Released a few years after the Super Nintendo, Super Mario Kart was an odd proposition: Nintendo’s mascot Mario, his brother, his friends and his enemies get into carts, racing around flat, pseudo-3D tracks based on some very familiar Mario worlds.
Weapons included turtle shells, fire flowers and, er, bananas. They’re the pinnacle of the Mario Kart experience now, but at the time, compared to the more buttoned-up racing games of the 1990s, it all seemed so silly. And fun. Super Mario Kart it was a critical and commercial hit, with racing and multiplayer battles further boosted by the N64 version, which had four controller ports from the start.
Nintendo has continued to evolve the series over three decades and 14 games, offering different vehicles, copilots, portable versions and just… so… many… pieces. The company’s official celebration of this milestone (pun intended) appears to be the addition of eight new tracks to the latest iteration of the game, Mario Kart 8 Deluxebut the cursor’s influence goes beyond the console.
It spawns remote-controlled cars, theme park rides, mobile spin-offs, and an army of impersonators who try (and fail) to replicate the magic of the Mushroom Kingdom racer. Here, on the eve of the franchise’s 30th birthday, some of Engadget’s most ardent Nintendo gamers reminisce about their favorite Mario Kart moments.
Throwing turtle shells in Tokyo arcade
I wish I could write about the Super Nintendo Land Mario Kart ride, but COVID-19 derailed my plans to visit (in the name of journalism, of course). So I’m going to talk about my favorite version of Mario Kart: the arcade version. Sit behind a cute cartoon steering wheel, adjust the seat because it was almost always set up for a child, and play Mario Kart like it’s a hyperreal driving experience.
Mario Kart Arcade GP DX is actually the third arcade version of Mario Kart, made in collaboration with Bandai Namco, which meant that the Pac-Man and other third party characters. I used to play it while living in Tokyo, which meant that the match announcements were voiced by Rika Matsumoto, who I later found out also voices Ash Ketchum in POKEMON anime. (Yes, it was a top experience in Japan!)
These machines also had a small camera that would take a picture of the runner on the shared item and put a Mario hat and other items on them. It was cute, but dumb. You could save your progress on a card system, something you’d see on many arcade machines – especially in Japan, but that seemed a bit too serious to me. There I was, sometimes a little drunk and wanting to beat my friends in Mario Kart, behind a wheel. When I wasn’t hanging out at home with my Nintendo console (tragically, at this point, the Wii U), this was my Mario Kart home away from home. But I still haven’t played Mario Kart VR. I’m sure I can fit in a quick race when I visit Japan again to tour Nintendo’s theme park. – Mat Smith, Head of UK Office
Battle mode with an older millennial
It’s a little painful to admit that my introduction to Mario Kart came through the original Super Mario Kart. Yes, I am a geriatric millennial. I didn’t get it on release day, but I’m pretty sure it was mine by Christmas. I’ve played almost every installment since, with some particularly fond memories of the ridiculous battles I had with my friends after college Mario Kart 64 and Mario Kart: Double Dash. But the original will always have a special place in my heart because of one very enjoyable feature: Battle Mode.
My best friend and I have played a positively staggering number of Battle Mode matches over the years. Sure, we’d dabble in Grand Prix mode too, but there was something very satisfying about going head-to-head, trying to pop each other’s balloons with red shells and banana peels. It was the big equalizer. in match mode, there is at least some ability that comes into play.
But Battle Mode is more about getting as many weapons as quickly as possible in the hope that you’ll luck into a red shell. You don’t have to be a skilled runner, although it can certainly help you escape disaster. Battle Mode’s near-complete randomness was a big part of its appeal, though – it’s hard to get too mad at your friend when you’re just as likely to ditch them in the next round.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been playing Mario Kart’s traditional Grand Prix levels nonstop, too — I still love those ghost worlds, not to mention the sheer terror that Rainbow Road still inspires after all these years. But Battle Mode was a great little experience when you just wanted to focus on throwing shells and nothing else. Since Nintendo has dabbled in battle royale games Tetris 99 and Super Mario Bros. 35, it seems like a good time to bring back Battle Mode in the next Mario Kart. – Nathan Ingraham, Associate Editor
Let’s talk about Rainbow Road
There have been a ton of epic tracks throughout Mario Kart’s 30-year history, but for me, there’s one course that rose above its place on the circuit and left a lasting impression unlike any other: Rainbow Road. Now, I will fully admit that in terms of pure gameplay, there are many racetracks like Wario Stadium, Baby Park, or Koopa Troopa Beach that are more fun and engaging. And if the only version of Rainbow Road we got was the one from the original Mario Kart on the SNES – which was a somewhat crude and spartan affair – I probably wouldn’t have written this excerpt at all.
But when Nintendo recreated Rainbow Road for mario kart 64, the track became more than a race. it was a celebration. The added lift and reduced gravity make it seem like you’re floating on a rollercoaster, while the introduction of familiar faces from previous Mario games in the style of neon lights brings warmth to the cold black void. And then there’s the soundtrack (please check out this version, which really does the song justice): It features playful woodwinds mixed with synth guitar that transition seamlessly from relaxing to energetic to almost melancholic at points. The rainbow road inside Mario Kart 64 it’s one part technicolor dream drive, one part Nintendo Hall of Fame, and one part victory lap. – Sam Rutherford, Senior Writer