Mario is undeniably the most famous figure within the video game industry. Since his first appearance in 1981’s Donkey Kong, Nintendo has focused heavily on establishing a vast franchise around this single man. He really has grown into a place of omnipresence over the years. His name no longer represents a singular character. It’s an entire brand that a vast company has based itself on. What really works in Mario’s favor is that he’s basically a blank slate ready to do whatever. Nintendo’s other big characters like Samus, Link, Donkey Kong, and Fox are all exclusively tied to their own genres. Making Samus anything but a bounty hunting badass is complete folly. Using Mario, the typical everyman, as a means to jump start entire series’ based on a whole plethora of subjects and genres makes incredible sense. By keeping simple, Nintendo made a fortune.
Mostly everyone has played a game with the “Mario” name at least once in their lives. The most popular by far is easily Super Mario, the series that turned a pudgy Italian man into a gaming icon. Super Mario’s runaway success is really when Nintendo decided to make an entire franchise, leading to an unimaginable amount of spin-offs. The most successful of them all is easily Mario Kart, the subject of this week’s Remembering the Classics. The latest installment, Mario Kart 8, is due to drop at the end of May for the Wii U. Early reviews are all positive which is hardly a surprise. Mario Kart, not unlike Super Mario, is one of the most regularly praised series in gaming.
Mario Kart started out like many of Nintendo’s big successes, as in it wasn’t initially intended to be a Mario game at all. Nintendo just wanted to create a go-kart racer for their current console. Yet Mario was put in anyway as a test and the company loved it. Thus Super Mario Kart was born in 1992 for the Super Famicom/Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). With its brilliant usage of Mario themed items, levels, and characters, the game became a massive success. The public absolutely ate it up with more fervor than most spin-offs can even hope to attain. It also helped that the game looked absolutely gorgeous. Since then, a new Mario Kart game has found a home on every Nintendo console, each bringing their own special changes. Mario Kart 64 in 1996 was three-dimensional and four-player, 2001’s Mario Kart: Super Circuit was handheld, and 2003’s Mario Kart: Double Dash!! let you control two characters at once, to name a few.
The immense success of Mario Kart can be directly attributed to the exact reason why Mario himself became so popular: It has an unparalleled appeal to the public as a whole. To put it simply, the games are all fun. Literally anyone can enjoy them. While Mario Kart is obviously a racing game at its core, it doesn’t care about the genre to go too deep into the mechanics. It’s nowhere near as in-depth as other racing games like Gran Turismo (hardly warrants a comparison, honestly). It’s clear that Nintendo’s goal in making Mario Kart was to release a game that the public can understand with ease and vehemently enjoy.
It’s this easy enjoyment that leads to the series greatest strength: multiplayer. On it’s own, any Mario Kart game is incredibly fun. They have clearly stated difficulty levels and really cater to any type of player. When friends join in though, the enjoyment skyrockets into the stratosphere. Very few games on the market are as fun as a Mario Kart entry. Honestly, what makes the multiplayer work so well is that it’s not complicated. It doesn’t require any extraneous planning or much in the way of instruction. If you have a group of friends over and don’t have a plan in mind for entertainment, a Mario Kart game is always something good to have on hand. It’s just like Super Smash Bros. in that regard. Mario Kart is a crowdpleaser, which is why is has preserved for so long.
Mario Kart also has the distinction of being the first spin-off to feature the diverse Super Mario cast under one distinct banner that didn’t involve any villany. The very first game had a relatively small roster, including the main stars like Mario, Luigi, Bowser, and Peach. Yet it also included smaller characters like a generic Koopa Troopa and Donkey Kong Jr., a character who only appeared in one Mario game prior. Regardless of previous affiliation, each character came together for a friendly day of go-kart racing. The positive reception to this idea showed Nintendo that, yes, taking characters out of their elements and typical roles is an absolute money maker. It’s an idea that has since borne a ton of fruit, and was surely stretched to give games like the aforementioned Super Smash Bros. a solid reason to exist.
I personally have quite a long history with the Mario Kart series. The first time I ever played it was when I was very young and my family owned an SNES. Super Mario Kart was only one of the many games we owned. The amount of hours I put into it were extensive, doing my best to finish the harder difficulties with different characters. However, my all-time favorite is easily Mario Kart 64. That game was practically transformative for me. It came at that time when my brothers and I were dedicating a lot of our time to our trusty Nintendo 64. What this meant was using Mario Kart 64 for its addictive multiplayer on a near constant basis. It got to the point that we actively sought out hidden glitches in the game to give us easy short cuts. A personal favorite was jumping over the wall at the right moment to clear it in Wario Stadium, easily skipping at least half the map. Keep in mind this was during a time when Googling all the secrets wasn’t a complete option for us, so a lot of things we got from word of mouth or by accident.
Not wanting to ruin a good thing, Nintendo is clearly sticking to its reliable guns for Mario Kart 8. This newest installment looks as fun as ever and is bringing expected changes to the series. With anti-gravity as an option and boasting some glorious HD graphics, Mario Kart 8 already looks like a homerun. It really should be too because its not common to find a series as consistently enjoyable as this. Everyone has their favorite entry of course, but it’s exceptionally rare to hear someone say one was outright terrible. In truth, there was no guarantee that Mario Kart was going to succeed. Mario was already very popular by this moment but he wasn’t even close to the superstar that he is today. Yet Mario Kart become more popular than Nintendo could have imagined, and it paved the way for other amazing spin-offs like Mario Party or the assorted Mario sports games. I think we can all be thankful for that.