We don’t claim to always be correct here at Nintendo Life, but we certainly will fight just as hard to defend our terrible opinions as we do the good ones. Today, thanks to the recent re-release of old Mario Kart tracks in the Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Booster Course Pass, we’re thinking back to Mario Karts of old… and that means discussing our feelings on Mario Kart: Double Dash!!, the surprisingly strategic double-driver kart racer that flipped the Mario Kart formula on its head way before Mario Kart 8‘s gravity gimmick. Spoiler alert: We love it. Mostly.
Is that a good opinion, or a bad one? We’ll never tell.
We will, however, tell you our detailed thoughts on why we love Double Dash so much, almost 20 years after its initial release. It may not have the sharpest graphics, or the widest range of playable characters, or a huge selection of courses (but why would you need anything other than Baby Park, really?) but it still stands as a pretty brilliant entry into the Mario Kart series that wasn’t afraid to shake things up.
So, get your engines revving, because it’s time to wave the big flag that makes races start. Heeere we go!
Kate Gray, Staff Writer (Baby Mario/Baby Luigi)
Mario Kart: Double Dash!! is perhaps the only time that a Mario Kart game has had an extra layer of strategy, with the addition of double drivers. There’s plenty of strategy in the games already, of course — between the racing, the shortcuts, and the items (and when to use them!) the games are basically a three-lap competitive puzzle.
Double Dash’s drivers can be switched over at any time, and they can also hold items, which means that you can essentially bank an item for later. There’s also the extra strategic option of choosing two drivers from the same “team” — Baby Mario and Baby Luigi, for example — to unlock an extra optional item that’s unique to each team. The Babies Mario, for example, have access to a Chain Chomp, which can catapult you into the lead while also chompin’ on all your foes.
Which brings me to the other reason I love Double Dash (other than Baby Park, the GOAT track): More than any other Mario Kart game, it’s easy to claw back victory after being unceremoniously shunted to the back of the pack with a well-timed banana-lightning combo. Several of the items, especially the unique team items, are designed to push you forwards by several places, or at least to severely damage the chances of the other drivers. Or both.
This dynamic rubber-banding means that 1st Place never feels locked down, like it does sometimes in Mario Kart 8 — anyone, at any time, can suddenly end up ahead of the rest, only to drop back down to 8th thanks to an unfortunate late-lap mishap. It’s tense right up until the end of each race, which is something I can’t really say about MK8, where I’ll often be in 1st for nearly 3 laps without much challenge. Is that a brag? You bloody bet it is. (*Toad voice*) I’m the best.
Ollie Reynolds, Staff Writer (Bowser/Bowser Jr)
Nearly 20 years after its release, Mario Kart: Double Dash!! is still probably the biggest shake-up the franchise has ever seen. Mario Kart Wii introduced motion controls and brought the surprisingly intuitive Wii Wheel into the limelight, but as someone who once worked in video game retail, you can bet I’ve seen some pretty grubby Wii Wheels in my time – so I could do without them.
Meanwhile, Mario Kart 8 has its fun anti-grav features, but honestly, beyond the speed boosts you could get by slamming into other players, it didn’t really add anything unique to the overall gameplay. Double Dash, however, introduced an incredibly unique, strategic element with its two-person karts, allowing you a level of control over item usage that hasn’t been matched since.
On a more personal note, however, Double Dash contains some of my favourite elements from the entire series. The combination of Bowser and Bowser Jr nets you an awesome spiked green shell which, if you’re lagging behind the rest of the racers, will wipe out several in one go if you’re accurate enough. Not only that, but the game includes one of my all time favourite tracks with Waluigi Stadium, a course teeming with obstacles and ramps that I’ve replayed more times than I’d care to admit (Nintendo, you need to bring this one to the Booster Course Pass!).
Double Dash had its fair share of naysayers upon release; its somewhat awkward drifting mechanic took a bit of getting used to and some of the courses feel a tad simplistic by today’s standards, but for me, it was the first Mario Kart that I properly got into and will remain a firm favourite. Am I blinded by nostalgia? Maybe. But I’m also right.
Gavin Lane, editor (DK/not-DK)
When it comes to the ‘best’ Mario Kart, I’m of the opinion that it’s invariably the one you’ve played most with three pals and perhaps a few frosty beverages. In that scenario, it’s tough to go wrong with any of them, and for me it was Double Dash at university.
I adored MK64 (my first Mario Kart), but the mixture of incredible new courses and fully-3D characters in Double Dash really made an impression. DK Mountain and Baby Park stick in my mind as classic tracks: the former remembered for the race to the barrel, the cute buck-toothed volcano, and that perilous shortcut before the final bridge (not to mention the incredible viral video this track produced — see below); the latter for its frenzied item-heavy mania.
