Mario Kart: Double Dash!! (Nintendo, 2003)

The Mario Kart series has been around since 1992 and with each new installment released, it’s continued to find innovative ways to ruin millions of friendships worldwide. As is customary, each individual Mario Kart game comes packed with different features meant to elevate it above the version that came before it. For instance, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe includes the full game and all previously-released downloadable content (DLC) from Mario Kart 8 in a single package. However, one game in the franchise introduced a revolutionary mechanic back in 2003 that no succeeding game has attempted to revisit: cooperative play between 2 characters in a single kart. If ever any specific Mario Kart game deserved a direct sequel, it’s Mario Kart: Double Dash!! for the Nintendo GameCube.

Just like the very system it’s hosted on, Mario Kart: Double Dash!! is a woefully underrated video gaming experience. Not only did it pioneer elements that are now considered standard fare for each new addition to the series, but it continues to stand alone as the only way to play Mario Kart with 2 characters simultaneously. Before we analyze just how ground-breaking this kind of playstyle is for this type of game series, let’s discuss all of the key features that Mario Kart: Double Dash!! was the first to introduce.

New Features

While earlier games in the series were known to welcome a new face or two, Mario Kart: Double Dash!! introduced gamers to 11 previously unplayable characters (beginning the weird trend of having baby incarnations of Mario characters as racers) while also being the first to implement the concept of unlockable characters. I remember thinking it was the absolute coolest thing to unlock and play as King Boo and Petey Piranha, both of whom had just recently debuted in Nintendo GameCube titles (Luigi’s Mansion in 2001 and Super Mario Sunshine in 2002, respectively). With the ability to unlock characters also came the induction of selecting and unlocking different vehicles, which was just as rewarding and satisfying for the completionist in all of us to achieve. An honorable mention goes out to the golden Parade Kart, which you unlock by winning the All-Cup Tour in Mirror Mode. This kart is both the only kart in Mario Kart: Double Dash!! that computer characters won’t use, as well as the only kart in the game that sparkles.

King Boo and Petey Piranha (Nintendo, 2003)

Seeing Double

Of course, this game’s major selling point is the ability to play with 2 characters at once. As the title implies, Mario Kart: Double Dash!! allows you to choose 2 different racers from the character select screen. By default, the menu’s layout pairs “like” characters together, such as Mario with Luigi or Bowser with Bowser Jr. However, no racers are ever tethered together. In fact, this game encourages you to choose any character combination that you so desire. By pressing the shoulder buttons together, the game will also randomly assign characters for you if you either can’t make up your mind or want to live on the wild side. Just think – you can be responsible for Mario and Bowser working together for once, even if it’s only to win a race.

Character Select Screen (Nintendo, 2003)

During a race, switching between which character sits in front – driving – and which stands behind – acquiring and using items – is as quick and simple as a click of the Z button. Half the fun of racing is just shuffling back and forth between each character and watching how seamlessly they shift roles. I must admit that as much as I hate getting hit by projectiles, I can’t help but laugh whenever a blue shell detonates my kart and sends my rear character careening backwards while the front character keeps on driving. The rear character holds onto the back of the kart for dear life, legs sliding against the pavement while facedown and screaming, until they can jump back up and rejoin the race.

Even when hit by a projectile that isn’t a blue shell, neither character will ever let go of any held items. If Mario is standing and holding a banana peel in his right hand but is switched to the driver’s seat, he’ll continue holding the banana peel in his right hand while steering with his left. This serves as a way for players to maximize the number of items they’re holding, as well as to strategize when to switch their characters and time the use of their held items. The series introduction of double item boxes, which was exclusive to this entry for over a decade, also makes it easier to stack items and cause even more mayhem on the road.

