Mario Kart Month: Expanding the Universe of Mario Kart
Posted by Jowi Meli
Back in December, Nintendo showed off a cleverly deceptive trailer for Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS that briefly showed Kirby pulling off some audacious Warp Star moves in Mario Kart's Rainbow Road. Of course, that trailer turned out to be the reveal of Rosalina and Luma for Super Smash Bros., just another fun joke pulled by the ever-playful Masahiro Sakurai. But surely that small glimpse of another Nintendo great riding alongside the main stars of Mario Kart turned some heads and made some people think: with the myriad worlds and characters at the Big N's disposal, it seems the potential for expanding the Karting universe is limitless.
This is, naturally, not the first time such a concept has been discussed among fans of the revered series. In fact, despite the seemingly guaranteed success of bringing other Nintendo properties on board the Kart phenomenon — whether as courses, characters, or both — many fans express concern and even outright revulsion at the concept level. After all, there is something more than a little silly about the idea of Ganondorf tossing bananas to take down Baby Daisy in Cheep Cheep Beach. As obvious as the potential is for Nintendo to grow the universe of Mario Kart, just as obvious is the necessity for Nintendo to do so in a way that respects and does justice to each franchise it brings on board — we have had occasional spin-off racing games in past generations, too, though we're proposing a more direct tie-in here.
To those who doubt Nintendo's ability to pull such a feat off, the evidence already stands: Nintendo values its properties above all else, and crossing universes isn't something the company takes lightly. Case in point, the legendary Subspace Emissary mode in Super Smash Bros. Brawl brought more than 15 different universes together for a truly epic non-canon outing. Did it require a willing suspension of disbelief? Absolutely. Was it awesome? You bet — and to see the characters interacting and fighting alongside each other in a story mode was much less jarring than anyone probably expected. If Nintendo were to bring more of its stars and worlds to Mario Kart, it's a guarantee that great care would be taken in making sure that the style and substance of each would match the surrounding elements; these are, after all, the things that make Nintendo what it is.
Concerns aside, there are many potential benefits to an expansion of the Karting world. For one thing, a character roster featuring stars like Link, Kirby, and Pikachu would eliminate the need for "filler" characters that have plagued many of Mario's non-platformer outings. As wonderful as Pink Gold Peach and Baby Rosalina are, it's not hard to imagine more exciting replacements that — to be blunt — have actually appeared in some form or another in a Nintendo game prior. Besides all that, just the idea of flying through tracks as your favourite Ninty alumni is enough to send fans into a tizzy.
Equally as tantalizing is the idea of adding vehicles from other games — either themed or ripped straight from the source — to Mario Kart. Immediately, one might imagine storming DK Jungle, knocking aside other racers with a Kart-ified Landmaster from Star Fox. Or perhaps piloting a miniature version of Samus Aran's Gunship while hurtling through space in Rainbow Road. Nintendo's developers have more than enough imagination to make ideas like this work, and that's without even considering the original concepts they might concoct for franchises bereft of memorable mechanical vehicles. Epona may not have had wheels, but perhaps she could pop some wheelies as a model for a bike's design. It's this sort of name-dropping that makes players go nuts, and really, who doesn't want a bike with a horse's head? Okay, maybe a lot of people.
Some of the most fun nods to Nintendo's beloved franchises in Super Smash Bros. come in the form of items — just recently, with the Wii U and 3DS iterations, we've seen numerous additions (Skyward Sword's Beetle, Kid Icarus' X Bomb) showing the best of baddie-bashing goodies the Big N has to offer. By extension, it should make any Kart fan giddy to think of the potential mayhem afforded by items coming from other famed Nintendo properties. Imagine approaching the finish line, only to have that sneak Waluigi pull out in front of you. Now imagine using the Hookshot to yank him back to your current position, sending him tumbling behind while you zoom across the finish line. This is just one of many potential chaos-causing elements that could be brought on board from Nintendo's storied history of zany weaponry.
Of course, like any racing game, all elements are subservient to the courses the racers find themselves on. So too is the way expanding Mario Kart's total universe works: as wonderful as additional vehicles, characters, and items are, it's really the tracks that would make Nintendo buffs the most excited about picking up a controller and having a go. From Hyrule Field to the Chozo Ruins to Pikmin's Distant Planet, the amount of locales ripe for racing action is staggering. As with characters, this might alleviate the "generic" nature of some tracks and provide more memorable set pieces to experience. Swerving to avoid Snagrets, taking out Bokoblins with bananas and cruising through Keese-infested caves would be a treat for all but the most jaded video game fanatic.
It's a shame that some people might scoff at the very idea of Mario Kart being blended with other franchises; it's a task the company's talented developers are more than equipped to handle. Over the course of three decades, Nintendo has brought smiles to the faces of gamers everywhere with their games' personalities, worlds, and stories — all done with nearly limitless charm. Even if the Big N never decides to go the route set out by Super Smash Bros. and expand Mario Kart's universe, it's impossible to deny the fun a longtime fan can have simply driving down memory lane and imagining a world where Poo and Ghirahim can get in on the crazy Kart chaos. One can only dream.