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Thursday, January 05, 2006

Race the Knight: Mario Kart DS with Wi-Fi is kewl!

Previously I mentioned here that Lisa got me a Nintendo DS for Christmas and that I've been really impressed with Nintendogs. We got a few other games here too: Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow (which has one of the hardest beginnings I've ever played in a videogame), Super Mario 64 for the DS (still getting used to the crazy camera controls), Pac'nRoll (Lisa's a nut for anything having to do with Pac-Man), and on New Years Eve I ran out and got another game that I'd heard nothing but good about: Mario Kart DS.

First of all, this is a great game in and of itself, even in single-player mode. Longtime fans of the Mario Kart series (going all the way back to the Super Nintendo) will find that this has all the action and humor you'd come to expect from the line. But as any of us who've played a Mario Kart game knows, the real fun is when you play with friends and compete in the race while throwing Koopa shells and Bob-ombs at each other (the one I really hate getting hit with is the lightning bolt that momentarily shrinks you): No telling how many times Lisa and I have thrashed each other playing Mario Kart Double-Dash on the Gamecube. Ideally you and your friends will each have a Nintendo DS and at least one Mario Kart DS cartridge (the game uses the DS's wireless capability to let multiple systems run off one cartridge). But what if you don't know of anyone else with a DS, or what if you do and that friend is located on the other side of the state... or even in another country?

Enter Nintendo's new Wi-Fi Connection: an online service offering free Internet gameplay on DS (and the Nintendo Revolution when it comes out) games that support it. The service just started up in November and there's not many games out at the moment implementing this feature, but there's an awful lot of promise in this, if how Mario Kart DS uses it is any indicator.

Basically, the Nintendo DS has IEEE 802.11 wireless capability built-in. If you take it (and a Wi-Fi enabled game) to most any public "hot-spot" with wireless Internet - or if you have an 802.11b or 802.11g wireless router on your home network - you can access the Wi-Fi Connection with a minimum of configuration on the DS end. It may take a little playing around with the manual settings though: it was two hours from the time I first plugged Mario Kart DS in before I established a hook-up with Wi-Fi. The very first time I tried picking up our wireless network in the apartment, the DS didn't detect it... but it did find two other wireless networks broadcasting the "linksys" factory default ID (here's a tip: CHANGE YOUR SSID when you set up your wireless network!!). I had to type in - via the DS's touch-screen - the SSID of our network before it found it, and then the DS needed our router's WEP encryption key (another tip boys and girls: turn on your WEP or WPA encryption). Still didn't get connected until I told it to auto-obtain both the IP address and the DNS info. Immediately after I did that the DS was able to log in to the Wi-Fi service.

What's Mario Kart DS gameplay like over Wi-Fi? There can be up to four players racing each other, and you would swear that the other three are right in the room with you: it's that good. Now, I haven't won a single matchup yet (I've won a few races but not enough to be #1 overall) but it's still a heckuva lotta fun to race against opponents who are apparently playing in France and Japan. You can customize your cart to reflect your unique identity, via your own racing emblem and nickname: my emblem is a red field with "Ride Hard Die Free" written in black, and my handle is "knghtshft".

And if you happen to know someone who does have a Nintendo DS and Mario Kart DSD, you can give him your friend code to race directly against that player, instead of Wi-Fi simply pitting you against random players. I haven't tried this out yet but if anyone wants to play me, shoot me an e-mail and register my friend code: 111731-598707. I'll take on all comers! And if my track record is any indication, you'll probably beat me hands-down... but I'm still up for a good challenge :-) Oh yeah, and if you want some help in finding good folks to race against, WiTendoFi.com, DS Meet and DS-Play will get you hooked up with nice people that you can send a friendly note to... before you try to run them off the track.