Mario Kart; My Thoughts on the series so far

Surprisingly, I don’t just go considering Mario Kart 7 the best in the series because it’s a 3DS game.  But out of all the games in the series of which I’ve tried (aka, not Super Mario Kart) or that could be written about in comparison to other games (not Super Mario Kart because it was what all these games had to live up to), here are what I think of each one.

 Mario Kart 64

Admittedly I didn’t really play this game all too much considering that I rarely bought video games at all in the Nintendo 64 era and merely rented it a few times, but I do have to say the tracks weren’t exactly the greatest.

That’s not because they were particularly badly designed (they obviously weren’t), but because they just dragged on for far too long.  Yes Nintendo 64 games had to tone down background detail in multiplayer games to keep the frame rate at a management level (see, F-Zero X), but it seems your average Mario Kart 64 track just went on for about twice as long as it needed to.  Look at Kalimari Desert and tell me that level needed to be as long as it was.  Same with Banshee Boardwalk and Bowser’s Castle.  That’s not even getting into the hell that was Rainbow Road…

Above: Two minutes a lap is probably overkill if you ask me.  It meant people had to use the shortcut/glitch to even be able to save their course ghost/best time.

To add the fact that this was an early Nintendo 64 game and the areas weren’t as interesting as those in Rare’s works like Banjo Tooie and Donkey Kong 64, and it meant the tracks seemed to drag on way too much and without a whole lot happening to make them interesting.

The rubber band AI was over the top as well, and could literally catch your character in seconds even with an enormous lead.  Was this since toned down in future games?  Hard to tell, but it was certainly more noticeable back here because of the lack of overpowered items.

Mario Kart 64, good but generally a bit dated in this day and age.

Mario Kart Super Circuit

Terrible physics made this game nowhere near as good as it should have been.

Which was a bit of a pity considering how many fantastic ideas for tracks the game had and how much work was put into making it feel like a proper Mario Kart game (it had more content than most games before or since).  You had the entire track list of Super Mario Kart to unlock once you beat the new ones. That’s a nice freebie.  And some of the tracks looked pretty nice:

But the physics of the game just held it back drastically.  Mini Turbos did absolutely nothing of value whatsoever, you didn’t so much steer as do a 90 degree turn or random slide in the general direction you held on the D Pad and gravity was so low that using a Mushroom off a ramp shot you about twenty feet into the air.  Not joking on the last one, the best runs on Ribbon Road and the game’s version of Rainbow Road seem to come down to skipping half the track:

Above: Shortcuts in Mario Kart Super Circuit were easier than ever.  Then again, the game was just flawed in general:

Above: Blink and get last place was the standard in the Japanese version…

It was nice of them to include all the tracks from the original SNES version of Mario Kart though.  Pity they removed all the obstacles from the tracks (and you thought making the Koopa Cape pipe underwater was a stupid change).  Not to mention these nightmare controls meant that the tight turns required to do well in some retro tracks were practically impossible to pull off consistently without slamming straight into the nearest wall.

Above: No Thwomps + poor physics equals a let down

Not to mention the coin system in this game was the harshest it’s ever been and causes you to spin out on any contact with an opponent if you don’t have any coins.  Did I mention you needed to get some insanely high number of coins to get triple star ranks in all the cups and that your only reward for it was the sky on the title screen changing colour?

Yeah, Mario Kart Super Circuit was sort of fun with a difficulty brick wall that took away much of the game’s accessibility.

Mario Kart Double Dash

Probably one of the more party game like instalments of the series, this was very much meant for local multiplayer and people who didn’t care too much about playing it seriously.  Kind of like a proto Mario kart Wii in some respects.

You can see this with a lot of the new additions to the game.  The two players per kart and carrying two items at once for instance helps to make the item system really over the top and rather random, the addition of the winged Spiny Shell serves simply to screw up first place and absolutely no one else while the new items are generally designed to be a bit on the chaotic side.  Just look at those Bowser Shells and Giant Bananas and you know exactly what I mean.

Above: The Mario Kart Wii equivalent of its day.

