When Did Mario Kart Come Out

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Michael Fassbender

Evolution of Mario Kart Series

It’s hard to believe that there was once a time when the karting genre didn’t exist. Over the past three decades, we’ve seen countless IPs turned into ensemble racing affairs, to varying levels of success. From gaming mainstays like Sonic, Crash Bandicoot, and Final Fantasy to more unusual licenses like Power Rangers, The Muppets, and Crazy Frog, there have been hundreds of karting games over the years all too happy to jam in a bunch of well-loved characters. None of this would have been the case had it not been for the success of Super Mario Kart, which turns 30 years old on the day this article was published (August 27, 2022).

The enormous success of Mario Kart led not only to the inevitable sequels but to the birth of an entirely new genre that continues to see new imitators to this day. To celebrate all things Mario Kart, then, we’ve decided to recap every game in the series, from the main entries to the spin-offs. Buckle up, then, and 3, 2 (hold the accelerator now), 1, let’s begin.

Super Mario Kart

Original release – 27 August 1992

Format – SNES

Players – 2

Characters – 8

Tracks – 20 race, 4 battle

Character debuts – Mario, Luigi, ‘Princess’, Yoshi, Bowser, Donkey Kong Jr, Koopa Troopa, Toad

Gimmicks – The whole concept of an ensemble kart racing game

It speaks volumes that many of the core elements of Super Mario Kart remain in the series 30 years later. The 50cc, 100cc, and 150cc speed settings, which double as AI difficulty levels. The Grand Prix setup with its series of races and points totals. The fact that a green shell goes straight, a red one homes in, a Star makes you invincible and increases your speed, a Mushroom gives you a speed boost. And, of course, the fact that smacking your pal in the backside with a shell in Battle Mode is hugely satisfying. That Nintendo got so much right in its first attempt maybe explains why Super Mario Kart wasn’t just a one-and-done spin-off like Wario’s Woods or Yoshi’s Safari, and ended up spawning one of the industry’s most popular genres.

Mario Kart 64

Original release – 14 December 1996

Format – Nintendo 64

Players – 4

Characters – 8

Tracks – 16 race, 4 battle

Character debuts – Donkey Kong, Wario

Gimmicks – Four-player multiplayer, blue shell, drift boost

Completely replacing the SNES game’s engine, Mario Kart 64 used a trick that was common in early 3D games – because the N64 could only handle a certain number of polygons, only the environments were polygonal. The characters, meanwhile, were pre-rendered CG sprites (similar to Donkey Kong Country), which changed depending on which direction you viewed them from, to give the illusion that they were proper 3D. Mario Kart 64 also introduced a number of new ideas that quickly became series mainstays. By waggling the stick while drifting, for example, you could build up a speed boost, a concept that remains to this day (minus the waggle, thankfully). Most notable though was the introduction of the notorious blue shell, the most dreaded weapon in Mario Kart history and the ‘great leveller’ which ensured nobody could ever get too good at the game.

Mario Kart: Super Circuit

Original release – 21 July 2001

Format – Game Boy Advance

Players – 4

Characters – 8

Tracks – 40 race, 4 battle

Character debuts – None

Gimmicks – First handheld Mario Kart, retro courses

Originally announced as Mario Kart Advance, this was one of the first games Nintendo revealed to show off the power of its new Game Boy Advance handheld. It worked, too. While many assumed the GBA was essentially a handheld SNES, Mario Kart: Super Circuit showed it actually had more power. Instead of a straight SNES port, Super Circuit looked more like a halfway point between Super Mario Kart and Mario Kart 64, with rotating tracks imitating the Mode 7 trickery of the SNES game, but the character models and features of the N64 one (like four-player multiplayer and blue shells). Most impressive, though, was the ability to unlock every Super Mario Kart track, doubling the number of courses from 20 to 40. It was a proper “wow” moment, and the unlocking of retro tracks has become a Mario Kart tradition ever since.

Mario Kart: Double Dash!!

