Some games transcend mere consoles. While multiplayer classics like GoldenEye 007 remain forever trapped in the amber of their original system, others hop between hardware and grow into something uncontainable and unbounded by numbers and subtitles. Mario Kart is one such series. When someone asks if you fancy some ‘Mario Kart’, you don’t waste time asking which one – you just dive in with whatever controller you’re handed and have a cracking time. Every entry becomes simply 'Mario Kart'.
Over the course of eight (and a half) console games, Nintendo has done an excellent job of tapping into your gaming memories while introducing new ideas. Very soon you’ll have the opportunity to jump behind the wheel and go on a Mario Kart Tour on your phone - a trip that will take in not only the world via new tracks based on real life locations (a first in the series’ history), but also your treasured memories of past Mario Kart entries through the many returning circuits from previous games.
While the free-to-start trappings might not be to everyone’s tastes, reports from the beta suggest the gameplay translates nicely to a portrait-oriented phone screen and burning around famous real world landmarks should add a fun new flavour to the series. However, over time Mario Kart has evolved to include a victory lap (of sorts) for courses from previous entries – in fact, retro courses comprise half of all the tracks in the four games released since 2005 (including the Battle Mode arenas).
Technically, Mario Kart Super Circuit was the first game to include courses from a previous release, but it was Mario Kart DS which really got the ball rolling with its Retro Grand Prix which revisited four tracks from each of the previous games to that point. From that moment on, retro tracks have become a staple and there’s a delicious excitement to returning to your favourite circuit, sparking memories not just of racing on that specific course on older hardware, but also where you were and with whom you were playing back in the day.
there’s a delicious excitement to returning to your favourite circuit, sparking memories of where you were and with whom you were playing back in the day
This half-and-half approach to tracks new and old is a great trick guaranteed to deliver a shot of nostalgia when you return to a circuit scorched into your muscle memory years ago. Nintendo has become a master of seasoning new games and ideas with just the right amount of nostalgia. It's never overwhelming or at the cost of new ideas, and there's no knock to the enjoyment of anyone unfamiliar with a reference (or in this case, a circuit), but to those who've been playing Nintendo games since Adam was a cowboy, the nods and winks to the company's heritage are a considerable pleasure in themselves, and the returning courses in Mario Kart are arguably the least subtle Nintendo gets in referencing its back catalogue.
Looking through the list of announced courses for Mario Kart Tour, the vast majority of them have previously been ‘remastered’ when they appeared in Mario Kart 7 on 3DS – in fact, it leads us to assume that the level data from that version served as the template for the courses in the mobile game. Of that list, only Yoshi's Circuit from Double Dash and Mario Circuit 1 and Choco Island 2 from Super Mario Kart didn’t feature in the 3DS entry. Entirely flat courses from the Super NES game would certainly be the easiest to recreate quickly in a new development environment.
Of course, with an ever-growing catalogue of courses to revisit, this approach invariably results in some that you’d rather avoid, too. We’ve all excitedly picked ‘Wario Stadium’ or a similarly recurring title only to discover it’s not the one we were expecting. We’ll play it anyway – we’re not that salty – but having ‘favourites’ inevitably means there’ll be tracks you’d rather hop over.
We’ve all excitedly picked ‘Wario Stadium’ or a similarly recurring title only to discover it’s not the one we were expecting.
With the enormous success of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, it always puzzled us why Nintendo didn’t release another batch of DLC characters and tracks. There’s still time – the evergreen nature of Nintendo’s biggest games means there would be an audience who would return if a Metroid / Pikmin / Kirby / *insert your idea here* DLC bundle suddenly dropped – but we’d be equally excited to see which treasured courses from the past would be remastered alongside new tracks.
In the absence of new circuits in the Switch game, we’re tickled to return to classics like Koopa Troopa Beach, Kalimari Desert and Yoshi Circuit (the vintage of those tracks probably gives you a clue as to this writer’s ‘vintage’) as well as see what new surprises Mario Kart Tour has in store. The goal of all these Nintendo mobile games is to get the company's IP under the noses of as many people as possible whether they've played the series or not. Nintendo is of course happy to pick up total series newbies, but there will likely be a lot of lapsed gamers who haven't yet picked up a Switch who will get a kick from revisiting tracks from their youth. Nostalgia is tricksy but incredibly powerful - maybe even enough to persuade someone to pick up a Switch Lite with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. That game's filled with classic 'old' tracks too, don't ya know!
Can this new (auto)mobile experience measure up to the journeys we've taken so many times before? We'll be test driving Mario Kart Tour very soon, so keep an eye out for our review. But even if for some reason the new tracks or mechanics don’t bury our needles, that little inbuilt spark of nostalgia will still be there to get our motors running when we head out on the highway. It's potent stuff and Nintendo knows it.
Which of the returning circuits are you intrigued to see given a fresh lick of paint on your phone? Do you have treasured favourites that haven't been revisited for a while? Rev those engines and leave your mark in the box below.