Mario Kart Ė A Look at the Series
Super Mario Kart (All games will be referred to by an acronym, in this case Ė SMK)
Console: Super NES
Release Date: 1992
Price: 800 Wii Points
Format: Proprietary Super NES Cartridge, Wii Virtual Console Download (
Mario Kart 64 (MK64)
Console: Nintendo 64, Wii Virtual Console Service
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Release Date: 1996
Price: 1500 Wii Points
Format: Proprietary Nintendo 64 Cartridge, Wii Virtual Console Download (
Mario Kart: Double Dash!! (MKDD)
Players: 1-8 (over LAN)
Release Date: 2003
Format: Proprietary 8cm GameCube Optical Disk
Mario Kart DS (MKDS)
Console: Nintendo DS
Players: 1-8 (locally only
Release Date: 2005
Format: Proprietary Nintendo DS Game Cards
Welcome to my second review, this time Iím going to cover the series of Mario Kart in occurance with the 15th anniversary of Mario Kart. Thatís right Iíll be taking you back to 1992 (before I was even born lol) and I'll show you how the series has progressed right up to the present day in 2007. I wonít be mentioning Mario Kart: Super Circuit (sorry guys) because it simply didnít feature anything to make it stand out. It has been one heck of a roller coaster ride and the series has come a long way, in all fields; graphics, sound and most importantly gameplay. To find out just how far it has come, youíre gonna have to keep readingÖ.
SMK was a fun little racer with highly unusual gameplay, which really helped to set it out from the rest of the pack. The game was a pretty standard steer and brake affair, but the course design really set it apart from its other 16-bit racing counterparts. You were taken through some of the famous locations of the Mario franchise albeit much more twisty than usual. The characters were quite cool as well, with eight characters ranging from Mario to DK each with their strengths and weaknesses. The item system was really unusual, the player had access to a wide arsenal of items, which could be used to enhance the characters abilities or be used as weapons. These include banana peels to give your opponents a slip-up, the famous Star that gave the user invincibility and extra speed, green and red shells as weapons (green are direct fire whilst red track the opponents), a feather that gives the user the ability to cross large gaps, good old mushies for a nice speed boost and thunder that shrunk everyone so you could squash them like a pancake. But really the level design and items werenít able to save the game from the nagging feeling that it was too simple, which it was.
MK64 fixed all that while retaining those important landmarks that SMK had established. Course design was leap years ahead of SMK; the courses were larger, more detailed and werenít annoying flat. But best of all was the new system of mini-turbos that allowed the user to boost off from a drift by toggling the control stick back and forth, it was the best innovation of the series ever and still exists to this day. Another improvement over SMK was the speed; it was much faster (it didnít feel like you were pedalling your grandmaís bicycle) and didnít drag around the turns. There was a few new additions to items; fake item boxes which work in a similar way to bananas but could be used as decoys, bob-ombs which are explosive little critters that are shot into the air and blue shells which target the person in 1st place.
The developers mustíve known they were on a roll with the innovations because when Double Dash!! came out, they changed a little too much of the formula. The most noticeable change is the inclusion of two players per kart. One was assigned to driving whilst the other was in charge of the gunning; it was quite a cool system. Everything was oversized, the handling a bit crazy and the course design was pretty smooth. Perhaps the best thing were the special items which were given to certain character teams, entitling them to a strong item for example, Baby Mario and Luigi special was a huge Chain-Chomp that pulled their cart around for a while damaging anyone stupid enough to get in the way.
Then came along MKDS, which switched back to the tried and true formula whilst giving it a sweet flavour of its own. The course design was in the middle between MK64 and MKDD, in other words best of both worlds with clever design and crazy courses. As if that wasnít enough, there are 16 courses from the previous four games in the series. The mini-turbos were re-designed from scratch, now the dream of being able to stick to a corner and come out speeding is a reality. As well as being able to hug those corners, MKDS introduced some new clever items: the blooper and the bullet bill. The blooper spurts ink to block the opponentís vision, a nice idea in theory but it doesnít really affect the driver. The Bullet Bill is like a ten second roller coaster ride; the user goes on super speed autopilot knocking down all competition in the way (similar to the before mentioned Chomp). Another cool inclusion was the Mission mode, which sees the driver completing a set of tasks and then given a rank at the end (not unlike Grand Turismo licence tests).
Phew, so that pretty much sums up fifteen years of glorious Mario Kart gameplay!
Mario Kart has always been a 3D franchise. You could always argue that Mode 7 isnít true 3D but it does give the impression of a 3D environment. Besides that, graphically everything has changed. SMK started out as a pretty but not particularly impressive showcase of Mode 7. The tiny draw distance and pixilation problems didnít really help it but still it was a good tech demo for Mode 7 and it did the job. MK64 on the other hand was very colourful and the characters looked great. The texturing was pretty well done and the item effects looked sweet. MK64 succeeded in this field because it was simple but gorgeous. MKDD was a complete so graphically wild but it fitted the whole crazy zany theme perfectly. Nice wacky oversized visuals with very smooth and emotive character animation really won me over not to mention a lack of jaggies made this one of the (graphically speaking) premier GameCube games. MKDS is very similar to MK64 but no texture blending and no anti-aliasing make this game look a little worse. Still it manages a silky smooth 60fps while keeping a clean 3D look, so thumbs up for this one.
The music of the franchise as a whole is very similar to the main Mario titles. SMK sounded similar to Super Mario World but used (low quality) retro sound effects. It really wasnít varied enough the songs were very similar. MK64 had a reasonable soundtrack and the visual-audio matching is great (e.g. Moomoo farm sounds very um farmy etc). The soundtrack is also similar to Mario 64 but has its own unique ring about it; the quality is pretty decent too. MKDD had a killer soundtrack, which was really the best point of the game. It featured a variety of instruments that integrated seamlessly with the gameplay. Anyway, who couldnít like the catchy tunes (Baby Park is a hit)? MKDS is decent but nothing really worth mentioning. The tunes are simple and likable, it sounds pretty similar to MK64 but half the tunes originate from other games so itís pretty hard to judge.
Multiplayer is the crowning feature, the icing on cake, the choc-chips in a Cadbury Brownie of the Mario Kart series. The trademark of the series is the fantastic multiplayer. It all began with tough 2-player battles in SMK where the crash of thunder could mean a twist from last to first. The power that item use has over the game is unbelievable and the sense of randomness about it has been carried throughout the series (red shells on the line, anyone?). The bonus mode in SMK called Balloon Battle was quite cool and it remains a highlight of the series to this day. Protect your balloons whilst eliminating everyone elseís (through the use of items); it quickly turns into the survival of the fittest. MK64 was similar in multiplayer, balloon battle was the same but the introduction of two extra human players to the mix is a hit with the fans (i.e. me). MKDD was really a departure from MK64 because this time there could be up to eight players playing over a LAN. The double kart feature developed a real co-op style of gameplay that made it all the better to play with friends. A bitter disappointment suffered by GC owners was the lack on online play. When MKDS came out it had eight-player wireless and (sadly only) four-player ONLINE play, it was, dare I say it, the peak of the series (in multiplayer terms). Sure the online play couldíve been much improved, thereís no lobby or balloon battle and the racing itself is a little sour. Local play is a saving grace in multiplayer because online play suffers with bad handling and the inability to trail shells behind your kart. On local you can swap time trial ghosts and play all the multiplayer modes. Shine runners is a completely new mode which sees the players running around collecting Shines, the one with the least Shines is disqualified after half a minute. Balloon battle has been revised so that you only start with a single balloon and the others must be blown up. Itís a good system, which forces the player to take cover in order to inflate his balloons.
Whew so youíve just take a look at fifteen years worth of Mario Kart. Many of us have grown up with this franchise and the karting community has grown fierce and competitive. Replay value is a real highlight here; setting record speed time trials and playing balloon battles with your friends can keep you coming back to the series. To be frank, thereís never been a better time to play Mario Kart and for all those of you who havenít picked up a Mario Kart game, please do so now. I hope you enjoyed my review as much as I did writing and playing the games. Enjoy!
Pros and Cons of the series
+++: Powersliding mechanics, item system, course design
- - -: Online play could be a little more developed
Graphics: 7.5 (SMK), 8.5 (MK64), 9(MKDD), 8.5 (MKDS)
Sound: 6, 7, 9.5, 8
Gameplay: 8, 8.5, 8, 9
Replay Value: 7.5, 7.5, 9, 9.5
Mario + Kart = Mario Kart XD
BTW, if you enjoyed the review some good karma would be really nice :). *crosses fingers*