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Mario Kart: Double Dash Might Not Be the Worst Video Game of All Time
written by Sam Greenspan

Approximately seven years ago, just two months into this website, I wrote a list that was far too epic in scope and far too hot take-y to attempt at that point, or, really any point. (Even though it would be several years before the term "hot take" was even around.) It was a list of the 11 Worst Mario Games, In Order. I was biting off more than I could chew just with that title alone.

However, my number one pick was an easy one for me: Mario Kart: Double Dash for Nintendo Gamecube. The rest of the list was presumptuous, but not that top pick. I said things like, "[it] was so bad that it would've killed off any lesser video game series... their decision to put two riders in a Kart was terrible... the tracks also suck... the tracks get WAY too littered with stuff... [and] they messed up the power sliding from the N64 Kart game."



At the time, I believed every word. Yes, it was a hot take, but not one proffered up solely for the sake of contrarianism. I loathed Mario Kart: Double Dash from the day it came out in 2003, arrived at my door and sullied my lovely purple Gamecube. And I maintained those feelings through 2008 when I wrote that list, and kept on maintaining them for years and years to come.

Fast forward to about two months ago.

I was going through our storage looking for Half Baked on DVD (so I could write about why Half Baked holds up so well) and I found my copy of Double Dash. It was in pristine condition, having been untouched in approximately 12 years.

"Why not?" I thought, "I'll give it another chance. It's been so long."

So I hooked up my Gamecube, scraped the battery acid out of the controller's battery pack, popped in Mario Kart: Double Dash and decided to give it a run.

And after playing it during work breaks for the past two months, I can say something I never thought I'd say: I don't hate it anymore.

I mean, I wasn't entirely wrong. The two-riders-to-a-kart thing was way too gimmicky (and since it was dropped from future iterations of Mario Kart, I'd say Nintendo agreed with me). The tracks aren't as well-designed as the ones in Mario Kart 64; there's not a single good shortcut in the entire game. The track gets very littered with items, often obnoxiously so, which constantly break up the momentum of the race. The power sliding is very different (but eventually I adjusted to it).

None of those is Mario Kart: Double Dash's true mortal sin though. In 2003, every flaw I pointed out really just danced around my ultimate problem with the game: It wasn't Mario Kart 64.

The more I played it now -- older, more measured, more years removed from playing N64 Kart -- the more I recognized that I never could've loved it. Or even liked it. I more or less wanted a Mario Kart 64 expansion pack: 16 new tracks, everything else identical. Instead of giving me that, I got something totally different. I was destined to hate it, and I did.

There's a parallel here to another moment like this in the Mario chronology: The jump from Super Mario Bros. to Super Mario Bros. 2. When Nintendo rolled out SMB2 in the U.S., the only resemblances it bore to its predecessor were characters named Mario, Luigi and the Princess. Literally everything else was different. But as a kid, I was excited beyond belief for that game. I adored it. I didn't mind the difference. I didn't know better.

But that was when I was pre-cynical. By the time post-teenage me was faced with a somewhat similar scenario with Double Dash, I couldn't stand it.

Now I'm leaning more towards the positive side. The distance from playing N64 Kart in college makes a huge difference. Without the constant comparison to Mario Kart 64, I could even enjoy Double Dash. I even played it enough to get really good at it over these past two months. I figured out the right way to pick and manage the two riders, to handle the special items, to adjust to the power sliding and to beat the tracks. I was finally able to let Double Dash stand on its own, and once I did, I liked it.

I can't believe it took a lifetime's worth of learned maturity for me to appreciate a 12-year-old video game. Maybe it really is a sign of personal growth, of becoming more balanced and contemplative as an adult, of the value of life experience in forming complex and thoughtful opinions. Perhaps the ability to see all of those things as Donkey Kong places a giant banana peel in your path as you race through Waluigi Stadium as a combo of Baby Luigi and Toad doesn't detract from the point, but rather emboldens it: Seeing everything in the world, no matter how seemingly insignificant, through wiser eyes.

Or, ya know, absolutely not.

Anyway, the only downside here is that if Mario Kart: Double Dash isn't the worst Mario game ever, I need to figure out what is. Maybe I should go give Super Mario Sunshine another look -- I mean, a game where the primary action is cleaning has to be a contender, right?


This post was originally published on Monday, July 6, 2015 at 11:00:00 AM under the category Games.

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