Original release – 7 November 2003

Format – GameCube

Players – 4 (16 over LAN)

Characters – 20

Tracks – 16 race, 6 battle

Character debuts – Daisy, Birdo, Baby Mario, Baby Luigi, Koopa Paratroopa, Diddy Kong, Bowser Jr, Waluigi, Toadette, Petey Piranha, King Boo

Gimmicks – Two characters per kart, selectable vehicles, LAN multiplayer

Double Dash!! marked a bold diversion in the series, and not just because of its grammatically unforgivable decision to have two exclamation marks in the title. The idea of riding solo was ditched entirely: all karts were now driven by two characters at a time (one at the front driving, one at the back throwing weapons). Because of this new mechanic, Nintendo also had to drastically increase the number of playable characters, which up until this point had been a constant eight in every game. As a result, more than half of Double Dash’s roster was made up of debut characters appearing in a Mario Kart game for the first time. Not only that, but one of them (Toadette) was making her first appearance in any Mario game, seemingly so that Toad could have a partner. Double Dash!! also introduced a new feature that hasn’t been seen since: special items. Each character had their own unique weapon that only they could use (similar to something only AI opponents could do in the SNES original).

Mario Kart DS

Original release – 14 November 2005

Format – Nintendo DS

Players – 8 (4 online)

Characters – 12

Tracks – 32 race, 6 battle

Character debuts – Dry Bones, R.O.B., Shy Guy

Gimmicks – Online multiplayer, Mission mode

After the ‘two racers’ concept split Mario Kart fans, Nintendo decided to dial the crazy back a bit and go back to normal single-character karts for its second handheld title. A couple of things did remain though, including the ability to select your kart, as well as the general game engine, which continues in a modified form to this day. Mario Kart DS wasn’t without its own innovations. It added a couple of new items – the Blooper and the Bullet Bill – which were annoying and fantastic respectively. It also introduced a brilliant Mission mode, which gave the player 63 different challenges to play through, from collecting all the coins in one lap, to driving a section backwards within a set time limit, to even taking part in boss battles. Sadly, this mode never caught on, and was never seen again. What was, though, was online multiplayer, which made its debut in Mario Kart DS and quickly became popular, even though the DS’s Wi-Fi connection was spottier than a teenager with the measles.

Mario Kart Arcade GP

Original release – 19 November 2005

Format – Arcade

Players – 4

Characters – 11

Tracks – 12 (race only)

Character debuts – Pac-Man, Ms Pac-Man, Blinky

Gimmicks – The first arcade Mario Kart, Pac-Man crossover

In the early 2000s, a groundbreaking deal was struck in which Nintendo, Sega, and Namco teamed up to create a new arcade system board called the Triforce. Despite the sales pitch, Triforce was really just a modified version of the GameCube hardware, but the interesting thing about the deal was that Nintendo was allowing its racing franchises to be handled by someone else for the first time, passing duties over to their new pals. Sega got the nod to work on F-Zero AX and GX, which were released in arcades and on the GameCube respectively. Namco, meanwhile, was handed the keys to the hallowed Mario Kart license. The result was Mario Kart Arcade GP. This was similar to other Mario Kart games in a number of ways, but very different in others. It offered a ridiculous 93 different types of item, three of which were chosen at random for each race. It also took your photo before you raced and added a comedy Mario hat and mustache so other players could see your icon as you overtook them. And when you were done you could print out a little ticket with your progress on it and insert it into the arcade cabinet to continue the next time you played. The thing Arcade GP was best known for, however, was introducing the first non-Nintendo guest characters to the series – Pac-Man, Ms Pac-Man, and the red Pac-Man ghost Blinky.

Mario Kart Arcade GP 2

Original release – 14 March 2007

Format – Arcade

Players – 4

Characters – 13

Tracks – 16 (race only)

Character debuts – Mametchi

Gimmicks – Tamagotchi crossover

The first Mario Kart Arcade GP was so successful that Namco (now known as Namco Bandai) decided to release a follow-up. Arcade GP 2 wasn’t a proper ‘sequel’ in the true sense of the word, it’s better described as an enhanced version of the original which added more of everything. Four more tracks were added: two Yoshi-themed ones and two stadium-themed ones. It also added extra comedy frames for your photo so you could choose to make yourself look like a pirate or a bear. Most notably though, it added two more characters: Waluigi and Mametchi. Ma-who-tchi? We’ll explain. Namco’s merger with toy company Bandai meant it got to use all its licenses too, hence the addition of Mametchi, a character from the Tamagotchi virtual pet craze.

