Racing on the Gamecube
Mario Kart Double Dash, Kirby Air Ride, and Wave Race Blue Storm
Whether playing alone or competing against friends, racing games are usually a hit. They tend to have widespread appeal, especially the less realistic ones. And there are few game companies that know widespread appeal more than Nintendo. While the Nintendo Gamecube did not exactly wow consumers back in 2001, it has been increasingly popular in recent memory as a retro console. So how do racing games fare on the Gamecube?
My first experience with the Gamecube was somewhere in the late 2000s or early 2010s. I was in elementary or middle school, and I had a Wii for a few years. When I learned that Gamecube games were playable on the Wii, I was excited. But my prepubescent dreams were crushed when I learned that the Wii needed a Gamecube memory card. It never occurred to me that I could just buy one online until I was a junior in college. I had become more interested in retro gaming by then, so I grabbed my debit card and found some Gamecube games secondhand. Along with classics like Super Smash Bros. Melee and Mario Party, I bought some racing games: Mario Kart Double Dash, Kirby Air Ride, and Wave Race Blue Storm.
What Took Me So Long: I’ll lump all of the Gamecube games in this section. I have a Nintendo Switch that takes a lot of my time when it comes to gaming. While I love the Switch, I recognize that I have other consoles and games that I can play.
Mario Kart Double Dash
Why I Bought It: It was a Gamecube best seller and many Nintendo fans call it the best Mario Kart game.
My Experience: If you’ve played a Mario Kart game before, then Double Dash is more of the same. It’s not as graphically impressive as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, but those games are 16 years apart. Its cartoony art style still holds up today, although Mario and friends look like they’ve been dipped in wax. The handling took a bit for me to get used to. It felt a bit slippery at times, but I was able to utilize the game’s drift mechanic to speed ahead of the competition.
Double Dash touts the feature of playing as two characters at once. One character drives while the other uses items, and you can switch the characters’ positions with the press of a button. This is the first game in the series that lets you hold two items at once, and the feature was so beloved that it eventually returned in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. With two items, there are more opportunities to launch shells, drop banana peels, and boost with mushrooms. I found that this made races a lot more fun, albeit much more chaotic.
For many, the fun of Mario Kart comes from playing together. Every game in the series can be enjoyed via local multiplayer, and newer games have added online multiplayer. Double Dash, along with every other Gamecube game, lacks online functionality. Luckily, I had some friends around to help me test the multiplayer modes. First off, there were the options of racing or battling. The races were fun enough, but the battle mode was the real star of the show. There was never a dull moment as balloons were popped and coins were stolen. The enclosed nature of each battle mode map meant that items ricocheted all over the place. Double Dash was a hectic, fast-paced experience that’s fun solo or with friends.
Kirby Air Ride
Why I Bought It: I’ve been a fan of the Kirby series ever since I played Kirby Super Star Ultra on my DS as a kid. Air Ride is an overlooked entry in the series due to its Gamecube release, but those who have played it tend to sing its praises. It was also the last game in the Kirby series that Masahiro Sakurai, Kirby’s creator, worked on. Being the only racing game in the series, it stands out compared to the myriad of platformers and puzzle games Kirby is otherwise known for.
My Experience: For a game that only uses the left thumbstick and one button, Kirby Air Ride has a complex learning curve. When blasting through race tracks on your air ride machine (the vehicles in this game) of choice, you have to manage a few small mechanics that all work off of each other. You accelerate by pushing the left thumbstick forwards, but if you hold it forward after jumping off a ramp, you will divebomb straight into the ground and lose speed. Instead, you must pull your air ride machine up by pulling down on the thumbstick. This way, you make a smooth landing and retain your speed. In the place of a traditional drift, the A button is your boost. When you come to a sharp turn in a track, first hold the A button while turning, then release to boost in the direction you’re facing. While the control scheme is simple, Kirby Air Ride’s stark differences from traditional racing games made my first few races a bit awkward. After practicing for a little while, I was able to get a handle on the controls and start having fast and fun races. I was not able to try this game’s local multiplayer, but I bet it would be plenty of fun after everyone masters the control scheme.
Kirby has the power to turn inhaled enemies into copy abilities, just like in the mainline games. Pressing the A button near an enemy on the track will result in Kirby swallowing them whole and temporarily gaining their powers. When you have a copy ability, you can attack your opponents by pressing the A button. Many of the mainstay copy abilities like Fire, Ice (called Freeze in this game), Sword, and Bomb can be used in races.
On top of the main racing mode (known as Air Ride), there are two other fun game modes: Top Ride and City Trial. As its name would suggest, Top Ride is a top-down race on a track that fits on the whole screen. It reminds me of slot-car racing, and I was able to master this mode a lot faster. I saved City Trial, the most complex game mode, for last. In this mode, you have a few minutes to race around an open city, collecting power-ups to boost your air ride machine’s stats. After the time limit expires, everyone competes in a final challenge. This challenge could be anything from a race to a destruction derby to a high jump competition.
The three different game modes each provide unique experiences that add to this game’s longevity. I recommend Air Ride for standard, traditional fun, Top Ride for short bursts, and City Trial for when you have a lot of time to mess around.
Wave Race Blue Storm
Why I Bought It: I found this game used at a store for less than 10 dollars. I checked the reviews online, and many of them were positive. A well-received game for such a low price seemed like a steal, but it would only be worth the money I paid if I actually played it.
My Experience: Out of the three Gamecube racing games I played this week, Wave Race Blue Storm was the most complex. You control a racer on a jet ski in this game, and while I’ve never operated a jet ski in my life, I’d like to imagine it would handle as it did here. Races naturally take place on the water, and it can get choppy if the weather’s not good. My first races were as rough as the waves, but there are techniques that make controlling your jet ski easier. You must use your racer’s body to keep control, whether you’re crouching to reduce the impact of waves or leaning to take a sharper turn. I’d describe this game as challenging but fair; the game doesn’t get much easier, but you’ll get better.
When competing in races, coming in first isn’t the only objective. You have a turbo meter that, when filled, lets you boost ahead at high speeds. You can partially fill up the meter at the start by accelerating right when the lights turn green. The main method of filling your turbo meter, however, is by passing flags. You must pass by yellow flags on the left and red flags on the right. If you miss a flag, you are given a strike, and you automatically lose if you get five strikes. It was fun to boost past competition multiple times in one race, but you must be smart about using the turbo. You’ll fall off your jet ski if you hit any obstacles on the track. Boosting makes it harder to make precise turns, so I recommend you save the turbo for straightaways. I fell off many times in my playthrough, but I always wanted to get back on the jet ski and finish the race.
Summary: Whether it’s the chaotic fun of Mario Kart Double Dash, the surprising complexity and variety of Kirby Air Ride, or the more realistic, challenging edge of Wave Race Blue Storm, each racing game I looked at this week had a unique appeal. While the single player modes of these games were fun, I believe the real fun comes in multiplayer. Double Dash was a blast with friends, and I bet the same could be said about the other racing games. There are plenty of other racing games on the Gamecube to try, but I’d like to switch things up. I hope you can join me next week, where I’ll check out some rhythm games with an action twist.
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