The Evolution of Mario Kart

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Racing video games have been immensely popular since the 1970s as they flooded arcades across the world.

Every game was fairly similar to the next one. You played as a pro racing driver who had a garage full of the world’s leading cars by his side and your one objective was to win.

Now, it’s 1992. Nintendo have already established a successful chain of consoles and games with their most famed character being Mario.

But we’ve already seen a number of 2D platformers; gamers and fanatics alike want to see something new.

Nintendo are about to birth a new line of games so revolutionizing that the name still rings in players’ ears 25 years later: Mario Kart.

Super Mario Kart was released in late August 1992 on SNES and became an instant hit.

Fast forward to 2017 and nintendo has released its 9th Mario Kart game (well, technically 8th and a half game but we’ll get to that later) and players are still hooked! The games have filled our homes, our arcades and have made a lot of our childhood memories.

But wo wo wo I hear you say, what about all the games between 1992 and now?

Well, in this article, we are going to be exploring all the games that have shaped MarioKart into the drag-racing, argument-solving, party piece that it is today.

The Evolution of Mario Kart

We will discover:

  • What was different about each Mario Kart installment
  • How and why each Mario Kart affected the racing genre of video games
  • Why players still adore the franchise today

So, of course, we are going to start right back at the beginning in the year where it all began.

Super Mario Kart

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Super Mario Kart introduced the public to fun-filled racing equipped with wacky items used in order to slow down your opponents and give your kart a boost. You had the choice of a number of popular Mario characters including Luigi, Princess Peach and Yoshi.

It played the role as a less serious racing gaming that was still able to challenge its audience – something never truly seen before.

This installment also acted as a pinnacle game in the development of Split Screen entertainment at home. Finally, you could race your friends from your own point of view without having to look at the racecourse at an awkward angle.

This was a key feature that Nintendo were very proud to have developed into their game. If split screen wasn’t being used, the second half of the screen could be adapted to show a map of the race course.  

The instruction manual for this game encouraged players to “always keep an eye on [their] opponents screen” in order to cheat and give them an advantage!

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Fun fact about Super Mario Kart on the SNES, Mario was never going to be included. They first designed a man in overalls to be the driver and not our favourite plumber.

“We decided to see what it would look like with Mario in one of the karts, and everyone thought that looked even better.” – Shigeru Miyamoto

This game was incredibly successful.

I don’t think anyone could have predicted the popularity of this game. Guinness World Records named Super Mario Kart as the top console game ever for its groundbreaking graphics and unusual approach to a racing game.

With the success of Super Mario Kart, it would be daft of Nintendo not to to follow up the game with a sequel:

Mario Kart 64

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With the creation of yet another successful console, Nintendo had to come up with a game to follow.

As they now had futuristic 3D graphics to work with, the developers had a lot more to play around with in terms of the design of race courses. Features such as changes in elevation, bridges, walls, and pits could be added into the game to increase the level of interactivity within the racing.

However,

Despite the more powerful console, the Nintendo 64 was still not powerful enough to render all 8 characters in 3D as well as the race course.

This was fixed by making characters and items pre-rendered sprites to save on processing power *maybe a fun fact for my fellow computing nerds*.

Mario Kart 64 also featured funky onomatopoeias for when you crashed. To be honest, I’m not surprised they didn’t feature in future games.

The game received positive reactions from its users and when asked, IGN quoted:

“Though the single-player mode is a bit of a step back from the Super Nintendo original, Mario Kart 64 still offers one of the best multiplayer experiences to be had on Nintendo 64.”

So, maybe not the most popular Mario Kart to date but once that certainly influenced its successor.

Mario Kart: Super Circuit

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The first Mario Kart installment for a handheld console, Super Circuit made its way onto the Game Boy Advance in 2001.

The game featured the same characters and even had all the courses playable on Super Mario Circuit.

Game modes were also similar except for the addition of Quick Run where players could completely personalise their driving experience by altering features such as item frequency and the number of laps.

The Multiplayer function was particularly special on Super Circuit as it was possible between up to four Game Boy Advance consoles with only one cartridge present. As handheld consoles were still a fairly new concept, something like this was unseen.

However, not owning a cartridge meant little personalisation for the player as the could only choose a certain colour of Yoshi and not another character.

Despite this one complication, Mario Kart: Super Circuit was also incredibly popular thanks to its multiplayer capabilities.

Mario Kart: Double Dash!!

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We are starting to see a visible trend: a new Nintendo Console typically means a new Mario Kart game!

And guess what! The Gamecube has now been released the audience are anticipating their next Mario game to add to their collection.

Fans weren’t disappointed with Mario Kart: Double Dash!!

The first infamous feature on this game that has continued throughout the Mario Kart series is 150cc Mirror.

Different engine sizes depicted faster karts and therefore, more challenging races. Mirror, on the other hand, was created in order to create confusion amongst players who had memorized their favourite courses.

Maps were flipped horizontally so left turns became right turns and so on. This has featured on all Mario Kart games since the Gamecube.