Mario Kart Wii

Original release – 10 April 2008

Format – Wii

Players – 4 (12 online)

Characters – 25

Tracks – 32 race, 10 battle

Character debuts – Baby Peach, Baby Daisy, Rosalina, Dry Bowser, Funky Kong, Mii

Gimmicks – Bikes, jump tricks, motion control, plastic steering wheel gizmo

By the time April 2008 rolled along it had been nearly five years since Double-Dash, so console players – many of whom were enjoying Nintendo’s resurgence with the Wii – were well and truly jonesing for a new helping of Mario Kart goodness. Imagine the celebrations, then, when Mario Kart Wii turned up a year and a half into the Wii’s life, offering more characters than in any Mario game so far. Like the DS version, it included online multiplayer – not just for four players as in the handheld, but up to 12. And it had Funky Kong in it, which instantly qualifies it as one of the best video games ever created. Mario Kart Wii was also important for another reason: it was the first in the series which really could be played by anyone. Although Mario Kart’s relatively simplistic gameplay meant previous entries could be played by most, those who’d never touched a controller in their lives were clearly still at a handicap. With the introduction of motion controls and the plastic Wii Wheel accessory that came with the game, Mario Kart was suddenly far more approachable for complete beginners. The result of this was obvious: with 37 million copies sold, it not only became the best-selling Mario Kart game (at the time), but the best-selling racing game ever and one of the best-selling games in history. Not even the inclusion of bikes – which are objectively rubbish – could ruin what was arguably the highest point of the series to date.

Mario Kart 7

Original release – 1 December 2011

Format – Nintendo 3DS

Players – 8 (8 online)

Characters – 17

Tracks – 32 race, 6 battle

Character debuts – Metal Mario, Honey Queen, Wiggler, Lakitu

Gimmicks – Kart customization, underwater racing, gliding

Nintendo knew it was onto a winner with Mario Kart Wii, so its next handheld offering was more of the same, only better. The big new addition this time was the ability to fully customize your kart: instead of choosing from a bunch of pre-existing vehicles you could now combine different body, wheel, and glider types to create your own. Glider types? That’s right – Mario Kart 7 added flying sections that kicked in any time you went off a special blue ramp, and also let players drive underwater for the first time. Mario Kart 7 also added a few new items. The Fire Flower introduced some mild carnage to proceedings by letting you chuck a bunch of fireballs across the tracks, while the Super Leaf gave you a raccoon tail you could use to hit enemies or – if you timed it right – deflect missiles. The Lucky Seven, though, was the most ridiculous item of the lot. It granted the player with a Mushroom, a Banana, a Red Shell, a Green Shell, a Blooper, a Bob-omb, and a Star all at once. It was a bit much.

When Did Mario Kart Come Out

Super Mario Kart was released on 27th August 1992, marking the birth of the iconic Mario Kart series. Since then, the franchise has evolved and expanded, introducing new characters, tracks, and gameplay mechanics, while retaining the core elements that have made it a beloved classic.

FAQs

1. What is the release date of the first Mario Kart game?

The original Mario Kart game, Super Mario Kart, was released on 27th August 1992.

2. How many characters were introduced in Mario Kart 64?

Mario Kart 64 introduced 2 new characters, Donkey Kong and Wario, expanding the roster to 10 playable characters.

3. What was the major innovation in Mario Kart: Double Dash!!?

Mario Kart: Double Dash!! introduced the concept of two characters per kart, allowing for unique character combinations and special items.

4. Which Mario Kart game marked the debut of online multiplayer?

Mario Kart DS was the first game in the series to feature online multiplayer, allowing up to 4 players to compete over the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection.

5. What was the significant feature introduced in Mario Kart Wii?

Mario Kart Wii introduced motion controls and the plastic Wii Wheel accessory, making the game more accessible to beginners and contributing to its immense commercial success.

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