On the second article on the history of the Mario Kart franchise, we see the franchise go old-school with Super Circuit and break new strategic grounds with Double Dash.
Mario Kart: Super Circuit (2001)
Coming four years after Mario Kart 64 and nearly a decade after the Super Nintendo game, Mario Kart: Super Circuit - likely due to the limitations of the hardware that housed it - was a charming journey into the past. Compared to Mario Kart 64, it could even be deemed a step backwards, albeit a pleasant one. Although the game's physics and the way racers behaved was much closer to the Nintendo 64 title, the game oozed the charming simplicity of Super Mario Kart.
While the tracks on the franchise's first 3-D outing were full of hills, ups-and-downs, and curious structures, such as Wario Stadium's numerous mounds, Royal Raceway's gigantic ramp, Rainbow Road's spiraled segments, and others; Super Circuit's tracks were – like the ones on Super Mario Kart – completely flat. However, they were far from forgettable.
Aside from having lots of creative and challenging hazards, the tracks had very unique themes. Peach Circuit was beautifully decorated by the princess' castle, Cheese Land was a nice alien detour in the midst of the Mushroom Kingdom thematic, the rainy Luigi Circuit had a very distinctive mood, the Sky Garden featured unique colors and designs that created a unique theme, and Sunset Wilds was an interesting blend of the wild west and the Mario universe.
Although it only featured eight characters, a tiny number compared to the options on games that would follow it, Super Circuit still holds the crown of the game with the biggest number of tracks on the franchise. Sporting twenty new courses, the same amount offered by the original game, Super Circuit added another bunch of twenty circuits by introducing something that has become one of the best features of future Mario Kart games: the retro tracks.
It is a fact that, nowadays, aside from coming from games all across the series, the imported circuits receive some nice upgrades. Super Circuit, in contrast, simply borrowed all tracks and cups present on the Super Nintendo game with some minor tweaks. However, given that it would be impossible to reproduce the Nintendo 64 monsters on the humble GBA, it truly did all that was in its reach. In turn, not only did the game feature a whopping forty levels, it also pioneered one of the most anticipated pieces of content present on modern Mario Kart games. That is, unquestionably, the game's most important legacy.
Mario Kart: Double Dash (2003)
Mario Kart: Double Dash's greatest feature was stamped right on its title for the whole world to see: two characters would share the same vehicle during races. The change was not merely aesthetic, it added numerous layers of strategy to the game, turning Double Dash into the franchise's most cerebral effort. In the brutally competitive and fun world of Mario Kart, the choice of characters and the item-management suddenly became vital in determining the winner of a race.
With two characters aboard its wheeled beauties – one driving and another throwing items – players could switch their positions at will and choose to send a character to the wheel in order to save his item for later while the other member of the duo took the duty of causing havoc on the track. Racers' abilities to defend incoming projectiles was now much greater, and, in the midst of the madness, figuring out each character's position became crucial.
To deepen the already impressive strategic prowess of the game, Nintendo assigned exclusive items to each pair of characters. Mario and Luigi had fireballs, Peach and Daisy used hearts to protect themselves, Diddy and Donkey could throw an enormous banana into the track, triple shells were restricted to Koopa Troopa and Paratroopa, the babies could summon a violent Chomp to pull them around the track while attacking other players, and etc. Therefore, assembling a pair of racers was – besides a matter of preference – a question of choosing an interesting combination of exclusive items.
The selection of a duo also affected one important feature introduced on Double Dash: the selection of vehicles. Traditional karts were no more, as they got replaced by nicely designed mini-cars full of personality and with specific stats. The vehicles were divided into three weight categories, and the group from which players would have to choose from was determined by the weight of the heaviest character on the pair, meaning that – for example – Bowser and Baby Mario would have to hop aboard a large and heavy vehicle thank to the villain's huge size.
Other major introductions done by Double Dash include the flying explosive Blue Shell, undoubtedly the franchise's most hated item, and – on a more positive note – it turned power sliding into a major aspect of the game by making it more accessible. Though it had also been present on Mario Kart 64, Double Dash made the mechanics of pulling it off much simpler, making it easier – but still relatively challenging – to control drifting cars around the turns, hence allowing a wider range of players to master the move.
Even though it did not offer retro tracks in the vein of Super Circuit, Double Dash added value to the Grand Prix mode by creating the All-Cup Tour: a championship on which the game's sixteen courses were raced on in a randomized order. Sadly, though, the mode has never been implemented by any of the game's successors.
Until its release, Double Dash was certainly the most enjoyable game on the franchise. And even if that position has been threatened by its more contemporary peers, one thing is for sure: it is, without a shadow of doubt, the deepest and most unique Mario Kart game.