The tracks also seemed to be designed to accommodate casual play, with generally wide paths and gentle turns that seem to be more designed for a party setting than hardcore Mario Kart players (of course, Wario Coliseum, Bowser’s Castle and Rainbow Road seem to be exceptions here but the others tend to be quite easy)

As for how well the two players in a kart works, fairly well.  It’s actually rather fun if you can find someone bored enough they’re willing to play co-op with you and take on the Grand Prix mode as a team and I hear it makes dodging Blue Shells much easier.  Plus you can steal items, which is nice.

The game does have a bit of a problem with content though, in that there isn’t enough of it.  One player vs. mode and one player battle mode don’t exist, wifi obviously hasn’t been implemented as this point in the series (outside of some unofficial hacks utilising the LAN system) and there’s practically no variety in tracks with only sixteen total.  That’s the least in the series.

Some of this I guess is made up for by the interesting level themes; Daisy Cruiser and Dino Dino Jungle being rather unique levels that you wouldn’t find before or again.  But it still doesn’t quite make up for the fact you have literally zero freedom in this game. Every track has fifty foot high invisible walls bordering it on every sides or counts you as out of bounds if you go even a foot past the boundary line, and the tracks seem to have been designed to stop you finding anything out for yourself.  Even cutting corners is fairly difficult considering how few places give you a chance to do so and the game couldn’t have possibly been more obvious with the intended side routes if it tried.  Guess you could say it worked though, only two shortcuts have ever been found since the game’s release back in the Gamecube days:

Above: Who ever thought a Blue Shell could actually help someone?

Interesting that Mario Kart 7 beat the game’s record within a week of its release, right?  None the less, perhaps they went a bit overboard considering how linear the tracks ended up being.

I also hear the controls weren’t too great and the kart physics a bit off, but that doesn’t match up with my experience of the game at all.

All in all, Mario Kart Double Dash was an interesting addition to the series, although its party game like nature meant reaction to it was mixed to say the least.

Mario Kart DS

One of the best games in the series, but also one which shattered many a player’s misconceptions about the series due to its online multiplayer.

Because you see, prior to Mario Kart DS, everyone usually thought of themselves as pretty good.  With only the local kids/college students/work colleagues to play against, it wasn’t too hard to think of yourself as the local Mario Kart expert and you were unlikely to ever get proven wrong.  Mario Kart DS changed this and put all those self-proclaimed experts and pros against each other online.

Did you know this was in Double Dash?  Probably not, because Double Dash didn’t have wifi while Mario Kart DS did.

Oh boy did the flame wars and complaints start.  ‘Snaking’ wasn’t new, it was around since at least Double Dash.  But for many a player, Mario Kart DS was the first time they ever knew about it and it took many by surprise.  The resulting uproar practically forced Nintendo to rebuild the entire mini turbo system.

Other than that, the game is excellent.  It has some of the best tracks in the series (Airship Fortress, Waluigi Pinball and Tick Tock Clock being notable examples), pretty good item balance and enough things to do that you’d keep playing the game for a long time.  Such as Mission Mode, which unfortunately hasn’t been seen since.

That’s not to say it’s perfect though.  For one thing, only about half the tracks were as fantastic as people remember, with another half being quite mediocre.

Sure you had stuff like Airship Fortress and Waluigi Pinball which are seen as classics, but then you had other tracks like DK Pass and Yoshi Falls which were just plain badly designed.  To add insult to injury, the wifi mode for this game only let you choose the worse tracks to play online and left out the ones people were actually interested in playing due to ‘lag’.

Note: To people nostalgic about Mario Kart DS, keep in mind these were also tracks from that game.

Still, Mario Kart DS was a great game and it actually brought about more of a community around the game than any Mario Kart game has since.  Remember the days when clans actually existed for Mario Kart?  There were hundreds in the Mario Kart DS days, and about zero in the Mario Kart Wii and 7 ones.  Mario Kart DS seemed to bring everyone together and actually inspire a long term fandom, something which no other Mario Kart games since ever did.

Mario Kart Wii

An excellent instalment in the series that takes way too much heat from ‘experts’ due to the reliance on luck and certain changes, Mario Kart Wii is in some respects arguably the ideal Mario Kart game.