Double Item Boxes (Nintendo, 2003)

Specials

As inventive as the swapping mechanic is, the mere function of dual play is not the only highlight of this title. Instead, it’s also the fact that each character has a different special item that only they have access to. This special item only overlaps with a character’s default partner, as both Mario and Luigi’s special items are fireballs. This includes some slight variations of the special item depending on each specific character, as Mario’s fireballs are red while Luigi’s fireballs are green. Other examples of minor differences include Yoshi’s green egg compared to Birdo’s pink egg, as well as Koopa Troopa’s 3 green shells compared to Paratroopa’s 3 red shells. It should be noted that this last difference is somewhat significant in terms of functionality, as green shells ricochet off of boundaries while red shells directly target racers in the lead.

Baby Mario and Baby Luigi's Special Item (Nintendo, 2003)

By encouraging you to pair different characters with each other, the game incentivizes learning which special items best suit your style of play so that you can build your preferred team. After years of mixing and matching characters, my personal favorite pairing is Paratroopa and Toadette, as the former’s special item brings the pain in the form of heat-seeking projectiles while the latter provides speed boosts with her golden mushrooms. Both of these characters are lighter weight, and so I generally choose a medium-sized kart to help anchor them to the course without sacrificing speed.

Battle Mode

Shine Thief (Nintendo, 2003)

As if the regular Grand Prix, Time Trial, and Versus modes weren’t engaging enough, this game has yet another ace up its sleeve. Unlike earlier entries, Mario Kart: Double Dash!! also established a brand new set of multiplayer offerings via the Battle Mode. In this mode, players have the option to face local opponents and/or computers in a balloon-popping game where the last one still holding a balloon wins, a Bob-omb-throwing game where the player that inflicts the most damage using Bob-ombs wins, and a Shine Thief game where the player that’s racked up the most time stealing and holding the Shine Sprite wins. In my opinion, Battle Mode was the most uproarious mode of them all, as it always resulted in the finest screaming matches between me and my friends.

Legacy

Since the release of Mario Kart: Double Dash!!, succeeding titles like Mario Kart Wii and Mario Kart 8 have placed more importance on online functionality, focusing more on the single-player experience. This has been supported by offering up even larger rosters of characters and vehicles to select from and unlock, including new bike and motorcycle designs. With the emergence of the Wii Remote and Joy-Con controllers, each new Mario Kart game also incorporates motion controls that can integrate with wireless steering wheels to make races feel more immersive.

Mario Kart Wii (Nintendo, 2008)

That being said, the most recent installment, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, has seen the return of many features that were previously exclusive to the GameCube title, including the chaotic Baby Park course, double item boxes, and the crowd-pleasing Battle Mode. Despite Nintendo’s conscious effort to appease fan demand by offering remnants of the 2003 gem, we have yet to experience the true return of single kart co-op. Newer generations of gamers may not understand the appeal of choosing multiple racers per vehicle, but I think they’d quickly find that having more options is never a bad thing.

The Perfect Sequel

To make a perfect sequel, all Nintendo would have to do is modernize the co-op mechanics of Mario Kart: Double Dash!! to fit current hardware. In fact, what better system to release a Mario Kart game that involves switching between characters on the fly than the Nintendo Switch? Even if this game didn’t do much to introduce new modes, imagine just how much single kart co-op would expand the game’s playability. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe already has 41 playable characters, and so an even larger roster would create endless possibilities of character combinations to choose from! This could be further boosted by also bringing back special items, which would serve as the perfect opportunity for Nintendo to get creative and give characters all-new game-changing abilities that would keep fans coming back for more.

Mario Kart: Double Dash!! (Nintendo, 2003)

There’s a massive amount of potential for a modern “Double Dash” sequel – so much so that it could even be considered burdensome. I honestly have to wonder if Nintendo is simply satisfied with letting the original game remain a classic of the past, and if campaigning for a port would be more worth my time. Whether or not this is the case, a sequel would make some serious money. Mario Kart has always boasted its replayability, but if this sequel gets made, you can bet you won’t see me much in the real world for a good long while.

Mario Kart: Double Dash!! Television Commercial (Nintendo, 2003)