Today is yet another Nintendo anniversary, in this case the 20th anniversary of Super Mario Kart's release in Japan. That's 20 years of powering around tracks and making other mascot's driving lives miserable, while infuriating their masters in multiplayer.
It's a series with enduring appeal that has evolved into one of Nintendo's guaranteed big-sellers, with Mario Kart Wii enjoying the honour of being the second biggest seller on Wii, its sales of over 30 million units surpassed only by Wii Sports. It's also evolved relatively little, with no amount of power-ups, boosts or flying mechanics taking it too far away from its roots as a kart racer. That's also a strength, as it can be enjoyed by inexperienced gamers who just want a fun race, compulsive players who master every track to achieve implausible times, and everyone else in between.
To celebrate the arrival of Super Mario Kart all those years ago, here's a brief history of every major game in the franchise. And no, that doesn't include Arcade GP.
This is where it all began, the game credited with popularising the very concept of kart racing video games and for helping the Mario brand to expand beyond platformers. While it's easy to regard this as a fun but disposable retro title today, at the time it had a major impact, critically and commercially, on Super NES and Nintendo's approach to its Mario franchise. It was a major spin-off that sold in big numbers, and gave other characters an opportunity to earn gamer's affections.
The most important thing was that it was a lot of fun, with 20 tracks — though some were subtle variations on a theme — and eight racers of differing abilities. Working through speed classes in Mario Kart GP mode was the main single player experience, but it was perhaps best loved for multiplayer. Whether racing or popping balloons in Battle Mode, throwing shells and bananas captured the imagination and showed that gaming could be more fun with others. Oh, and Mode 7 graphics were mighty impressive at the time.
If Super Mario Kart showed what could be achieved with Mode 7 graphics, this Nintendo 64 follow-up did a similar job with Polygon-based 3D visuals. The capabilities of the system meant that tracks could have greater variety, including slopes and landscapes that couldn't be produced in the Super NES title. There were eight characters, four cups and a total of 16 tracks, with an unlockable mirror mode, while Versus and Battle Mode now allowed four players to join in multiplayer chaos.
New items such as triple shells emerged, allowing an extra level of tactics in how they were used, while this second title also saw the first appearance of the dreaded Blue Shell, or Spiny Shell. This item would — assuming it didn't hit an early obstacle — pursue the race leader relentlessly, though there were a few tricks to get around it. Some players loved this item, and others loathed it with every fibre of their being, but it certainly added an extra dimension to play.
This was the first portable Mario Kart, taking advantage of the Game Boy Advance system's capabilities to reproduce Super NES level graphics. The visuals have, arguably, not aged well, but at the time were considered reasonably impressive for a handheld while the actual play was enjoyable. As expected, there were Grand Prix and Time Trial modes to choose from, while Quick Run allowed players to choose a track and set various criteria to whatever they please. Multiplayer was also possible, a rare example where those GBA link cables came in handy, though it was limited to four tracks.
Like its predecessors, this title had eight characters to choose from, and followed the lead of Super Mario Kart with 20 playable tracks, albeit split into five cups instead of four. Collecting coins took on a new sense of importance, along with actually winning, of course, with the unlockable Extra Cups. If you earned a gold trophy and collected 100 coins in a cup, you'd unlock an equivalent with the tracks from the Super NES original. There were slight variations, such as hazards and shortcuts taken away, but it added extra incentive in the single player campaign.
If one game experimented the most with the franchise, it was arguably this entry on GameCube. The most obvious change was that two characters now occupied each kart, with one driving and one using items. This mechanic influenced a number of areas, such as special moves and items, and different attributes and performances of a variety of karts depending on team combinations. In Co-Op play the second player would control items, but also perform a slide attack to steal others' weapons and help achieve the double dash boost at the start of the race. Much like the GBA link cable, this was also a rare instance where local online play (via LAN) was possible with the Nintendo GameCube Broadband Adapter, linking multiple consoles and allowing more players to join in.
While these features brought new ideas and levels of customisation not seen before in the series, the basic structure did remain the same. Grand Prix mode had 16 tracks to race through, with Time Trial, Versus and Battle modes all making their customary appearances. The latter did include two new modes, including Shine Thief that was like a 'capture the flag' challenge, which can be fairly hectic when played with weapon-wielding karts.
