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Wii

The Innovations of Mario Kart

Super Mario Kart

by Pedro Hernandez - December 4, 2011, 10:18 am PST

Super Mario Karts storms onto consoles and revolutionizes the industry in the process.

Name: Super Mario Kart

System: Super NES

Year: 1992

Innovations: The kart racing concept as a whole.

Since its launch, the Super NES presented itself as being a graphically revolutionary system that would not only reinvigorate existing game genres and franchises but create new ones in the process. Players had already seen how the Mode 7 graphics system would present very fast racing games thanks to F-Zero, a game so full of personality and creativity that it would become a cult franchise for the company.

In 1992, Nintendo released a game that was born out of the need to innovate with their technology as well as present a classic franchise in a very unique manner. That game was Super Mario Kart. While Mario and the gang had starred in spin-off titles like Dr. Mario, Super Mario Kart would be the first game to truly utilize all of the franchise's assets. The game took place in famous locales previously seen in Mario's premiere Super NES title, Super Mario World, and gathered familiar faces from throughout the franchise. Everyone, from fan favorites like Mario, Luigi and Peach to lesser known friends like Koopa and Donkey Kong Jr., was there to have the time of their lives through kart racing.


It is important to note, however, why these characters are important. These characters were placed into the categories of light, medium and heavy. Knowing this was vital to the experience, as these stats affected their overall performance. Light characters would have the lowest maximum speed but would handle perfectly, while heavier characters were harder to control but had the best speed. Medium characters served as a nice balance between the two. Rarely had a racing game put so much emphasis on the drivers themselves as opposed to the vehicle they were racing, becoming in itself an innovation that would be not only present in future Mario Kart titles but other racing games in the industry.

Another innovation that Super Mario Kart brought forth was the usage of weapons. Much like the characters and the racing courses, these weapons were taken out of the Mario lore, including feathers, mushrooms, and shells. Some were defensive weapons that would keep opponents at bay or aided you in your overall performance. A very simple concept, but it was one that was done so effectively that it defined the whole experience for many. Players would come up with unique ways to use these weapons, allowing them to discover shortcuts that would otherwise be impossible to reach without them. The weapons in Super Mario Kart would inspire the concept of the battle racer, with franchises such as Sony's Twisted Metal series taking it to its violent extremes.

How the game was presented was also one of its shining innovations. The release of F-Zero the year prior to Super Mario Kart had proven a game could look great and still have a very fast perfomance, making players feel like they were partaking in a very fast and furious affair. Super Mario Kart may not have been as fast as F-Zero, but it was fast enough that it kept things thrilling and exciting for fans without any drop in performance. The screen was cut in half, with the upper portion displaying the character racing and the lower portion displaying the maps and the characters. The option to see behind your character was also included to further aid players in their strategies.

Finally, and easily one of the most defining parts of the series as a whole, was the multiplayer. The single-player mode had players completing several cups through various difficulty settings, a very standard feature for the game. But it was the multiplayer mode that sold the game to a lot of people. Alongside the standard versus racing modes, Super Mario Kart featured a balloon battle mode. The main objective behind it was to destroy your opponent's balloons using various items that are scattered throughout the battle stage. A very simplistic concept for a multiplayer mode, but one that had so much potential that it delighted nearly everyone who tried it. Unfortunately, with the system only allowing for two players, the full potential wouldn't be reached until much later.

With six additional entries in the franchise (each with their own innovations), it can be easy to forget about the one game that started it all. It wasn't the most groundbreaking game in the market, but its simple ideas, along with a rock-solid execution, made not just one of the best games ever made for the Super NES but the one example to follow when designing a multiplayer racing game. Better games have come out since, but very few will deny the staying power this one game had.

Talkback

readyletsgoDecember 04, 2011

Great article!!!

Love MK:DD still, MK:Wii is ok, but never really go back to it. MK64 and SMK, are great too!

Just got MK7, great little game, loads in it! The online feature is brilliant must say, but everyone on there is already a pro at the game lol.

Wondering with MK:Super Circuit in the Ambassador GBA games, will there be online play with that?