Another feature new to Mario Kart, that is only playable on Mario Kart: Double Dash!!, is cooperative play! No longer do you have to fight against your friends but you can team up!

One character would be use to control the items and the other to control the kart. The best bit is that you both could switch positions at any time. It’s the only Mario Kart game to feature Co Op play.

Mario Kart DS

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The second Mario Kart game playable on a handheld device, the Nintendo DS introduced the public to their next installment of hectic racing.

The main features that this game could introduce was the use of the lower touchscreen. Rather than have the map interrupt your gameplay, you could have it viewed on your lower screen either as an overall view of the whole map or where you were at that current moment.

This played a beneficial role in testing the number of ways gaming can be adapted and altered to enhance game play.

Players were able to predict if items were about to hit them, if other players were close behind and what items each player was holding.

Sneakily, if a squid had hit, a great technique to overcome this would be to simply steer the kart using the lower screen for directions.

Another change made was in the character selection.

Users also had the choice of driving as the retro, Nintendo character R.O.B. He was originally designed as an additional attachment for the NES for release in 1985. It could interact with a selection of games available on this console.

Left: R.O.B. in Mario Kart DS 2005. Right: Advert featuring R.O.B for NES 1985.

Left: R.O.B. in Mario Kart DS 2005. Right: Advert featuring R.O.B for NES 1985.

Being such a big part of Nintendo’s history and uprising, it’s nice to see the robot makes it way into one of their most popular gaming series. Unfortunately he did not make it into future Mario Kart games.

Mario Kart Wii

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Up next for the evolution of Mario Kart is Mario Kart Wii.

This may be one of the most remembered Mario Kart games ever (or at least, to millennials) thanks to its game changing controls.

Finally, players could drive karts, and bikes, with controls reflecting that of a real life car.

Of course, we knew this was already possible with other games but now, not only could you play it with one of our generation’s favourite racing games, but it was also wireless, affordable and could be used just by adding the Wii remote into a plastic wheel.

The controls on this game were so revolutionary that in 2013, a 10-year-old boy thanked Mario Kart Wii for aiding his driving skills as he took control of his great-grandmother’s car whilst she had a heart attack!

Gamers could also perform sick wheelies on their bikes thanks to the motion controls on the Wii.

As well as this, Mario Kart Wii also had loads more characters to select from – and some that you had to unlock through completion of the game – and a wide variety of tracks.

I have distinct memories of friends asking me to bring my Wii remotes and steering wheel so we could play Mario Kart around their house!

Mario Kart 7

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Given that this is the 7th Mario Kart game, it seems fitting to name the title Mario Kart 7.

This game was released for the newly introduced 3DS with yet again, more features.

Developers decided that it would be a good idea to maintain the steering controls that were achieved with the Wii remote and steering wheel except, this time, you pretended that the 3DS console itself was the wheel.

A nice idea however using steering like this made it harder to see on the screen exactly where to go, your items etc.

One adaptation was the use of gliders on the karts.

This meant that Nintendo could add more drops as well as ramps to life the cars around the track.

As well as this, vehicle personalisation was also created. Players could now choose the body of the car along with the wheels and glider.

The greatest change noticeable was the quality of the graphics!

No longer are we relying on our DS systems for potable Mario gameplay. We have an upgraded console with upgraded graphics.

And Mario Kart 7 wasn’t in HD either but it certainly was a relieving change from the DS.

Mario Kart 8 and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

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It’s time to bring our favourite racing game into HD.

The Wii U had just been released and this particular console boasted its top of the notch screen quality, detailed characters and courses could be enjoyed in a new, stunning resolution.

I mean, just look at the difference in quality between a course on GBA compared to the same course on the Wii U! It’s incredible just how far gaming has come!

Along with this, new features had been added including anti gravity sections on race courses. Course design had been taken to the next level with loops, driving on walls and more.

Mario Kart 8 was the first game to introduce 200cc: the largest engine size we’ve seen.

This might not sound like anything but it’s absolutely hectic.

The speed is so fast, the game tells you that you must break in order to be successful.

But what is the best thing about this game? It finally has animated mustaches! Finally we can enjoy Mario’s bouncy facial hair in glorious high definition.

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Nintendo then went and released yet another console: The Nintendo Switch. Therefore, rather than create a whole new game, they decided to rerelease the Wii U version purely for the Switch titled Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe included pretty much the same features as Mario Kart 8 except the fact that it was released for an awesome, new console.

Multiplayer was once again redefined with this game with the play not only being in HD but also a lot of fun away from the house!

What’s next for Mario Kart?

So, as we have seen, the evolution of Mario Kart has been a drastic one.

Looking at all the previous games in the series, it seems we have to wait for a new console to be released in order to be graced with a new game.

However, in Japan, news broke out that Mario Kart VR is soon about to become a thing!

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Mario Kart Arcade GP VR is in development and will follow after a number of Mario Kart arcade games thanks to Bandai Namco.

Players will have some pretty awesome, life size Karts to sit in as they take on the experience. We’ll be booking our flights to Tokyo once it’s released!

What was your favourite Mario Kart installment? Let us know in the comments below!



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