Optimism is a wonderful state of mind, especially if it's rewarded. Around all of the recent renewed talk about Mario Kart 9 being in 'active development' we've definitely succumbed to giddy positivity about its prospects, and with some very good reasons. Nintendo rarely has so much time to work on a major sequel to a once-a-console-generation series, a circumstance gifted to the company by the best-selling game on Switch.
Yes, of course, that's Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, released on 28th April 2017 as an extended port of the Wii U original from late May 2014. In a few short months it'll be 8 years old, and it is still among the best selling games on Switch week after week, month after month. Its most recent official total of sales on Switch via Nintendo (as of 30th September 2021) is 38.74 million, but more amazing is that in the first six months of this financial year it was the second-best selling title on Switch. Oh, and it was the best-selling game over the lifecycle of the Wii U on 8.46 million units, which means well over half of the system's owners had it.
The numbers are crazy, but it's the longevity that feels quite unique and has brought us into this weird place of waiting, and waiting, and waiting for a new entry. Yes, there was Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit, but that is the very definition of a spin-off and was arguably more a toy than a video game. Its modest sales and completely different gameplay focus make it a fun sidenote to the mainline franchise — and for the record this scribe welcomes these quirkier, more experimental Nintendo titles.
But anyway — Mario Kart 9. Or Mario Kart 10, if you count Home Circuit. Or Mario Kart 11 if you count Tour. When Mario Kart 8 Deluxe took off on Switch, after already doing its best to sustain the Wii U, Nintendo realised it was onto a winner. Aside from bundling in DLC content and adding a Battle Mode at launch (plus a handful of free updates), Nintendo has largely sat back and enjoyed the sales figures while — presumably — taking the opportunity to carefully plan what's next. Typically for franchises like Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda, Pokémon (albeit that's Game Freak / The Pokemon Company), Splatoon and even Animal Crossing, development teams will finish one entry and will be immediately working on a mix of DLCs and the sequel. Yet with Mario Kart the development team has had the somewhat extraordinary luxury of time.
Nintendo hasn't needed Mario Kart 9 yet, leading to plenty of jokey remarks pleading for people to stop buying 8 Deluxe
Nintendo hasn't needed Mario Kart 9 yet, leading to plenty of jokey remarks pleading for people to stop buying 8 Deluxe. Yet, on the flipside, essentially 'repeating' a generation has given Nintendo the chance to presumably work on another major evolution (or revolution, we'll see in time) of the franchise. In the past couple of main entries we've seen gliding and anti-gravity aspects come into play, so the natural instinct is to wonder what's next.
A consistent message in the rumour mill is that Nintendo, while likely to keep the Mario brand, is likely to go further in making it a 'Nintendo Kart', presumably with tracks and racers from a broader spectrum of franchises. Of course, the current entry has already done this, with crossover content from The Legend of Zelda, Animal Crossing and Splatoon, with two excellent F-Zero tracks as well; our preferred setup is a Mii in a Star Fox outfit driving an F-Zero kart.
In certain parts of fandom there's often a little resistance to this cross-pollination that this scribe has never understood. There's no lore or need for brand 'purity' in Mario Kart, it's a fun racing game. Whatever makes the experience a hoot, and the crossover content has certainly done that, is worthwhile.
It also takes our minds back to Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, a terrific racer that was basically a SEGA fan's dream with a blend of new and retro crossovers. From characters to cars to the all-important race tracks, it was a fantastical trip into a SEGA wonderland, all while racing and presumably destroying friendships in multiplayer.
why wouldn't we want a race through the caverns of planet ZDR, or through a Pikmin setting of giant fruit and contraptions, or shooting around in the stars as Kirby whizzes around?
So why wouldn't we want a race through the caverns of planet ZDR, or through a Pikmin setting of giant fruit and contraptions, or shooting around in the stars as Kirby whizzes around? Would Nintendo even go for third-party crossovers, embracing the all-in approach from Super Smash Bros. Ultimate? We saw it a bit with some Mii outfits that are unlockable with amiibo, so it's not impossible. In any case, add varied and bombastic settings to the fantastic design that we already get in Mario Kart and it could be utterly glorious.
A lot of this, of course, has been on our wishlist for the Mario Kart 8 Deluxe DLC that never came. The wait for a successor, and lack of updates to 8 Deluxe, can only be reliably explained by Nintendo itself — it'll be a mystery forever, then. The timing of a successor will also be interesting, too. Could it be the smash hit Holiday game for this year, or perhaps it'll be 2023? Will it be a launch title on new hardware, or a Switch title that eventually gets the 'Deluxe' treatment further down the line? Who knows, but if it is revealed in some form this year the buzz will be off the charts.
We're excited, in any case. We still jump into regular games of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe online, after nearly 8 years of playing, and you can still reliably find matches in no time at all. It is the most evergreen of games, making the exceptionally long wait forgivable.
And hey, it's still a quicker turnaround than 2D Metroid.
Our optimism aside, let us know what you'd love to see in Mario Kart 9 in the polls and comments below!
- Further reading: Best Mario Kart Games Of All Time