As the title so eloquently says, this was the DS entry in the series, and the second handheld Mario Kart. It had some firsts, however, notably the first Mario Kart to feature worldwide online play, even if technical limitations restricted it to four player Versus races, no Battles. Local online was more substantial, with a limited number of tracks available for eight players in download play, ideal if only one gamer owned a copy, or full wireless LAN play for eight players that all own the game. The capabilities of DS were implemented in a couple of other fun ways, with the bottom screen showing a map and Balloon Battle encouraging players to blow up balloons using the microphone.
In addition, this title introduced the concept of four cups with 16 retro tracks, taking some favourites from the previous four titles in the series. The core of eight characters was also expanded by unlockable extras, while the Mission mode featured challenges and boss battles to test skills further. With a wealth of single and multiplayer options, this is often regarded as one of the very best in the series.
The current-gen home console entry, this has been a phenomenal success on Wii, boosted in recent times due to being bundled with some systems. Its roots can be more accurately traced to Mario Kart DS, with the team mechanic of GameCube not included. This entry has its own share of new features, such as increasing the number of racers to 12 and offering full races on all tracks through worldwide online play. The online features also expand to the Mario Kart Channel, which combines with a section in the game to provide regular competitions of varying challenges, as well as the ability to challenge Nintendo staff ghosts and those of other players from around the world.
More innovations are evident in the way it's actually played, with the tilt controls of the Wii Remote allowing players to steer with motion controls, made more intuitive by the bundled Wii Wheel. It's also possible to select bikes, with wheelies performed with a flick of the wheel, while tricks off ramps can be performed in the same way in karts or on bikes. When you consider 32 tracks (16 new and 16 retro), and the usual mix of single and multiplayer offerings — though no Mission Mode — along with 24 characters and Mii support, this title continued the good work of Mario Kart DS in terms of modernising the series and taking it online.
The latest Mario Kart has the privilege of being the first in the series with stereoscopic visuals and a number in its title, possibly because being called Mario Kart 3DS would have confused some buyers. In any case, this entry is perhaps rather modest, in terms of innovation, but does have a few exclusive features. The most prominent change is the ability for karts — no bikes in this one — to transform and drive underwater, and most notably glide through the air when making high jumps. Both elements, particularly the latter, allow some creative course designs unlike those seen in the series up to now. The 3DS gyroscope can also be used to steer in a first-person view, a first for the series.
The usual 32 tracks with a mix of old and new are included, though retro courses have been adapted to include boost ramps for gliding. The character roster drops down to 16, plus Mii characters, while multiplayer is served by full worldwide online play for eight racers, local wireless and also Download Play. StreetPass and SpotPass contribute challenges and ghost data content to a Mario Kart Channel, though it lacks the competitions and time trial rankings featured in the Wii iteration. While it perhaps doesn't match the level of content of the DS version, its online options — including communities — and course designs help to make it a worthwhile continuation of the series.
Of course, it all began with Super Mario Kart, 20 years ago today. What do you think of the Super NES original after all of these years, and what are your thoughts on the evolution of the series? Let us know in the comments below.
Happy birthmas Mario kart, all we need now is DLC for mk7.
the first one i played was Mario Kart Super Circuit, but to be Honest my favourite is Double Dash, it was awesome, i was 9 when i played and it blew my mind when i saw graphics (comparing to the n64 version)
Ok so how can you count Wii Sports as the best selling Wii game? It kinda cheating cause that came with the Wii of course people are going to get it.
Anyway think I will celebrate MKs anniversary with some Super Mario Kart on the VC, Mario Kart Wii and Mario Kart 7.
@ThomasBW84 Brilliant stuff! I love each and every game in the Mario Kart series, I could play every title and read about them all day.
Reading this feature makes me want to have a Mario Kart marathon. Just imagine getting a group of gamers together and racing multiplayer tournaments through all seven games in succession. That would be a dream gaming day to me!
Nice one, Tom!
"Happy 20 Year Japanese Anniversary, to Super Famicom Super Mario Kart!"
@Tasuki Didn't come with it in Japan.
i want the feather item from the snes game to make a comeback to mario kart
@Tasuki I agree, though MK Wii has benefited from some console bundle sales too. It's just the way the industry plays it though, bundled console games also count as sales for the game itself. The point is, Mario Kart Wii has sold shed-loads
@JamieO That's the gaming schedule for the next staff meet-up sorted then, playing through all the MK games in one night would be pretty awesome!
Mario Kart Super Circuit's graphics have "not aged well."
Haha. HUGE understatement. Super Circuit is one of the few games I sometimes stop playing because it just looks THAT bad. I don't understand how they messed up the graphics so badly, considering how FZero on the GBA looked great and ran at 60 fps to boot.
Shame, because it really is a great game.
It's one of my favourite series, haven't been too impressed with the wii or GameCube entries but I think mk7 highlights everything good about the genre. Bring on the next 20 years
I don't like Super Circuit but I do enjoy playing courses from the game in Mario Kart 5, 6 and 7. I wish more courses from Super Circuit were featured in newer games.
When the SNES original came out, my friends and I would have weekend-long marathons. It literally never, ever got old. Probably my vote for most replayable game of all time. Don't get me wrong, I loved the later ones too...but personally nothing compares to those early days, when there was nothing like it, and all we wanted to do was hammer each other with turtle shells well into the early morning.
Great article, and great series.
What a wonderful read! Mario Kart really is a phenomenal series. Also, I'm just now realizing how fantastic the GameCube era was for innovation and risk-taking with Nintendo's central franchises: Double Dash, Wind Waker, Super Mario Sunshine, StarFox Adventures, Metroid Prime, even Donkey Kong with Jungle Beat!
@ThomasBW84 I would seriously love that to happen. I agree with @antdickens, not only do the seven Mario Kart games combine to make my favourite series of video games, but SNES Super Mario Kart may very well be my number one video game of all time.
A grand and dramatic statement on my part indeed, but everyone has a series of games that they simply adore. That is Mario Kart to me.
I would feather jump for joy at the possibility of a Mario Kart marathon, at a future Nintendo Life staff meet.
Happy 20th Mario Kart! Its North American anniversary is on September 1st if anyone's interested. I'll be 'celebrating' then.
Glad to own all of them!* Guess I'm off to a "Super Mario Kart" marathon tonight then. =)
*Except of course the very fun Namco Arcade machine.
Super Mario Kart-Never played it
Mario Kart 64-Me and my big bro would always go over our friend's house who had this game and play together
Mario Kart Super Circuit-Never really enjoyed it too well
Mario Kart Double Dash-Me and my bro would play for hours til we got first in everything! Those were the best times!
Mario Kart DS-Never played it!
Mario Kart Wii-So much competition with me and my friends when it came out! Always trying to see who was the best!
Mario Kart 7-I felt it lacked a lot of stuff, but thats why I liked it, I dont know it just gave me a nostalgic feel of past Mario Kart games. It just felt like an old game with modern graphics when I play it.
I like Super Mario Kart, but unfortunately (for it's sake, not for the series') these days I feel it's been surpassed by later entries. I never played it back in the day so that's probably got something to do with it - I only played it after playing the more fleshed-out 64 version.
Mario Kart DS is fantastic - I don't really think you can go wrong with a handheld MK game as good as this. I haven't sunk a huge amount of time into it yet, but I'm sure I'll be playing it for years.
The only other one I've played is Wii, which I really enjoy. The somewhat random nature of the power ups can be frustrating and has, on more than one occasion, prevented me from winning when I'm just about to cross the finish line, but if you approach it just as some maniacal fun rather than a serious racer I think it really delivers.
20 years? I guess ill celebrate it by releasing my custom tracks for SMK since there finished.
Mario kart is a great series. Ive spent much time with mario kart for the GBA, the best of the lot IMO , and too with super mario kart and mario kart DS.
Worst one is Mario Kart 64
Wow! I owe my life to this series! Long live Mario Kart! I have been playing the original Super Mario Kart for most of this rainy Bank Holiday to celebrate...
I'd like to see a "Super Mario Kart 2" on WiiWare. 1992 SNES style gameplay and graphics but completely new courses with proper walls (not Mode 7).
My favourite is MKWii just due to the wealth of content & the online options. I haven't played it in ages though sadly nor have I played MK7 yet. But I still play MK64 all the time with my best friend, we've completed the game, getting gold on every cup on every cc for 34 times & are on our 35th run through. Its just so varied & hilarious that it still feels fresh after all this time. Happy 20th bday Mario Kart series!
I can't even begin to calculate how much of my life has been spent playing Mario Kart 64 and Mario Kart DS. The time spent just in their respective battle modes has to have easily topped 100 hours each.
Happy B-day mario kart
Mario kart is awesome. I own every Mario kart there is. Cant wait for the next Mario kart!
Happy birthday Mario Kart!!! That series will be always unforgettable!!!
Tom's introduction reminds me, I got the chance to play Namco's Mario Kart Arcade GP 2 (2007) for the first time earlier this year. I was chuffed, it was fun to race around a few courses in that game.
I don't know the specifics of licensing issues, but I would love it if Nintendo and Namco Bandai could somehow find a way of releasing its two Triforce arcade board Mario Kart games. They could bring them out as downloadable games on Wii U, in a similar vein to Virtual Console Arcade games. I would buy them if they were a retail release too, as a two game collection. I know that this is unlikely, but there is no harm in dreaming.
Here is a picture of my arcade visit, which also includes a photo of Mario Kart Arcade GP 2.
It's been a fun ride. Lotta birthdays in early autumn, LOL! I still say that Mario Kart 64 is one of my favs, but I do own all of them. The SNES iteration has sucky handling, IMO. Oh, and you forgot to mention the retro cup got it's start on DS. I was blown away that they were able to include Game Cube levels.......
LOL on Pacman being in the GP version. I wished I'd tried it when I had the chance. They should totally stuff Pacman into Smash Bros Wii-U, and use the ghosts as an assist item.
Ok well out of the ones I played I would rank them in this order of my favorite to least.
1. Mario Kart 7
2. Super Mario Kart
3. Super Mario Kart Wii
4. Super Mario Kart: Super Circuit
5. Mario Kart 64
I have never played Double Dash or Mario Kart DS or the Arcade games. I remember seeing the arcade games but they always had long lines to play them.
Mario Kart has always been the most memorable to me when played couch multiplayer, which divides me on which is my favorite...
1) Super Mario Kart with my older brother growing up
2) Super Mario Kart 64 with my high school friends (so many wasted, enjoyable nights)
3) Mario Kart: DD with my then girlfriend, now wife (we still play this from time to time)
I have yet to play more than 5 minutes of MK Wii, but if I had to choose, I would say my most favorite MK is DD in terms of its true co-op play. Here's hoping that in another 20 years we'll still be playing MK in its newest iteration.
In the article under Mario Kart DS, you said it supported eight players for wireless LAN (which I'm guessing you mean online) and I'm pretty sure it only supported four...
We can only imagine what the WiiU installment of the series has in store...
After being a gamer for more than 27 years, having grown up in the US arcade culture, and having played countless games in many systems both home and portable, I have to say that the Mario Kart series is the best of all time for me! Wether it was playing with my brothers on the SNES growing up, all the way up to my college years where my buddies and I would hook up 6 DS' (all with MK DS in them) at the same time to compete, all the way 'till today where I spend many nights losing to great on line competitors, I always enjoy the fun and friendly competition that is Mario Kart! Thanks for the article!
Now, I know that NL has a Community in MK 7 (00-2104-5343-9763). But I find it absurd that it only has six players (myself included)! I repeat: SIX PLAYERS!! Now, I know that the NL on line community has to have more than six MK7 fans out there. I petition that we have an agreed time to join the community and have ourselves a little friendly competition. All for the sake of celebrating the Mario Kart series and to enjoy some friendly NL competition! Who's with me?!
whooaa... whoa whoa whoa!
Mario Kart Super Circuit for GBA is da bomb! what do you mean it's graphics have not aged well ? it looked extremely impressive at the time and i still love the look today!
The sprites are pre-renderd 3D models (Like Donkey Kong Country) with much more detail than the original SNES version and the track themes look much better too.
THIS was why I bought a GBA... heck, THIS was why I got extremely excited about the GBA months before it came out! such an amazing leap forward from GBC to GBA!