TrueNerdDecember 04, 2011

I think I'm burned out on Mario Kart. Double Dash was the last time I felt like this was a franchise that was still trying. I mean, Mario Kart DS is a technically sound game that captures everything good about Mario Kart and I wasn't that crazy about it. It just felt samey. Mario Kart Wii has more fundamental problems and it leaves me feeling cold every time I play it. And I haven't read/seen anything about MK7 to lead me to believe that that would change my mind about things. The ONLY temptation there for me is to play online with the fine people of these here forums. But that's probably not worth $40 to me. Sorry. But if anyone wants to revive that Warp Pipe trick for Double Dash, I'd be game for that!

famicomplicatedJames Charlton, Associate Editor (Japan)December 04, 2011

Super Circuit - You could recover from slipping on a banana skin sometimes, by tapping down and brake. This has never been done since, shame. I love this game because it's a true sequel to SMK!
Double Dash - Baby characters, on rails sections, 2-mile wide tracks and secret shortcuts that took longer than the regular track!? (apologies for the trolling but this is my worst MK game by far)
MK DS - Mission mode, oh how I will miss thee. So good.
MK Wii - nothing beats updating your data to find a friend has beaten your time on a track, only to download his ghost and try and reclaim your title back. Most underrated and overly criticised MK game in my book.


I know MK7 doesn't have the mission modes of MKDS, but I hope the online is as good as MKWii because that's all it needs to be a permanent fixture in my 3DS for the next 2/3 years.

KikoriMinoru Yamaizumi, Japan CorrespondentDecember 05, 2011

> You could recover from slipping on a banana skin sometimes, by tapping down and brake.

Cool! I wish I could dodge a blue shell by the Shoryuken command.

KITT 10KDecember 05, 2011

Super Circuit was NOT the sequel to SMK, MK64 was. But I never had MISCELLANEOUS but with the ambassador program I'll be able to download it for free when it becomes available for the VC for the 3DS.

Ian SaneDecember 05, 2011

I used to see Nintendo as a company that made every game count.  They either did something brand new or if it was a sequel or spin-off the gameplay was unique enough or improved enough to stand on its own.  On the NES, SNES and N64 Nintendo rarely made a throw-away title and they were not only good at mixing stuff up with their sequels but it came across as so natural.  It was rarely forced.

I think on the Gamecube is when they started to lose it but it wasn't due to a lack of trying.  They clearly tried to do something different with games like Wind Waker and Super Mario Sunshine but it came across as forced.  Nintendo couldn't effortlessly change things up.  Double Dash is another great example.  Clearly Nintendo didn't want to just make "More Mario Kart 64" because that's not how Nintendo did things back then.  But no obvious improvement or innovation was coming to mind so they come up with the double kart thing and the whole things feels incredibly forced.

It is the last time Nintendo really tried with Mario Kart because Nintendo changed afterwards.  After struggling to innovative every time out with the Gamecube Nintendo switched to releasing product for the sake of product.  Mario Kart is now disposable.  If you miss one game it doesn't matter because the goal is to just to get a Mario Kart out for each system.

The options were to either not make Mario Karts anymore because they've pushed the concept as far as it makes sense to or make generic Mario Karts.  Since one involves abandoning an established brand I can see why they chose what they did.

Quote from: famicomplicated

Super Circuit - You could recover from slipping on a banana skin sometimes, by tapping down and brake. This has never been done since, shame. I love this game because it's a true sequel to SMK!

64 had it where you could just hit B and avoid the spin.

Quote from: Ian

I used to see Nintendo as a company that made every game count.  They either did something brand new or if it was a sequel or spin-off the gameplay was unique enough or improved enough to stand on its own.  On the NES, SNES and N64 Nintendo rarely made a throw-away title and they were not only good at mixing stuff up with their sequels but it came across as so natural.  It was rarely forced.

I think on the Gamecube is when they started to lose it but it wasn't due to a lack of trying.  They clearly tried to do something different with games like Wind Waker and Super Mario Sunshine but it came across as forced.  Nintendo couldn't effortlessly change things up.  Double Dash is another great example.  Clearly Nintendo didn't want to just make "More Mario Kart 64" because that's not how Nintendo did things back then.  But no obvious improvement or innovation was coming to mind so they come up with the double kart thing and the whole things feels incredibly forced.

