You think ordinary racing games are boring and wish for some added extra excitement as well as more creative racing courses? Then Mario Kart is just the thing for you.
The Mario Kart games series has been exclusively produced for Nintendo consoles and handheld consoles. The first Mario Kart game was released in 1992 for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and since then one new Mario Kart game is produced for every new Nintendo console.
In the games, players and computer controlled characters compete against each other in go-kart races. All characters and racing courses are part of Nintendo's Mario franchise. The courses are colourful and imaginative and all races are accompanied by cheerful music. It is a game which can be enjoyed by both children and adults alike.
The Mario Kart games offer different game modes and difficulties. In all of the games, races are available with three different speeds: 50cc, 100cc and 150cc. While 50cc is a good speed for beginners and it is rather easy to win, 150cc is definitely the expert mode. Apart from the speed, there is often also an increasing level of difficulty in the racing courses in every speed level; there may, for instance, be more obstacles in the road and often the driving skill of the computer-controlled contestants also seems to increase.
The most common game mode is the 'Grand Prix', where one or more players race against each other and against computer-controlled characters. Every Grand Prix cup consists of four courses and there are usually four different cups available in every Mario Kart game. They are traditionally called the Mushroom Cup, Flower Cup, Star Cup and Special Cup. At the end of every course points are allocated to each player and computer character depending on their rank in the race. At the end of all four races all points are counted together and the player gets a virtual trophy if they reach the overall 1st, 2nd or 3rd rank.
In 'VS' (versus) races players compete against each other or computer-controlled opponents. The races take place on the same courses as the Grand Prix races, but are not combined to cups. Each racing track can be played alone.
What makes Mario Kart special is that in both of these game modes the players (and also the computer characters) can obtain random items by driving through marked areas on the street. These items can be used to either boost oneself or hinder the opponents. Items can completely change the outcome of a race. Good driving abilities do not guarantee winning a game; luck can be much more important.
The Time Trial mode allows players to drive alone on any course available in the game. The player has to try to race each course as fast as possible and the best time is saved in the game. Additionally a 'ghost' driver of the player is created, meaning that the player will appear as a half-transparent image in future Time Trials until their time is beaten. In newer games there is a pre-installed ghost file of one of the game's developers available. There are no items available in this game mode, apart from three mushrooms for more speed which can be used at any chosen time.
Multiple players can also compete against each other in 'Battle'. These Battles take place in closed arenas of various shapes. In the most common kind of battle, each player is equipped with three balloons at the start of the game. By using the same items available in Grand Prix and VS races, the players have to burst each others balloons. The last player who has one or more balloons left wins.
Depending on which game of Mario Kart you play, there are different items available in races. There are, however, some standard items which can be found in all games. Players get one random item by driving through boxes marked with a question mark, which can be found in certain places on each course. The type of item you get is not completely random, but depends on your current rank in the race. Players at the back of the race often receive better items than higher-ranked drivers to give them a chance to achieve a better result.
Some items are used to hinder opponents and make them lose time. The banana peel, for instance, can be placed anywhere on or next to the road and makes whoever drives over it slip, stealing a few seconds of their time. There are also tortoise shells to shoot at others. Green shells fly in a straight line in front of or behind the driver and therefore need luck and good aiming abilities to hit their target. Red shells automatically hit the next car in front of the person who shoots them and blue shells automatically hit the kart which is ranked first.
Other items are used to boost the player and give them an advantage. Mushrooms make the car go faster for a few seconds, a star grants invulnerability to the attacks of opponents and increases one's speed for a short period of time.
In almost all games there are also golden coins scattered on the street. Collecting coins improves the speed and other specifications of the kart, making it easier to steer. If a player is hit by an item, crashes into another kart or an obstacle, they lose coins.
In addition to the items, the racing tracks also have marked areas in the road which give drivers a speed burst if they drive over them.
All courses in the Mario Kart games are based on places known from Nintendo's most popular games. Usually the Mario Kart games start with three Grand Prix cups: the Mushroom, Flower and Star Cup. Winning all three cups unlocks the Special Cup, which adds another Grand Prix option consisting of four courses. Additionally, all newer games also have retro cups with remakes of courses from earlier games.
Many of the racing tracks have hidden shortcuts, which allow drivers to cheat on their opponents. But not all of the shortcuts are easy to use and most of them are very well hidden.
The most ordinary courses are the Mario Race Ways, which look like classic Formula 1 raceways with added decoration from the Super Mario games such as green tubes. Very often they also feature the castle of Princess Peach. In these courses, there are obstacles like slippery puddles of oil, Goombas1 walking in the street or Piranha Plants2 which try to eat you. Quite similar to these raceways, there are also off-road tracks with bridges over water, mud and moles tunnelling through the streets.
Some tracks also have different landscapes. Tropical beaches, deserts and jungles usually make an appearance. A more special variant of off-road raceways are based on desert-themed regions in the Mushroom Kingdom3. These are, for instance, Choco Mountain, Sherbet Land and Sweet Sweet Canyon. And yes, they really look like how they are called.
There are also indoor raceways. One theme which is regularly used is the Ghost House, which features wooden walkways which are easy to fall off as well as ghosts and bats. Another very iconic theme of Mario Kart is certainly Bowser's Castle. This is an indoor raceway with lots of threatening lava and fireballs, usually a rather difficult track to drive. The very last raceway in all Mario Kart games is Rainbow Road, which consists of a translucent rainbow-coloured street in the sky based on the design of the bonus levels in some Super Mario games.
Depending on which game of Mario Kart you play, there are different characters available to choose from. There are, however, some standard drivers who can be found in all games: these are Mario, his brother Luigi, the little dinosaur Yoshi, Princess Peach, Mario's arch enemy Bowser and the little mushroom Toad. The selection of a driver is not only a question of appearance; each of them has different driving characteristics. Since Mario Kart 64 there are three different driver classes available. Light drivers like Toad have a fast acceleration but not so high maximum speed, while it is the other way round with heavy drivers like Bowser. Medium drivers are balanced: these are, for instance, Mario and Luigi.
Games of the Series
The Mario Kart series currently consists of eight games. Another three games which do not belong to the main series have been released for arcade machines.
Super Mario Kart
- Released: 1992
- Platform: Super Nintendo Entertainment System (download available for Wii and Wii U)
Super Mario Kart was the first game in the Mario Kart series and it introduced all the main game elements. The game consists of 20 racing tracks, which are combined into four Grand Prix races. All later games only had four courses in each Grand Prix instead of five. The tracks are all based on locations in Super Mario World, such as the Donut Plains, Ghost House and Bowser's Castle. Contrary to Super Mario World, which was released two years earlier, Super Mario Kart already has 3-D graphics. Compared to later games, all courses in Super Mario Kart seem flat and simple in design, but at the time of its release the game graphics were very good. The tracks do not offer many variations in design and are much shorter than in the following games; however, Super Mario Kart was still a very innovative game. The karts are much harder to steer than in the other games of the series, which is not only a problem of the programming. The karts have to be steered with the typical cross-shaped joypad and the buttons for acceleration and using an item are both operated by the right thumb, which means you have some difficulties not letting go of the gas while using an item.
Super Mario Kart is made for one or two players4. In the game the player can choose between eight different drivers: Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Yoshi, Toad, Bowser, Koopa Troopa and Donkey Kong Jr. Just as in the later games, all drivers have different characteristics. Those drivers which are not controlled by one of the players in a Grand Prix are computer-controlled opponents. While the players can obtain random items by driving over question mark tiles on the track, computer-controlled drivers always use items unique to their character. Koopa Troopa, for instance, drops tortoise shells, while Donkey Kong Jr drops banana peels and Bowser shoots fireballs.
Super Mario Kart also introduces the traditional award ceremony at the end of a Grand Prix if a player achieved the 1st, 2nd or 3rd rank. If a player gets a rank lower than 5th in one race of a Grand Prix, they have to redo that course. After three re-tries the player is defeated and the game is over. Also, the game shows no mercy to bad players, no matter how far behind you are: the game is not over until you cross the finishing line, even if all other drivers are already through.
Apart from the Grand Prix and 'versus' races, the game also offers possibilities to play Time Trials on all racing tracks and compete in four Battle arenas.
