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A Brief History of Mario Kart

Cody Liptak / September 23, 2015 at 12:00 PM / Gaming, Opinions

The year was 1991, the classic Super Mario World was just released on the Super Nintendo. Mario fever was still going strong and players were anxious to get their next taste of the famous plumber. Nintendo EAD set out to create a game similar to FZero but instead wanted a game for two players instead of one since the speed of FZero would not be possible with two players. Fast forward one year later to the summer of 1992 where a little game by the name of Super Mario Kart was launched on Super Nintendo, and what followed spawned a brand new genre and a historic legacy.

But it almost wasn’t a Mario game. “Well, in the very first prototype, there was a guy in overalls sitting in the kart,” says Hideki Konno during an Iwata Asks post on Nintendo’s website. In fact, that guy in overalls lasted 4 months into the development of Super Mario Kart until they decided to introduce our favorite Italian to the mix. 

At first, no racing was involved. It was just two karts moving around freely. Then we noticed that it looked neat if you stopped one car and looked at the other car flying by. We decided to see what it would look like with Mario in one of the karts, and everyone thought that looked even better. Who knows, maybe the designer who drew the overalls on the earlier guy intended that it be changed to Mario all along! (laughs) —Shigeru Miyamoto

After its release, Super Mario Kart was being played by everyone who owned a Super Nintendo. Selling a massive 8.7million copies in total, Super Mario Kart was just the beginning of a historic franchise, and soon the birthplace of a brand new genre of games. Millions of people around the world were enthralled by the excitement and fun of racing their favorite Nintendo characters against a friend, and they wouldn’t have to wait to long for the next kart racing adventure.

With Super Mario Kart‘s critical acclaim and tremendous sales, a sequel was no question, and Nintendo had another trick up their sleeve for the next iteration. Nintendo was busy working on N64 titles, such as Super Mario 64, to make sure it launched with the console. Mario Kart 64 was set to be a launch title but much of the team was working on Super Mario 64, which resulted in Mario Kart 64 being released several months later. 

When Mario Kart 64 eventually launched, it was once again met with critical acclaim just like its predecessor. With fully rendered 3D graphics, up to 4 people were able to race against their friends in high speed, shell-throwing action. It should also be noted that Mario Kart 64 was also birthplace of the dreaded blue shell.

Full 3D graphics let players experience Mario Kart in a whole new way

Full 3D graphics let players experience Mario Kart in a whole new way.

An item synonymous with terror, it was designed to keep the game balanced and competitive and give other racers a chance. Mario Kart 64 went on to sell almost 10 million copies worldwide, and other companies started to take notice of a trend that was forming. Rare hopped on the Kart Racing bandwagon first and released Diddy Kong Racing just a few months after the release of Mario Kart 64. Diddy Kong Racing brought what some considered improvements compared to Mario Kart as well as a new Adventure mode.

Rare also introduced some variety for the a kart racing game, which allowed players to select three different types of vehicles each having their pros and cons. While critics mostly enjoyed Diddy Kong Racing for its improvements and better graphics, some claimed it was too similar to Mario Kart 64, while other critics insisted that it was better than Mario Kart. Sadly, another Diddy Kong Racing was never made outside of a Nintendo DS remake, even though the original sold almost 5 million copies worldwide.

Years past and more Mario Kart games were released, and other clones followed. Mario Kart didn’t see its next major advancement until the release of Mario Kart: Double Dash for the Gamecube in 2003. Mario Kart: Double Dash utilized the power of the Nintendo Gamecube to make a much bigger Mario Kart game than previous games. The standard roster appeared, as well as 11 new characters such as Daisy, Baby Mario and Baby Luigi, and King Boo. What set Double Dash apart was the new feature that allowed 2 characters to ride on one kart. It was also the first game in the franchise to feature unlockables, which became a staple of the series.

2005 came and with it our next major improvement to Mario Kart, which was a game changer. Mario Kart DS gave us online races and battles through the brand new Nintendo WiFi Connection, another feature that went on to be standard in every main game since then.

The Special Edition Mario Kart Nintendo DS that launched with the game.

The Special Edition Mario Kart Nintendo DS that launched with the game.

Mario Kart is a game that has captivated audiences since the original release. Players love taking control of iconic characters and racing against their friends on memorable tracks with all sorts of crazy items, or maybe fighting it out in battle mode to get a break from standard races. Not many games are able to say that a map in their game is as memorable as the franchise itself, which is the case with Rainbow Road—a track that has been featured in every single Mario Kart game with ever increasing complexity

Mario Kart continues to grow with each new game that is released, whether it’s introducing motion controls in Mario Kart Wii, or the series’ first DLC in Mario Kart 8. It’s a staple among gaming and it has solidified its spot among the greatest franchises of all time. It has created an entire genre that ended up spawning the joke of “If it exists, it has a kart racing game” which is actually true for the most part. Mortal Kombat, WWE, Sonic, Little Big Planet, and even the popular candy M&M’s all have a kart racing game attached to their name. Nintendo created something no one could have imagined would end up being so successful.

Mario Kart became a staple of living rooms and dorm rooms alike, and with every new console comes a new Mario Kart. No one knows what the NX will bring, or perhaps Nintendo will create another one exclusive to the New Nintendo 3DS. From the humble beginnings of a bearded man in overalls to the gaming beast of a franchise that it is to this day, Mario Kart doesn’t show any signs of hitting the brakes.


Cody Liptak

Massive gaming and eSports fan as well as Hockey lover. Also huge Pokemon fan. I tweet too much.