Simply switching characters and items was a joy which really made this entry feel deeper than the others. Tapping ‘Z’ to change driver and watch them hop between seats really made the upgrade from MK64’s 2D sprites tangible. Slide into a corner, drop a trailing banana skin to foil someone on your tail, switch characters, activate your saved Starman and boost out of the drift, ploughing through a carefully-laid trap and into some poor soul who was about to cross the line — what a feeling! It upped the strategy in an incredibly satisfying way that I’ve never experienced in any of the other entries.
Double Dash could still be unfair (again, see below), but it gave you a fighting chance to outwit your opponents if you were canny through its namesake gimmick.
Alana Hagues, Staff Writer (Toad/Toadette)
I spent a ludicrous amount of hours on Double Dash as a kid. Really, the GameCube on the whole is the console where I formed a lot of my most-formative gaming memories, and I cherish that era deeply. And really, my love for Double Dash has just bloomed over the years.
Double Dash feels like the last Mario Kart to have a really distinctive gimmick. Sure, anti-gravity is fun and allows for creative course design, and things like Mirror Mode, customisable vehicles, and paragliders have all been seen in every game since their inclusion. So why oh why won’t Nintendo bring back having two racers!? You could do your standard versus races with a friend or three, but why not team up with one of your buddies and have them sit on the back and throw items for you? When someone is controlling the back character, they can also swipe at another kart if they’re close enough and steal their item. Brutal!
I always picked Toad and Toadette, who made her debut in this very game! The mushroom-headed duo were a pretty noisy pair, which always used to annoy my friends, especially whenever I got their signature item the Golden Dash Mushroom. This gilded fungus gives you infinite speed boosts for a set period of time, so those sneaky blue shells that pushed me four places down the ranks felt like nothing.
I still have my original copy of Double Dash and a launch-day GameCube, so I booted it up after playing through the Booster Course Pass – and geez, am I rough! My old save file from 2008 (how is that 14 years ago?) has every single mode fully completed, with King Boo and Petey Piranha to boot, and despite being twice as old, I could only manage one first place in 150cc in the 12 courses I replayed. Phew. Good thing it wasn’t a LAN party, but I didn’t love getting whooped by NPCs for a few hours. This is what Mario Kart Wii’s bikes have done to me.
If you still need convincing that Double Dash is the best Mario Kart game, I mean, c’mon, it has DK Mountain, Dino Dino Jungle, Baby Park, and the best Bowser Castle in the series?
Tom Whitehead, Deputy Editor (erm, see below)
I was asked to contribute to this because I’m strange and didn’t have a GameCube. No, really, and I still don’t, I missed that entire generation of consoles (PS2 and OG Xbox too) and played pretty much exclusively on a creaky PC back in the day. It’s just how it was.
For me, then, Double Dash!! has always looked like an oddity, having only played it briefly at some get-togethers many years ago. I’ve had to ask others to explain the whole point of having two characters in the kart; it sounds cool from a single player perspective, to be fair, with strategic options adding to the racing thrills. In Co-Op though? As the younger brother I feel like I would permanently be in the back throwing items, which has zero appeal to me.
My experience with the series has been with its Nintendo 64, Wii, 3DS, Wii U and Switch entries, then, in which I’ve devoted hundreds (actually thousands) of hours. In those games Mario Kart isn’t just a jolly time, it’s a brutal ‘only the strong survive’ struggle. Play a bit of MK8 Deluxe online nowadays and it’s a humbling, bruising experience that nevertheless keeps me coming back. Part of what I love is the simple formula at play – it’s just you, your vehicle of choice, and whatever items the RNG Mario Kart gods give you. It’s basic and classic, with anti-grav and all that jazz really just making the tracks more exciting. The core gameplay loop, and how items are used, has been unchanged for me over decades.
I’m sure Double Dash!! is awesome, but maybe there’s a reason Nintendo only went with that approach once and hasn’t returned. Sometimes perfectly tuned simplicity is better.
We’re not all in agreement about whether or not Double Dash!! was a great spin on an established series, but there is at least one thing we can all agree on: Mario Kart rules. Whether or not we’re all aligned on which one rules most is unimportant, as long as we can keep playing together!
But now is your time to voice your opinion, and we expect it to get spicy in the comments, too — so let us know your thoughts on whether or not Double Dash!! was a triumph or a misstep in the poll below!
Here’s some more light Mario Kart reading for you, as well: