There are few video games than can be credited with kickstarting an entire genre but Super Mario Kart is one of them. Developed in 1996, before the days of Mario Party and ‘Mario and Sonic at a timely and relevant sporting event’, the Italian plumber was known only for his platforming ability and his pixelated moustache. When Nintendo put that moustache in a rocket powered go-kart it not only changed the video game franchise, but the path of the entire gaming industry itself.
Super Mario Kart is the third best selling Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) game of all time. That success was built upon a generation of kids beating the crap out of each other over a photo finish on Bowser’s Castle.
A total of two players could use a single console across a variety of game modes. The most popular game mode was, of course, the standard Grand Prix. Players would choose from an array of characters and karts and would go head to head on a medley of different tracks. As is now a staple of the franchise, crates would litter the raceway. Upon driving through them, the player would collect one of several different weapons. Some could be fired backward, like the infamous banana peel, and some would start a fistfight, like the auto-targeting blue shell. The first to cross the finish line took the most points and the most death stares.
When fans reminisce about their first Mario Kart experience, be it on Super Mario Kart or one of the newer iterations, they always mention their favourite characters. Individuality in the cast was a big selling point for Mario Kart because not all racers would perform the same. Bigger characters like Bowser would struggle around the corners but smash smaller cars off the track like Miley on a wrecking ball. The more agile characters, like Toad, would have the wind behind them and had a far easier time avoiding obstacles.
My first karting experience actually came much later in my life than most. At the age of 12, I would sneak over to my next-door neighbour’s house with my brother to play Mario Kart: Double Dash! on his Nintendo GameCube. I’d play Waluigi (because, well, I’m a lanky guy with bushy eyebrows and a big nose), and my brother would be Toad (he was always a fat little mushroom). Though I wasn’t very good, I’d keep up with everyone until either of the little shits I was playing with picked Rainbow Road. It brought us together and gave us a place to go on boring afternoons.
When Shigeru Miyamoto, a lead Nintendo Developer, designed Super Mario Kart he had no idea what he was starting. From a simple SNES title to a cultural icon, Super Mario Kart took Mario from a simple platformer to a 10th birthday party must-have. Having been credited with starting the kart-racing phenomenon, developers have been trying to duplicate its success ever since.
The history and cultural significance of Mario Kart speaks for itself and well, if history is written by the victor then I guess I’d better prepare my best Italian accent, because, “Mario Wins!!”