and wild as this game was.