It is the last time Nintendo really tried with Mario Kart because Nintendo changed afterwards.  After struggling to innovative every time out with the Gamecube Nintendo switched to releasing product for the sake of product.  Mario Kart is now disposable.  If you miss one game it doesn't matter because the goal is to just to get a Mario Kart out for each system.

The options were to either not make Mario Karts anymore because they've pushed the concept as far as it makes sense to or make generic Mario Karts.  Since one involves abandoning an established brand I can see why they chose what they did.

If Nintendo wasn't really trying with Mario Kart DS they should have never been really trying with the series, because it's the best one they've made.

Troll comment: Mario Kart DS is my least favorite iteration in the series. It's only good for local multiplayer since everyone in the world has it (and you can do single-card).

What don't you like about it? Really creative (and relevant to the franchise) tracks and the best battle mode in the series (though I haven't played MK7 yet). The only way I could see it being any better would be to modernize the online system.

Quote from: NWR_insanolord

What don't you like about it? Really creative (and relevant to the franchise) tracks and the best battle mode in the series (though I haven't played MK7 yet). The only way I could see it being any better would be to modernize the online system.

It just never stuck with me. Though I always forget about Mission Mode. That was pretty novel.

Track comments are very subjective. They weren't super memorable. Any of the memorable ones have showed up as retro tracks in Wii/3DS (Waluigi Pinball is the tits).

It's also one of my least favorite battle modes in the series. Once again, another subjective call.

And every experience I had with online was pretty shitty. Polar opposite of everything I've experienced with Wii/3DS. I recognize I can't totally hate the game for being woefully inadequate for online stuff when it was one of Nintendo's first forays into it, but it still kind of sucked. Snaking ruined it for me.

I really love how vastly people feel about different Mario Karts. While the games are all primarily similar, they each generally have enough individual differences to make them unique. It's kind of awesome.

NWR_pap64Pedro Hernandez, Contributing WriterDecember 05, 2011

Quote from: NWR_Neal

I really love how vastly people feel about different Mario Karts. While the games are all primarily similar, they each generally have enough individual differences to make them unique. It's kind of awesome.

That's why I wrote this series: all the games are similar in terms of gameplay, but all of them have something that make them stand out as being the absolute best or the worst the series has ever offered.

In MY case, I can't stand Mario Kart Wii. Those that have heard episode 10 of Connectivity know that. It is just a very unfair game. It is rubber band-ing at its worst. I realize that the other kart games had that, MK Wii was just awful, and from everything I heard MK 7 looks to follow the same path. I KNOW that Mario Kart is all about the multiplayer, but especially in the newer games you unlock karts and characters through single player, so going through that to get the best is really frustrating.

Pedro, it's not the game's fault you're not good at it. :P

Are there moments of total douchebaggery in recent Mario Kart games? Yes, no doubt, but there are also moments where you get to be a douchebag, too. I've won races I've had no right winning by getting a few lucky item pick-ups. I've also lost races the same way. It's fair in its own messed up way.

Ian SaneDecember 06, 2011

Quote:

I KNOW that Mario Kart is all about the multiplayer, but especially in the newer games you unlock karts and characters through single player, so going through that to get the best is really frustrating.


This is kind of a bizarre flaw with most racing games.  Why do they feel the need to make us unlock everything in single player?  Can't we just have everything available at once?  Racing games, probably more than any other genre, is multiplayer focused.  The single player mode exists to give a player something to do when he doesn't have friends over or wants to practice by himself.  No one is thinking "yeah, I can't wait to beat the new Mario Kart!"  They think "I can't wait to race against my friends."  That's the appeal.  So why does every racing game make us have to jump through hoops in a single player mode we don't really want to spend so much time on to unlock the tracks?  Are they afraid it won't have enough game length?  It's a multiplayer game!  It has near unlimted replay value!

If I didn't have anything to unlock in the game, the likelihood of me playing single-player at all is slim. It's nice having some sort of reward, no matter what it is.

PlugabugzDecember 06, 2011

I wonder if fixes the flaw in MK DS and Wii that online the game ascends/descends (depending on your viewpoint) into less being about fun and more being about how few mistakes you can make to win and get higher up the ranks only to run into nothing but those who play the game to precision-perfect to the point they suck the fun out of it.

CericDecember 06, 2011

Quote from: Plugabugz

I wonder if fixes the flaw in MK DS and Wii that online the game ascends/descends (depending on your viewpoint) into less being about fun and more being about how few mistakes you can make to win and get higher up the ranks only to run into nothing but those who play the game to precision-perfect to the point they suck the fun out of it.

You mean like Starcraft?

Ian SaneDecember 06, 2011

Quote from: NWR_Neal

If I didn't have anything to unlock in the game, the likelihood of me playing single-player at all is slim. It's nice having some sort of reward, no matter what it is.

Is it a reward or a chore?  Gameplay should be it's own reward.  If you wouldn't play it otherwise, you probably just don't find it that fun.

Mop it upDecember 06, 2011

Quote from: NWR_pap64

In MY case, I can't stand Mario Kart Wii. It is just a very unfair game. It is rubber band-ing at its worst.

The interesting thing about this statement is, Mario Kart Wii actually has very little (or possibly none) rubber-banding, certainly less than previous games in the series. Unless you're not talking about AI scripts and instead the general notion of keeping the racers together, which would be something more subjective.

PlugabugzDecember 07, 2011

Quote from: Ceric

Quote from: Plugabugz

I wonder if fixes the flaw in MK DS and Wii that online the game ascends/descends (depending on your viewpoint) into less being about fun and more being about how few mistakes you can make to win and get higher up the ranks only to run into nothing but those who play the game to precision-perfect to the point they suck the fun out of it.

You mean like Starcraft?

Yes. When you get past the "random mix" of new, and intermediate players (around rank 5-6000 on MK Wii) and ascend into 6000-8000 you start to get the advanced players. Beyond that you just get into the cheaters (who can somehow complete a course in 0.4 seconds), and those that play the game with such efficiency they nearly always wind up first or second no matter how well you play.

Efficient Mario Kart stops being fun because you devote so much time to shaving time off your race and getting ahead over fun playing and doing silly things. Playing online with people like that (especially with 11 others online, all the same mentality) sucks the fun out. It's not fun to be 100% perfect.

famicomplicatedJames Charlton, Associate Editor (Japan)December 07, 2011

Unlocking all the karts in Double Dash felt like a chore to me.
Still, didn't stop me getting all the gold karts and the alternate title screen. *sigh*

readyletsgoDecember 07, 2011

Is it just me or is it kinda hard to unlock the other characters in MK7? Have only unlocked my Mii and finished 50c and half way through 100cc atm.

And also when online, why is everyone else driving super fast and any kart I pick that is fast seems to be really slow?
Any help would be great!

Also with this MK7 feeling a little incomplete, does anyone think Ninty will release DLC for MK7? Like new tracks an stuff, at a good price or for free?
Or will they work on another MK for the 3ds to be released in 3/4 years time?

SilverQuilavaDecember 07, 2011

My god, that game must be fun as all hell :O

Fiendlord_TimmayDecember 07, 2011

The true fun in MKWii is in the online. The single player is pretty much throwaway.

As for the rubber banding, no clue about how the AI is programmed, but as for lumping everyone together...I never really saw that. Just by playing the game a lot, I got good enough to the point where I could finish a race with a good 30 second lead on the computers - and my friends. I laugh at blue shells now.

To address Plugabugz's point, I peaked at about 9100 VR online, and I never "practiced" to shave extra seconds off the clock, and I certainly never cheated. I just played the game a hell of a lot and got better naturally. Obviously not everyone likes the game enough to do that, but the matchmaking in this game is surprisingly good for a Nintendo game. I've rarely found myself mismatched in MKWii online.

GrabMyBoomstickDecember 14, 2011

Great article Pedro. I haven't played MK 7 yet but gotta say MK DS is still my fav...although I really enjoyed all the online content from MK Wii.

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