Released a few years after the Super Nintendo, Super Mario Kart was a strange proposition: Nintendo’s mascot Mario, his brother, friends and enemies ride in carts, racing around flat, pseudo-3D tracks based on some very familiar Mario worlds.
Weapons included turtle shells, fire flowers and, uh, bananas. Now they’re all mainstays of the Mario Kart experience, but at the time, compared to the more buttoned-down racing games of the 90s, it all seemed so silly. And fun. Super Mario Kart was a critical and commercial hit, with multiplayer races and battles further enhanced by the N64 version, which had four controller ports from the start.
Nintendo continued to develop the series over three decades and 14 games, offering different vehicles, co-pilots, portable versions, and just… so… many… tracks. The official celebration of this company milestone (pun intended) appears to be the addition of eight new tracks to the latest iteration of the game, Mario Kart 8 Deluxebut the racer’s influence goes beyond the console.
It spawned remote control cars, theme park rides, mobile pods and an army of contenders trying (and failing) to replicate the magic of the Mushroom Kingdom racer. Here, on the eve of the franchise’s 30th birthday, a few of Engadget’s most avid Nintendo gamers recall their favorite Mario Kart moments.
Throwing turtle shells in a Tokyo arcade
I wish I could write about the Super Nintendo Land Mario Kart ride, but COVID-19 has 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. Get behind a cute cartoon steering wheel, adjust the seat because it’s almost always been set up for a kid, and play Mario Kart like it’s a hyperreal drive.
Mario Kart Arcade GP DX is actually the third arcade release of Mario Kart made in collaboration with Bandai Namco, which meant the inclusion of the likes of Pak Man and other third-party characters. I played it while living in Tokyo, which meant that the race announcements were voiced by Rika Matsumoto, who I later learned also voices Ash Ketchum in Pokemon anime. (Yes, it was the ultimate Japan experience!)
These machines also had a small camera that took a photo of the contestant in the share and superimposed a Mario hat and other objects on top of it. It was cute but dumb. You could save your progress with a card system, something you’d see on a lot of arcade machines – especially in Japan, but that seemed a bit too serious for me. I was there, sometimes a little drunk, and I wanted to beat my friends in Mario Kart behind the wheel. When I wasn’t hanging out at home with my Nintendo console (tragically, at this point, the Wii U), it was mine Mario Kart a home away from home. But I haven’t played yet Mario Kart VR. I’m sure I can fit in a quick race when I visit Japan again to tour the Nintendo theme park. – Matt Smith, UK Bureau Chief
Battle mode with an older millennium
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 launch day, but I’m pretty sure it was mine by Christmas. I’ve played almost every part since then, with some particularly fond memories of the ridiculous fights I had with my post-college friends on Mario Kart 64 and Mario Kart: Double Dash. But the original will always hold a special place in my heart because of one very delightful feature: Battle Mode.
My best friend and I have played a positively staggering number of Battle Mode matches over the years. Of course, we’d also tackle the Grand Prix mode, but there was something immensely satisfying about going head-to-head trying to pop red-shell balloons and banana peels. That was the great equalizer; in competitive mode there is at least some skill that comes into play.
But Battle Mode is more about getting as many weapons as possible as quickly as possible in hopes of getting lucky in a red shell. You don’t have to be a skilled racer, although it can certainly help you escape doom. 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 beat them in the next round.
Don’t get me wrong, I also played the traditional Mario Kart Grand Prix levels off and on — I still love those haunted house worlds, not to mention the sheer terror that Rainbow Road still evokes after all these years. But Battle Mode was a great little experience when you just wanted to focus on throwing projectiles and nothing else. Considering Nintendo is into Battle Royale style games Tetris 99 and Super Mario Bros. 35, it seems like a great time to bring Battle Mode back into the next Mario Kart. – Nathan Ingraham, Deputy Editor
Let’s talk about Rainbow Road
There have been many epic tracks throughout the 30 year history of Mario Kart, but for me there is one track that has risen above its place on the track and left a lasting impression unlike any other: Rainbow Road. Now I will fully admit that when it comes to pure gameplay, there are many tracks 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 snippet at all.
But when Nintendo recreated Rainbow Road for mario kart 64, the track became more than a race; it was a holiday. The added altitude and reduced gravity make it seem like you’re floating on a roller coaster, while the insertion of familiar faces from previous Mario games, styled as neon lights, brings warmth to the cold black void. And then there’s the soundtrack (please check this version, which really does the song justice): features playful woodwinds mixed with synth guitar that smoothly transition from soothing to energetic to almost melancholic in places. Rainbow Road in Mario Kart 64 is one part technicolor dream drive, one part Nintendo Hall of Fame, and one part victory lap. – Sam Rutherford, Senior Writer
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