Mario Kart 64
- Released: 1996
- Platform: Nintendo 64 (download available for Wii
Mario Kart 64 again offers the player a choice of four Grand Prix cups, which are built up of 16 unique courses. To make up for the lower number of courses compared to Super Mario Kart, they show much more variation and have a proper 3-D environment. New motifs which re-appear in later games are, for instance, Wario Stadium and Donkey Kong's Jungle Park Way.
The game's controls are similar to those of all later Mario Kart console games: due to the new design of the N64 controller it was possible to move the steering controls to a little joystick which is operated by the left thumb. Using items is moved to a trigger which is operated by the left index finger. Only the acceleration button stays in the same location as on the SNES.
Mario Kart 64 uses the ability of the Nintendo 64 to allow games between four players instead of just two. Again, players can choose between eight different drivers but Koopa Troopa and Donkey Kong Jr are replaced with Wario and Donkey Kong. From this game onwards all drivers are defined by their weight classes.
Mario Kart: Super Circuit
- Released: 2001
- Platform: Game Boy Advance, compatible with DS (download available for 3DS and Wii U)
Super Circuit is the first Mario Kart game which has been made for a handheld console. It does offer players five new Grand Prix cups, as well as re-makes of all the courses from Super Mario Kart combined with another five Grand Prix cups, which can be unlocked by collecting coins. All drivers from Mario Kart 64 re-appear and no new characters are added. Multiplayer games for up to four players are possible by using a cable which links two or more consoles together. Only one console needs to have the game inserted.
Mario Kart: Double Dash!!
- Released: 2003
- Platform: Game Cube, compatible with Wii
Mario Kart Double Dash can be played by up to four players and is the first and only Mario Kart game in which every kart has two drivers. One character is in the front, who actually drives the car and influences its characteristics: the second sits in the rear and collects and uses items. The player can switch between drivers during the race, which makes it possible to adapt to the layout of the course. It is, for instance, possible to choose a heavy and a light driver who can then be used alternately. Both drivers can also pick up items, which makes it possible to be equipped with two items at the same time and choose which one you want to use at a given time.
It is possible to play the game not only in the usual modes but also in co-op, meaning that two players control one driver each in the same car. Just as in the competitive mode, they can switch places during the race and the character in the back uses items while the player in the front steers the car. This may not be the most interesting game mode for two adult players but definitely has advantages if you want to play with smaller children.
For the first time in the Mario Kart series it is not necessary to replay courses in the Grand Prix if you failed to achieve a good rank. The game just goes on and you may still achieve a good overall result even if you failed once. This system is used in all Mario Kart games from this point on.
Double Dash features a wider range of characters than all previous other games. There are 16 drivers and eight different cars, each with their own unique specifications. Another four drivers and two cars can be unlocked by winning cups in certain game modes. New characters are, for instance, King Boo, Diddy Kong and Baby Mario.
The Grand Prix cups in Mario Kart Double Dash are extended by an 'All Star Cup', which has four random courses from all other cups in the game. There is also the possibility to play the game in Mirror Mode, meaning that all courses are reversed.
Mario Kart DS
- Released: 2005
- Platform: Nintendo DS (download available for Wii U)
The second Mario Kart game for a handheld console has the same eight drivers available in Mario Kart 64, and additionally four new characters which can be unlocked by winning Grand Prix races. Mario Kart DS features four new Grand Prix cups and another four cups made up of retro-courses from previous games.
Versus and battle modes can be played by up to eight players together: all other game modes are only for a single player. It is only necessary for one of the eight consoles to have the game inserted in order to play, but only if all have the game do all options become available. Through the Nintendo DS Wi-Fi connection, it is even possible to play the game online together with up to three other players.
A new game mode which is unique to Mario Kart DS are the missions. Here the player has to fulfil tasks such as driving through gates in a particular order, collecting coins or driving backwards.
Mario Kart Wii
- Released: 2008
- Platform: Wii, compatible with Wii U
Mario Kart Wii consists of four original Grand Prix cups with four tracks each, as well as four Grand Prix cups consisting of retro courses. The game is made for the motion controls of the Nintendo Wii. This means that the controller can be held like a steering wheel and transfers the motions of the player to the screen. For this purpose there are also plastic steering wheels available, into which the controllers can be put. The motion controls clearly influenced the design of the racing tracks, which are not as difficult as in other Mario Kart games. If motion controls are not to the player's taste, the game can also be played with normal button controls similar to those of the older games.
