‘Mario Kart’ is 30 years old, if you can believe that

A few years after Super Nintendo released, Super Mario Kart was a strange affair: Nintendo mascot Mario, his brother, friends and foes get into go-karts and race around flat pseudo-3D tracks based on some very familiar Mario worlds.

Weapons included turtle shells, fire flowers, and, uh, bananas. They’re all lynchpins of the Mario Kart experience now, but back then it all seemed so silly compared to the buttoned-up racing games of the 1990s. And fun. Super Mario Kart was a critical and commercial hit, with multiplayer racing and combat further bolstered by the N64 version, which featured four controller ports from the start.

Nintendo has evolved the series over three decades and 14 games, offering different vehicles, co-pilots, handheld versions, and just…so…many…tracks. The company’s official celebration of this milestone (pun intended) appears to be the addition of eight new tracks to the game’s latest iteration. Mario Kart 8 deluxebut the racer’s influence extends beyond the console.

It has spawned remote control cars, amusement park rides, mobile spin-offs, and an army of pretenders who try (and fail) to recreate the magic of the Mushroom Kingdom racer. On the eve of the franchise’s 30th anniversary, here are some of Engadget’s most avid Nintendo gamers reminiscing about their favorite Mario Kart moments.

Throwing turtle shells in Tokyo Arcade

I wish I was writing about the Super Nintendo Land Mario Kart ride, but COVID-19 has ruined 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 since it was almost always set up for a child, and play Mario Kart like it’s a hyper-real driving experience.

Mario Kart Arcade GP DX is actually the third arcade edition of Mario Kart created in collaboration with Bandai Namco, which meant that underneath people like Pac Man and other third-party characters. I played it while living in Tokyo, which meant the race announcements were voiced by Rika Matsumoto, who I later learned also spoke Ash Ketchum in voice Pokemon anime (Yes, it was a highlight in Japan!)

These machines also had a small camera that took a picture of the racer in stock and placed a Mario hat and other items on it. It was cute but stupid. You could save your progress on a card system like you’d see on many arcade machines – especially in Japan, but that seemed a little too serious to me. I was there, I got a little drunk at times, and I wanted to beat my friends at Mario Kart behind a wheel. When I wasn’t hanging out at home with my Nintendo console (tragically the Wii U at the time), this was mine Mario Kart Home away from home. But I still haven’t played Mario Kart VR. I’m sure I can fit in a fast race when I visit Japan again to tour Nintendo’s theme park. – Mat Smith, Head of UK Office

Battle mode with an older millennial

Mario Kart 8

Nintendo

It’s a little painful to admit that my introduction to Mario Kart came via the original Super Mario Kart. Yes, I am a geriatric millennial. Didn’t get it on release day but I’m pretty sure it was mine by Christmas. I’ve played almost every part since, with some particularly fond memories of the ridiculous fights I had with my friends after college Mariokart64 and Mario Kart: Double Dash. But the original will always hold a special place in my heart because of one very appealing feature: the battle mode.

My best friend and I have played an amazing number of battle mode fights over the years. Sure, we dabbled in the Grand Prix mode too, but there was plenty of satisfaction competing against each other and trying to pop each other’s balloons with red seashells and banana peels. It was the great equalizer; In race mode, at least some skill comes into play.

But battle mode is more about getting as many weapons as you can as quickly as possible hoping you get lucky in a red shell. You don’t need to be an experienced racer, although it can certainly help you escape doom. The near-total randomness of the battle mode 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 knock them out next turn.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve also been nonstop playing the traditional Mario Kart Grand Prix levels – I still love those haunted worlds, not to mention the sheer terror that Rainbow Road still inspires after all these years. But the combat mode was a great little experience if you just wanted to focus on throwing grenades and nothing else. Given that Nintendo has dabbled in battle royale style games tetris 99 and Super Mario Bros. 35, it seems like a great time to bring battle mode back in the next Mario Kart. – Nathan Ingraham, Associate Editor

Let’s talk about Rainbow Road

There have been plenty of epic tracks in Mario Kart’s 30-year history, but for me there is one track that rose above its place on the circuit and left a lasting impression like no other: Rainbow Road. Well, I totally admit that when it comes to pure gameplay, there are many racetracks like Wario Stadium, Baby Park or Koopa Troopa Beach that are more fun and addictive. And if the only version of Rainbow Road we got was that of the original Mario Kart on SNES – which was a bit crude and spartan – I probably wouldn’t have written that snippet at all.

But as Nintendo recreated the Rainbow Road for mario kart 64, the track became more than a race; it was a celebration. The added height and reduced gravity make it seem like you’re floating down a roller coaster, while the neon light-style insertion of familiar faces from previous Mario games brings warmth to the cold black void. And then there’s the soundtrack (please check out this version, it really does the song justice): it features playful woodwinds mixed with synth guitar that seamlessly transition from soothing to energetic to almost melancholic. rainbow road one Mariokart64 is part Technicolor Dream Drive, part Nintendo Hall of Fame, and part Victory Lap. – Sam Rutherford, senior author

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Russell Falcon

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