Were some things disappointing?  Definitely, such as the forced team mode in battles and some of the new items like the POW Block and Thunder Cloud, but in retrospect I can sort of see Nintendo’s reasons for including them.

Take battle for example.  It was the first Mario Kart to let you play this mode online, and I think Nintendo forced teams and points and time into the equation simply because they wanted the battles to actually end in a timely manner.  Think about it, would it really be fun for a newbie player to have to wait about twenty minutes for a battle to end if they got eliminated part way through? Not really, and I don’t think Nintendo could be bothered to spend time on the mode so they just took the cop out option.

Points based battle mode was probably a misguided attempt to balance the mode for wifi play.

Other debatable changes like the ridiculously unbalanced item distribution and the increased number of players were likely added for the same reason, to make the game actually entertaining for the ‘casual’ audience.  Yes people don’t like games being too luck based, but give Nintendo a break here, that’s the kind of thing the average Joe probably does like about the game, the fact they have a fighting chance in hell of winning and don’t have to dedicate all their free time to practicing in time trials to do well at it.  Plus, that makes money for Nintendo, while games tuned for competitive play from what I hear tend to lose sales quite quickly.

It also generally did a lot right.  You had enough options to fine tune your playing experience, you could unlock characters through every possible mode in the game (so people playing online weren’t disadvantaged compared to those who beat GP prior), there were all kinds of options in regards to time trials and competitive play that made the game much easier for recording your best times (both the online leaderboards and the option to watch a ghost’s run through of a track) and you had so much variety in characters and karts that the game could accommodate everyone; if you had a favourite Mario Kart character he or she was generally available to play as.  It was a good game in that it had enough content to keep the game fresh for a long time and that people could choose how they wanted to play.  Mario Kart 7 just felt a bit of a step down from that in those respects.

Probably the near perfect roster, if you swapped Baby Peach and Daisy with Shy Guy and Lakitu.

But Mario Kart Wii was another game where you mileage may vary. It was a fun party experience when you had a few friends around for a quick game, but had way too much reliance on luck and a few changes that weren’t too well thought out to balance that out.

Mario Kart Arcade GP

Haven’t played this unfortunately, but I honestly don’t want to with the poor track design and questionable item and character choices.

You see, this game barely had any tracks in it and those that were included seemed short and linear to the point of giving you no alternate routes whatsoever.  The ideas were in some cases okay (Diamond City from WarioWare was a track, and the Yoshi’s Island track looked decent), but it was let down by how the tracks had no obstacles and no real difficulty to them.  Look at this Rainbow Road track to see what I mean:

Above: Way too much like Mario Kart 64’s version, minus the Chain Chomps.

Did you see that?  How the entire course is walled in like Mario Kart 64’s version?  How it has no obstacles whatsoever bar turns?

To make it worse, do you know how many actual tracks were in the game?  Twelve.  Each cup was themed around type of course too, so instead of four unique levels to play through you basically had Bowser Castle 1, Bowser Castle 2, Bowser Castle 1 reverse and Bowser Castle 2 reverse.  That’s some terrible track variety. Can you imagine how much people would have hated Mario Kart 7 if one of the cups was the ‘Wuhu Island Cup’ and had Island Loop, Mountain Loop then those two in reverse as its sole tracks?  You’d never hear the end of the criticism, yet this game seems to avoid it purely because it’s arcade only.

The characters seemed even worse.  Remember how people despise how Honey Queen got into Mario Kart 7 instead of Waluigi?  Well he’s not in this game either, and was replaced by freaking Pac-Man, Mrs Pac-Man and Blinky.  At least Honey Queen is a Mario character, a freaking red Pac-Man ghost should never be playable in a bloody Mario Kart game!

Or a Tamagotchi:

Forget Honey Queen, imagine if we got that thing instead of Waluigi!

Items are probably the most interesting aspect of the arcade games, yet they’re generally not that well thought out. Despite having tons of them, about half seem to be the general same thing if Mario Wiki is to be believed:

Fireball: Strong item that shoots forward or backwards.

Barrel: Strong item that shoots forward or backwards.

Bowser Shell: Strong item that shoots forward or backwards.

Snot Bomb: Strong item that shoots forward or backwards.