20 years of the best racing series ever, and it's probably just gonna get better! Honestly, I played Mario Kart DD alot, but I haven't played Mario Kart Wii at all, and I've play Mario Kart 7, but I really need to get a copy for myself.
Maybe get a copy of Mario Kart 7 is in order
Happy B-Day Mario Kart! Might play some MK7 today.
I have very fond memories of SMK (especially trying to get a red shell to orbit P2 during battle).
I jumped back on board with MKWii & really enjoyed it (especially the multiplayer).
Then I got MK7 for 3DS, and love the online there as well.
I quickly deleted my amb copy of Super Circuit, though. I was excited for it (looking to be a lot like the original), but the controls are way too slippery (not nearly as tight as SMK).
Happy anniversary Mario kart! ^_^
I still think of many fun memories of almost any of the games I play in
Bring on Mario kart Wii U!
The original was the best when I was a child and still is now. It is the purest multiplayer experience you will find in any game. Modern games rely so much on set pieces, fancy graphics and gimmicks in order to wow the audience, this only clouds the shallow experience on modern games.
You can never find anything more pure than this game.
Felt like some MK7 tracks were a let down (looking at you Neo Bowser City )
Other than that, MK7 brought the multiplayer to a whole new level, and I thought that was awesome!
Happy 20th Birthday Mario Kart! Your a year younger than Sonic, and yet you've bested him with only 7 games! (James' anger is going to rain down on me, isn't it?)
Ah<3 what a great article!
Mario Kart is hands down the best racing series of all time.
my personal ranking would be;
Haven't played much Mario Kart Wii since I bricked my Wii and lost all the save games, but I got back into it recently and suddenly spent several hours in online play. Good thing, that game. =)
@Chris720 By wireless LAN I was talking about local multiplayer, which I think covered 8 players with limited tracks in download play or the whole lot if everyone had a game cart. Just above that bit I mention that the online was restricted to just versus and 4 players
As for my favourite Mario Kart, it has to be Mario Kart Wii just because of my experiences playing it with others. I grew up with a Mega Drive, so I've only played Super Mario Kart in the past few years, but I adored playing the Wii game with family. I've played it with family and friends in local multiplayer at Christmas, New Years Eve and many other times, and also with my favourite people as well as strangers online. That's really what the series is all about, in my opinion!
In 5th and 6th grade, gathering after school with friends and supervisors (it was a club for like kids who couldn't stay at home alone, and whose parents can't pick them up yet and stuff), playing Mario Kart DS with 7 other people, just having a blast!
Nostalgia; an era when Nintendo ruled!
i love mario kart so much double dash was the best
Happy Birthday, Mario Kart! I still remember playing a display in Wal-Mart (before it started to be deemed the Evil Empire it is today) a couple of months before I got it. I consider it a happy memory, even though I drove into a corner where I got stuck like a total noob (before "noob" was a term, and even before Noob Saibot came into existence ).
NintendoLife, I'm sure your wrong on Mario Kert Super Circuit on GBA!! Didn't you only get 4 tracks on multiplayer if you only selected (single game pack/cartridge mode!) and you would then get all the tracks if you all had a copy of the game?? As well as having more characters to choose!! I'm sure I'm right!!
I love this version as the controls feel more like the Snes version ( karting on ice!!!) which is hard to master but very satisfying when you do!!
Double Dash was my favorite
OH, I meant to mention earlier... I was having a Nintendo Power nostalgia trip for obvious reasons the other day, and saw that Mario Kart 64 was originally called Super Mario Kart R! Title screen...
So, the SUPER Mario Kart name almost lived on! Quite a view of Wario's rather sizable nose in that title screen! Also, Kamek was going to be a driver, but was replaced by DK.
Every weekday morning before we got on the bus, me and my friend were playing SMK. Waahooooooo~!!!
I can't wait for Mario kart u because it's going 2 b I think the best in the series
@Nintendolover12 I second that! When I first played Mario Kart DS, I couldn't see any way how they could improve the series more. When you think about it, Mario Kart was made for the DS! The second screen was revolutionizing in my opinion since it gave the user a friendlier way to see the map, drivers around them, and to see what items they had or were holding on to! It added more strategy! Now, with the Wii U controller and the power of a console, I think it has the potential to blow all others and become the best of the best in the series!