Mario Kart Wii offers the players a choice between 26 drivers, 12 of which are available from the start: the rest can be unlocked with achievements in the game. In addition to the driver, players can also choose between different karts and motorcycles, which all have different characteristics and designs. A selection of vehicles are available for every weight class of drivers, meaning that not all karts can be used by all drivers. Some of these vehicles have to be unlocked by achieving certain things in the game. Although the choice is not completely free, the player can combine driver and vehicle depending on their playing style and taste to a certain degree.
Grand Prix races are only available in single-player mode, which means that trophies can not be won in multiplayer mode. This is a major flaw of the game, which is probably the reason why this system has not been used again. When the game is played by two or more (up to four) people, a customised Grand Prix can be played by selecting four of the available 32 courses. All races have 12 participants who can also work together in teams of six. Players can race in the same or in opposing teams. It is, of course, also possible to play without computer-controlled drivers.
There are also five original battle arenas and five retro arenas from older games. Mario Kart Wii also offers the possibility to play online races and battles with other players from all over the world.
Mario Kart 7
- Released: 2011
- Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Mario Kart 7 is the 3rd game of the series which has been released for a handheld console. It is also the first game which features underwater races and hang gliding, meaning that your kart has an in-built glider which allows you to fly down cliffs and over chasms. An additional new feature is the possibility to not only choose one of many different karts (no bikes this time), but combine them with different tyres and gliders, making your vehicle customisable. New karts can be unlocked by collecting coins in races. Each kart, tyres and glider have their own advantages and disadvantages in different situations.
The game can also be played in first-person view and by not using buttons to steer but tilting the console in the same way as the Wii controller in Mario Kart Wii.
Mario Kart 7 has eight starting drivers and, additionally, nine drivers which can be unlocked while playing the game. Once again four new and four retro Grand Prix cups are available. Three of the racing tracks do not have the usual three laps but are very long and and are divided into three sections instead. Just as in Mario Kart DS, up to eight players can compete in VS races and there is also the possibility to play online against other people from all around the world.
Mario Kart 8
- Released: 2014
- Platform: Wii U
Mario Kart 8 has more courses than any other Mario Kart game before. In addition to the usual four cups there are also four retro cups with courses from previous games. Another four cups are available in two purchasable download add-ons: the Legend of Zelda and the Animal Crossing content packs. All courses are incredibly well made and show much love for design details. Just as in Mario Kart 7, the game features not only racing on dry land but also underwater tracks and hang gliding. There is also an anti-grav mode in which vehicles drive up walls and head down on overhangs. In addition to the usual game speeds there is a free update to 200cc, which is a speed faster than in any other Mario Kart game before.
The game uses the same controllers as Mario Kart Wii and in addition can be played with the Wii U game pad, a large controller with its own in-built screen. This means that if you play alone you can play the game with your TV switched off from wherever you have a wifi connection to your console.
The strongest point of Mario Kart 8 is certainly the customisability of drivers and karts. It can take a long while for the player to find a perfect combination for their individual playing style because there are not only 36 individual drivers but also a choice between 29 karts, ATVs5 and bikes which can be equipped with 19 different tyres and 12 gliders for flying down cliffs and over chasms. Each of them has its own unique specifications. It is also possible to use your personal Mii as a driver, which is a customisable avatar used when logging into the console with your user account.
Next to the usual game modes Mario Kart 8 can also be played online against players from all around the world. The game is also compatible with amiibo, which are little plastic figurines of Nintendo characters that can be linked to a game and add content. In this case, new character skins are made available for Mii drivers.
Mario Kart is a revolution in the genre of racing games. It was certainly the first racing game on a Nintendo console with a large entertainment value and the potential to be played over and over again. It is also lots of fun to play together with friends and family. While Nintendo has also published other fun racing games since the first Mario Kart - for instance, the Donkey Kong racing game series - no other game has been as successful as the Mario Kart series, nor is any other racing game as well known among those people who do not own a Nintendo console themselves.