Rolling Egg: Strong item that shoots forward or backwards.

Poison Mushroom: Strong item that shoots forward or backwards.

Pooka: Strong item that shoots forward or backwards.

Peach’s Bird: Strong item that shoots forward or backwards.

Petit Monster: Strong item that shoots forward or backwards.

See a pattern here?

Yes each character has four unique items each, but three of them are the same thing as every other character’s items just with a unique design.  Maybe the last is unique, or maybe it’s just a reskinned version of a default item, depends on the character chosen.

Other item problems involve overpowered items.  Triple exploding shells?  Sure they don’t seem to home in, but that’s just way over the top even for a Mario Kart item.  How about the one which lets you place a Thwomp on the track?  Or the item seal which ‘Prevents item use for a time.’ for anyone it hits?  I can’t even imagine how many complaints you’d see if people could stop you using items by hitting you with a random weapon if it was in Mario Kart 7…

Plus, other items just didn’t do anything interesting or remotely useful.  How is playing music or using the horn supposed to help in a race?  Not to mention the High Beam, which supposedly flashes blinding lights at your opponent.  Hello legal problems for Nintendo…

Finally, the game has no battle mode nor any other options except grand prix, time trial or vs. mode.  So pretty much like Mario Kart 7 then, except you don’t even have the online multiplayer or battle mode to vary it up a bit.

Not a particularly good Mario Kart game then, and so badly lacking in game modes and content that it makes me grateful we got Mario Kart Wii instead.

Mario Kart 7

A very entertaining game in general, but flawed in the exact opposite way compared to Mario Kart Wii.

Whereas the latter had average track designs and often poor content yet gave you a great amount of options to choose from, Mario Kart 7 has excellent track design and some great content but with a severe lack of choice available.

On the bright side the tracks are fantastic. Not only do you have some of the best retro tracks in the series making a return (like Airship Fortress, Waluigi Pinball, Maple Treeway and Koopa Cape), but you also have some great new levels like the top notch three segment Rainbow Road and the actually well designed DK Jungle.  Really, every track bar maybe DK Pass is great here, which means the track selection is much better than even the DS game.

Probably the best Rainbow Road track in the series. Pity the guy playing is terrible.

There’s also a lot of other stuff to like about the game.  The items seem more balanced, with the new ones being more well designed than those in Mario Kart Wii, and the single player is far less over the top in how much the AI cheats and how difficult it is to get a triple star ranking.  Not to mention that the online mode in general has been significantly improved with the addition of communities and the option to join friends who are currently playing the game.

The additions like gliding and underwater driving work fine and are integrated into the tracks perfectly.  Even the old tracks have been updated to make use of them.

However, it’s a bit of a flawed game due to how it’s lacking a ton of content found in Mario Kart DS and Wii.  There’s no vs. mode in single player.  No teams online.  No time trial leaderboards and no mission mode/tournaments/competitions to vary up the gameplay. More to the point, the character roster is pretty poor with Honey Queen and Metal Mario taking spots from long time regulars like Waluigi, Diddy Kong and Bowser Jr.  Compare to Mario Kart Wii where you had a wealth of options and the newcomers went alongside the old timers as additional characters and it’s a bit disappointing.  To some degree you could even argue the game is more of a 3DS tech demo than anything.

Really, Honey Queen?  When exactly was Queen Bee even remotely important to the Mario series?

But in general, Mario Kart 7 is a fine game, and a great addition to the Mario Kart series.  It just feels a bit devoid of content after the last two games and how they packed in so much to do.

So out of all those Mario Kart games, which is the best?  Very difficult to say to be perfectly honest, although my bets are that Mario Kart DS and Mario Kart 7 are the better ones in the series and that Arcade GP is probably the worst.  But what do you think of the Mario Kart games covered in the article?


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8 years ago

MKWii, no doubt about it. Add kart customisation to it and you have a perfect MK. (And I mean Mario Kart, not Mortal Kombat)

8 years ago

I think you forgot Mario Kart Arcade GP 2….

The second one is really fun to play and the tracks are really nice!!!..

Oh by the way its hacked to play on the wii/PC now look up dolphin …. :D… yippee