To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Japanese release of Super Mario Kart, we're taking a look at 6 games that may not have been created if not for the creation of a sub-genre of racing games where Mario and co. took to the track.
6. Konami Krazy Racers
Taking very direct cues from the aforementioned series, Konami Krazy Racers was released on the Game Boy Advance in 2001. Playing very similar to the Italian plumber’s racing pioneer, KKR features your standard offensive and defensive power-ups like turbo boots, missile barrages, and protective shields along with a cast of Konami’s signature characters from games like Legend of the Mystical Ninja, Castlevania, and even Grey Fox from Metal Gear.
This kart racer has pleasantly surprising depth to it. There are numerous tracks and cups that have varied level design to them with the lush green fields of Ganbare Dochu, the cosmic backdrop of Moon Bridge and the lapping waves of Poppin’ Beach all having a bright and distinct pop to them. The drivers have unique stats, which makes choosing a character that fits your play style important and the ability to jump adds in a meta-technique that pro players can utilize. It also includes a variety of modes and employs mechanics not really seen at the time in your standard racers. You have your standard grand prix and time attack modes but you can play Chicken, which challenges you to stop as close to a bridge edge as possible; Free Run, which acts as a practice run to learn the tracks; and Bomb Chaser, which plays like a game of tag with a giant bomb. There’s even a shop which unlocks more powerful variants of in-race power ups.
If you fancy sampling this racing gem but don’t have a GBA, fear not, for it’s on the Wii U Virtual Console for you to see how great it really is.
5. Mario Kart: Super Circuit
Mario Kart 64 was a tough act to follow as its music, track design, and overall Nintendo authenticity were beloved by all. Mario Kart: Super Circuit however stepped up to the handheld plate and truly delivered a fantastic kart game you could play on the go.
MK:SS keeps true to its mechanical DNA by using all the cast and weaponry of its predecessors but its art style was a true testament to what could be achieved on Nintendo’s portable gaming masterpiece that was the Game Boy Advance. The track layout isn’t revolutionary, but the background detail and attention to detail of the characters looks vividly beautiful.
The greatest thing about Super Circuit is actually a secret. Complete the task of collecting 100 coins in each cup and you unlock all 20 tracks in the classic Super Mario Kart! A great touch from the developers to put a large amount of content in to such a tiny cartridge.
4. Sonic All Stars Racing Transformed
Much like entry number six on this list, SEGA’s kart racer is an all-star cast of characters and mascots from some of its flagship series.
Although the game that came before it (SEGA and Sonic All-Stars Racing) was a solid racer, Transformed made significant improvements to its already stellar formula. The most obvious is the terraforming aspects of courses, adding in layers of diversity and adding a great level of detail and tactics to each race, coupled with the Diddy Kong Racing inspired multiple vehicle mechanic of cars, boats, and planes. Each of the levels is themed in an array of SEGA titles like Golden Axe, Super Monkey Ball, Panzer Dragoon, and After Burner, bringing a sense of nostalgia and appreciation to each race.
One of the coolest features is the ability to do All-Star moves, a unique ability for each character. Cruising around as BD Joe taking out people with air horns is something everyone should experience at least once.
3. Crash Team Racing
Naughty Dog continued its landmark series arrival on the PlayStation by adapting the enemy spinning, platform jumping bandicoot to a kart racing game, and they did a damn good job of it.
As much as CTR attempts to emulate Mario Kart in many ways, like its Wumpa fruit speed mechanic and hopping boost system, it’s basically impossible to make any kart racer without being compared to Nintendo’s titan of the series, as it does so many things well and literally created staples of the genre.
Crash Team Racing has its greatest asset invested in its more varied gameplay options and influencing the mechanics of the game by the lore of the world in which it exists. CTR’s main breakaway from the red tradesman’s racing series is the introduction of an adventure mode, giving some context and meaning beyond just general racing, allowing people to get more invested in the game itself. The Boss Garages create tense races against classic enemies from the previous Crash games, “Time Crates” plays like Crash 3’s time trial mode where you have to break crates to freeze the game timer, "CTR Tokens" requires the player to collect lettered tokens around the track (similar to Tony Hawk’s S-K-A-T-E), Gem races pits the player in gauntlets of tracks for points—it’s clear there’s been a lot of thought that’s been put in to how to give players the best experience of a game rather than just cloning the Mushroom Kingdom resident’s classic.
2. Diddy Kong Racing
There seems to be a definite theme of taking platforming games and adapting them to racers, but it’s clearly worked very well over the years. Case in point, Diddy Kong Racing.
Before SEGA took Sonic & friends and made the game that makes entry number four on this list, Rare created the original all-star multi-vehicle racing game, which is the majority reason it makes this list. It included a number of Nintendo characters both old and new and changed the genre by adding in the ability to play each course in three different ways with its car, hovercraft, and plane system. The inclusion of different vehicles placed it worlds apart from the game that sparked the creation of the kart racer, and the soundtrack (like pretty much every single game developed by Rare) is a masterpiece in audio. DKR can be credited with (or at least popularizing) series trademarks like a racing hub world, boss challenges, and item collection modes.
Diddy Kong Racing is a fantastically fun racer that shifted the dynamic of kart racing games. It’s legacy among the genre is well-earned.
1. Mario Kart: Double Dash
This may be slightly controversial, especially among hardcore fans of the Mario Kart series in particular, but I believe Double Dash is the best kart racing game there is.
Mario Kart installments usually have one pinnacle feature that resonates with players to make it their favorite. Super Mario Kart has the feather, Mario Kart 64 has intense power sliding, Mario Kart Wii has the motion control system, but Double Dash takes the crown for me for being just the most down right fun and technical of the entire series. The selection of different characters had a high magnitude of importance due to characters’ weight, the karts available for selection, the unique power-up they each had—all factors that had to be considered when picking who to hit the tarmac with. And that’s just against the AI. It was racing against human players that truly allows Double Dash to shine.
The competitive co-op nature that MK:DD created with its two-man karts gave a new breath of life and an added dimension to what Mario Kart could offer players. Pair this with all the previously mentioned tactical character and kart selection, add in tracks like the multi-story Waluigi Stadium, Dry Dry Desert and its hazardous sandstorms, or the simplistically minimalist Baby Park and you have the best kart racing game ever created.
So that’s the list! If there’s any kart racers you feel I missed out (I’m prepared for the Mario Kart community heat) feel free to let me know in the comments.