Super Mario Kart came out for the SNES more than 15 years ago, and though there have been many challengers since, the venerable Mario Kart franchise it spawned has remained the undisputed king of kart racing games.
The series has changed remarkably over the years, both in terms of graphics and gameplay. While the original laid the foundation by introducing many of the core items and characters, it wasn't until Mario Kart 64 that the series would take shape as we know it today--blue shells and all.
Join us on an odyssey through time as we look at the long history of console Mario Kart games and examine how the characters, items, and tracks have visually transformed over the years.
The CharactersMario Kart began with a cast of eight, all of whom have (mostly) gone on to appear in every game since. This number has gradually swelled up to the current 25-character roster, but we took a look at the original eight to see how time has worked in their favor.
The magnificently mustachioed plumber always leads the pack. Is he supervising Bowser and making sure that kidnappings aren't on the agenda? Maybe he just wants another win to add to his savior-complex wall? Nah, he's more likely just stuck fulfilling endorsement deals for the next hundred years!
The princess of the Mushroom Kingdom has never been one to skip out on an adventure or one of the annual sporting events around her demesne. There are protocols in place to discourage the royals from participating in such vulgar, lowbrow happenings, but Peach's fiery personality and clear disregard for the rules allow her to freely mix with the common folk. Her people love her for it, but few approve of the sizeable expenditure necessary for proper rescue operations. When you put yourself at risk so recklessly and so often, don't be surprised if they only send a plumber to save you.
It takes a lot of self-confidence to go shirtless with a vest, but Peach's royal underling has managed to work it well enough that you've probably never noticed. He worked his way up to become an unlockable character in Mario Kart: Double Dash, but fell back into the common ranks after Nintendo realized that unlocking Toad was the reward equivalent of receiving socks for Christmas.
Yoshi driving a go-kart makes about as much sense as Sonic hoverboard racing. We're more interested in why Mario's always-faithful mount has chosen to participate in the competition: to get a chance to be the rider instead of the beast of burden, or to get revenge on Mario for dropping him down that pit in the Star World? Perhaps a little bit of both.
The Man in Green, Luigi has always lived his life in his better-known brother's shadow. But thanks to all that spare time he's had while his bro's been off saving the Mushroom Kingdom, Luigi's been able to spend more quality time with his lady, Daisy. Where are the giant statues of Peach and Mario being all lovey-dovey? Oh that's right. There aren't any.
The King of the Koopas, Bowser has been a member of the racing crew from the beginning and has gone so far as to offer his very own castle for use as one of the raceways. Whether this is because he just really loves to go-kart or just wants an excuse to trade paint with Peach has yet to be determined.
When Rare reshaped the Donkey Kong franchise with Donkey Kong Country, it was based on the belief that the Donkey Kong that we know is actually the son of the original Donkey Kong, and then the father made his return as Cranky Kong. If true, that explains why Donkey Kong was named Donkey Kong Jr. in Super Mario Kart on the SNES but later became Donkey Kong on the Nintendo 64 and later consoles.
Bowser's loyal minion led the light kart racers into battle in the original Super Mario Kart. Koopa Troopa was suspiciously absent in Mario Kart 64, having been replaced with Mario's Bizarro World clone, Wario. Though Wario would appear in every subsequent Mario Kart game, Koopa Troopa and his undead variant, Dry Bones, would appear intermittently throughout the series.
The TracksThe courses of Mario Kart have always been themed around specific locations in or characters from the Mario universe. Over the years, they've gotten more detailed and ambitious in their designs, but for the most part these themes can still be traced. For this feature, we've picked some of the most iconic of the recurring tracks, though there are plenty more worth looking at, such as the various ice and desert courses.
The haunted houses and valleys of Mario Kart have always been some of the most atmospheric tracks in the game, but they've been absent in several key releases, having been replaced it would seem by Wario's tracks. As great as the rollercoaster-like courses are, it's a real shame that King Boo and his introverted pals are now in hiding.
We can only assume that it was Toad's bright idea to race through heavy traffic, but it's been a keeper ever since his turnpike became a playable track on Mario Kart 64. We had to use Mario Circuit 1 for the Super Mario Kart shot because the SNES racers hadn't yet developed a taste for racing against oncoming traffic.
Always one of the latter courses, Bowser's Castle is most noticeable for the multitude of Thwomps and generous amounts of molten lava. Oh, the lava--Bowser's really obsessed with it. You'd think that being dropped into the stuff again and again while Mario whisks his lady love away would convince him to use something less dangerous, but whatever.
The ultimate challenge, Rainbow Road is a fever dream set in space, where the grand prize is not only a trophy but also an escape from the psychedelic torment. The track bombards you with all the colors of the rainbow and all the forbidden colors of the anti-rainbow before enveloping you in cold blackness after you fall yet again off the largely rail-less road.
The ItemsThe gods of kart are a fickle bunch. Throughout Mario Kart history, the item set has been in constant flux and has seen perhaps the most change. Sometimes you can hold two items at a time by dragging one of them behind you like a shield. Some items, like the feather, have come and gone, while others, like the mushroom, have remained the same.
The item boxes, those semi-tangible blocks that bestow the driver who collides with it happy-fun-times weapons, have come a long way. Originally introduced as single-use golden panels on the track (Yeah, Mode 7!), item boxes are now floaty, transparent, and oh so magical. Watch out for fakes, though!
While the use of performance-enhancing mushrooms is clearly an ethical dilemma, the Mario Kart Racing Commission has shamefully turned a blind eye to mushroom abuse in the series. Faster racers make for a more exciting product, put fans in the seats, and drive lucrative broadcasting deals. Seriously, everyone 'shrooms in the kingdom--one veteran racer is a mushroom!
The banana, a classical instrument of tomfoolery, has been a series staple since the very beginning. Though they are often used to deflect deadly red and green shells, nothing says you care more than delivering a delicious, potassium-laden treat to your friends and foes! If you're wondering, the super sized banana featured in the Mario Kart: Double Dash shot is actually Donkey Kong's special weapon, which is three times more nutritious and grumpier.
How many Koopa Troopa's are forced out of their homes every year for our amusement we may never know, but science has conclusively proven that Mario Kart is 200 percent more fun with an assortment of green and red (but not blue--those are for jerks) shells smashing into its participants.