On November 17, 2003, Nintendo unleashed Mario Kart: Double Dash into the world. While it may be yet another Mario Kart game to those who haven’t played it, the racing title was more than just another sequel in a series that gets a new installment every console generation. Thanks to its racer-swapping mechanic, Double Dash became a kart racer with an unprecedented amount of depth. Even though Mario Kart: Double Dash is 15 years old, and there have been some fantastic games in the series, I have no doubt that the GameCube installment is the best Mario Kart game.
Double the Strategy
A lot of sequels have a core gimmick that helps it stand out from its predecessors, but allowing two characters to race together wasn’t just a gimmick in Double Dash. It added a new layer of strategy to the kart racer, which had become increasingly about items and luck. While those factors are still present in Double Dash (and part of the reason why the overall racing is so fun), the ability to drive as a team added an incredible element that hasn’t been replicated in any of its successors.
In single-player, the addition of two players doesn’t mean a ton. Sure, they can take advantage of each character’s Special Item, which is a powerful item unique to each character, but it still largely feels like normal Mario Kart.
However, two players changes how the game is played. The person manning the back has full control of items (and can even steal them by doing slide attacks) while the driver can focus purely on racing. This adds a layer of communication to the game, and allows for players to find out where their individual skills succeed. On some courses, I might be the better driver, while my teammate has mastered Baby Park. It’s this added layer of cooperation that makes Double Dash such a compelling experience.
Intense Multiplayer Makes It the Best Mario Kart Game
This additional layer of strategy isn’t just what makes Double Dash so much fun in multiplayer races, though. Double Dash was basically the first game to complete Mario Kart‘s core gameplay as several additions, such as the mini-turbos that players can get while drifting, have become common functionality in future titles. Unique to this installment is a titular feature that gives players a greater boost upon the starting line if they both perform a rocket start. It’s also the first title in the series to include a traditional point spread after races. Rather than having just the first four racers receive points, the first place competitor now receives 10 points while everyone down to the seventh place participant receives one point. It allows for comebacks to happen more naturally, and is a more fair and balanced ranking system.
Another innovation in Double Dash was that it significantly expanded how many players could compete in a single match. While Mario Kart 64 topped out at four players, up to 16 players can compete on eight racing teams. That’s over four times the amount seen in the prior game, and it hasn’t been replicated since then as even Mario Kart 8 Deluxe only allows for 12 players to compete at once. Numbers don’t lie, and Double Dash is the best way for the most amount of people to play Mario Kart at once.
Every Course Is Worthwhile
While recent titles have doubled the amount of included courses by pulling from the series’ past, Mario Kart: Double Dash has one of the strongest track line-ups of any kart racer. From the fast-paced Baby Park to the sprawling Dino Dino Jungle, there’s no shortage of fantastic courses to choose from. Several of the tracks even differ lengths from the traditional three lap structure, as Wario Colosseum has only two laps, and the aforementioned DK Mountain foregoes the lap structure completely.
It’s these sort of small touches that make Double Dash so great, and the level of detail really shines when players pay attention to each course. Those who are particularly observant will notice that many of the courses can be seen in the backgrounds of various tracks. For example, while playing Yoshi Circuit, you can spot the Daisy Cruiser in the sea. This isn’t just a cool Easter egg; it helps build a connected world.
A Great Battle Mode
Many recent Mario Kart titles have struggled in this department, but Double Dash had a fantastic battle mode. All three of the variants (Balloon Battle, Shine Thief, and Bob-omb Blast) are fun to compete in, and and all six of the battle courses offer something unique. The two unlockable arenas are particularly cool, as Tilt-a-Kart keeps players on edge by constantly making players fall off its platform and Luigi’s Mansion is a great throwback to one of the GameCube’s best launch titles.
With so many great features, it’s hard to argue against Double Dash being the best Mario Kart game. While Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a great entry and a pivotal part of the Switch’s array of games, it’s not quite as special as Double Dash. Nintendo is obviously going to keep making Mario Kart games but rather than taking too heavily from the Switch or N64 versions, the Big N should focus more heavily on its underrated GameCube classic.