If I had to rank all my favorite MK games from best to least, it would be this:
I agree with that
Double Dash is still my Mario Kart of choose. I think the N64 version is the worst of the series with a terrible Rainbow Road.
The DS version is still the best next to 64. I remember having 8 friends over, DS' at the ready and playing 4 vs 4 team matches. Being able to talk to your team mates brought back a feeling I hadn't had since LAN sessions of COUNTER-STRIKE. Oh, and I loved letting everyone know I was the one who launched the squid! hehe
I used to truly love Mario Kart as it was like a favorite cart racer and generally was nearly my overall favorite too. Sadly the introduction of the cheap purple shell turning it into a Mario Party like mess of failure and then the hackable snakeable hot mess that is online, and the fact the DS game on 150cc rigged the AI to keep you in 2nd and all others just picked on you(not 1st) I don't buy it anymore which saddens me. I don't have the 3DS game and ditched the Wii one and DS too.
I've loved the series since it's humble beginnings and I can remember when it first came out. Me and my siblings played it to death and I have fond memories of it. My favourite though is Double Dash. I would play with friends beating time trials until the only time we can beat each other is to shave fractions of a second off each time. They were mad times!
@retro_player_22 If I had played MK7 I'd perhaps entirely agree with your order because your list and reasons are right on the nose for me.
@FluttershyGuy: I believe that they changed the name cause I Sonic game was called Sonic R or something similar and Nintendo wanted to avoid a potential law suit so they changed the name to Mario Kart 64.
my favorite is double dash then 64 2d and 7 3rd, you forgot the two arcade mario karts (with pac-man) pac-man labyrinth is an awesome course , if those were included they would be tied for 2nd. double dash 8 player lan, hahaha
I wish they would release the 2 arcades on wii virtual console arcade!!! ask nintendo, to do it,i do all the time!
i hate all rainbow roads, take them out of 8
well actually 10
Happy 20th Anniversary!
great game I loveto play every version
I remember playing Super Mario Kart on the Super NES with my Rumble Pak installed lol... Great game, great fun! I also love Diddy Kong Racing You should include similar games in another review, that game is so underrated! Anyways, I haven't purchased MK7 yet because I've been too busy playing all my other wonderful 3DS games, including Kid Icarus: Uprising and NSMB2, but its on the horizon that's for sure! Can't wait to dig in!
for single player MKDS is my favorite. The choice of retro courses was superb (especially Moo Moo Farm; I don't know why I love it, but I do. It's just so bizarre). The character roster is also superior (go ROB!). Snaking ruined multiplayer, but I don't buy a portable game for multiplayer as the top priority.
the snes version will always have a place in my heart.
They seriously tried to do everything different in the Gamecube era huh?
I'm old enough to say I've been there from the beginning, the SNES game is kinda hard to play now that I'm more used to the modern day versions though
'snaking' never ruined anything, just nobody was bothered about the advanced techniques until the game went online. two serious racers going toe to toe in MKDD/MKDS is as thrilling as the series has ever been. MKDD is my all out favourite for it's superb track design.
fond memories of MK64 but it didn't have the smooth, refined handling. and the original SMK for it's simple but deep hopping round corners mechanic and amazing soundtrack. Wii/7 are more like kids versions with the neutered drift system, although 7 is a step up from the Wii version...worst in the series for me.
Love the Snes version still its the gameplay requires more skill in comparison to the chance based gameplay on the more modern versions.There's also a lot of differences in the handling for each character the only other one that matches in my opinion would be th GBA version. The best 3d version to date was the Nintendo DS version. Haven't played Mario Kart 7 yet though
"Multiplayer was also possible, a rare example where those GBA link cables came in handy, though it was limited to four tracks."
Actually, that was only if you used one copy of Mario Kart: Super Circuit. With one Game Pak for each player, you had access to all 40 courses, as well as Battle mode. There was even a 2-Player Mario GP mode.
All I'm hoping for is a Wii U release, with the motorcycles making a comeback. Either way, I'll buy any game with Mario Kart in its title
SNES Mario Kart for life!
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