Let’s get right down to business here. In honor of Mario Kart Wii being released this week, here’s a blog dedicated to all things Mario Kart. We’ll start with a brief rundown of all the other Mario Kart titles and my personal experiences with them, look at my favorite of the Mario Kart wannabes, and end with my first impressions of the new Wii game. Start your engines, and let’s go!
Super Mario Kart
The first to start it all was on the SNES. Sure it was all “Mode 7″ flatness and the AI was rather lacking, but I like Super Mario Kart so much that it places in my top five all time favorite games list, right on up there with Pac-Man, Final Fantasy 6, Animal Crossing, and the PSOne Namco Museums. I played Super Mario Kart all through high school and even into college, too!
There’s so much I like about the first Mario Kart game that I don’t know where to begin, and I know I’ll leave something out here, too. I think my favorite thing about the game is the control. Each racer felt a little different and would handle differently on the various types of terrain. Toad and Koopa were both lightweights, but after playing a while you could tell that Koopa cornered better while Toad was just a hair faster. And driving on cement, slick hardwood, ice, sand, mud, and cobblesone all felt different. The play control was top notch.
Another thing I liked about the first game was it relied more on driving skill rather than who gets the best items. You might drive over an item block maybe once per lap, so you had to make that item count. The rest of the time, you had to use skill to powerslide around corners and find those shortcuts!
Super Mario Kart also helped me decide who my favorite Mario character was. Before it was Luigi, but after playing as Toad in Mario Kart and seeing how awesome he was, I’ve been a Toad fan since. Sure he has an annoying scratchy voice, but he’s the best character to play as in Mario 2, his starring role in the puzzle game Wario’s Woods was great, and he’s just an all around little helpful dude to the Mario heroes. And I like that trait. In fact, one time I applied for a job at Nintendo and one of the questions in the interview was which Mario character do you identify with and why. I said Toad because I like to help out whenever I can! Ever since then, Toad’s been my favorite racer in all the Mario Kart games…well, except one, but we’ll get to that later.
I can’t really say which track is my favorite in the original Super Mario Kart. There’s something about each track I like. I do like the water, sand, and mud off-road antics in the Koopa Beach and Choco Island courses a lot, though.
Mario Kart 64
It’s nowhere near as good as the first game, but MK64 is still one of my favorites. The second Mario Kart game was all 3-D for the first time, and unfortunately, also probably started the trend that whoever had the best items would win, rather than the most skilled racer. We played the heck out of MK64 in college. I was still a mad fast Toad racer, but my roommate’s girlfriend (now wife) could give me a run for my money when she played as Yoshi! Powersliding was especially fun in MK64.
There were a lot of tracks I liked in MK64 as well, but notable favorites were weaving in and out of traffic in Toad’s Turnpike (and well, it also featured Toad). And even though most would say that MK64′s Rainbow Road was the lamest of all Rainbow Roads, I really liked the neon backgrounds in it. I love neon lights!
Mario Kart: Super Circuit
Since the Game Boy Advance was a lot like the Super Nintendo, Super Circuit felt like an extension of the original SNES game. Maybe that’s why it’s my second favorite Mario Kart game. Flat courses, coins, and classic gameplay was all there.
I think my favorite part of Super Circuit was that not only did it have 20 original tracks, you could also unlock ALL of the SNES tracks as well, making Super Circuit the Mario Kart game with the most tracks! My favorite tracks here were Sunset Wilds (Shy Guys in teepees!), the track made out of cheese (makes me hungry) and Sky Garden. But again, most of all I liked how each track had the ‘feel’ of the original Super Mario Kart game.
Mario Kart: Double Dash!!
MK: DD on the GameCube is probably my least favorite Mario Kart game (though the Wii version may surpass it later). Dash was a fun game, don’t get me wrong, but compared to the others, something seemed a little…off. Even though having two characters in one car was creative, there was nothing about Double Dash that felt improved or refined. I can’t think of any tracks that stick out in my mind (though Baby Park was great for it’s overt simplicity), and Double Dash took ‘having the best items’ to new and annoying levels. Plus powersliding felt a little gimped since you couldn’t jump. But the thing that I disliked most about Double Dash is that there was a far superior racing game that came out a few months before, (Kirby’s Air Ride), but Mario’s racer got all the attention. Ugh.
Toad was so awesome that he brought along lady friend Toadette in Dash. But there were also two new characters that I raced as sometimes, too, simply because they were so cute. Baby Mario and Luigi were adorable. If I could, I’d adopt them. I loved it when Baby Luigi would come in 2nd place and he’d say, “Baby Luigi, number…um, not 1.”
Mario Kart DS
MK DS is about middle of the road for me. It had a lot of elements of the old SNES and 64 Mario Karts that I liked, such as a handful of classic tracks (I was impressed they got some of the GC tracks on here while sacrificing little detail). Speaking of which, my favorite tracks here were the Airship one and Waluigi’s Pinball. I’ve always wanted to race in a giant pinball machine!
MK DS is also known for being the first Mario Kart game to go online, and it worked pretty well, I never had any problems racing. Except for after the first week when people were doing the ‘snake’ trick and it sucked all the fun out of it. But that really wasn’t the game’s fault, I guess. But other than that, most of Mario Kart DS is rather forgettable to me. Guess I need to go back and play it again!
Mario Kart Arcade GP
We mustn’t forget the seldom played arcade Mario Kart game that Namco made! There’s one at the GameWorks where I live. Since it was in arcades, the Mario Kart experience needed to be a little different. If you thought the tracks are wide in the Wii game, you need to see the simplified arcade tracks! Play control with the steering wheel was decent, but I’ve played better, like OutRun 2006. Arcade GP also had digital cameras that would take your picture before a race, and depending on who you picked, your picture would have like a Mario hat on or something. There were a lot of weird items in the arcade version, too.
Since it was made by Namco, Mario Kart Arcade GP has the distinction of having a character in it that I like better than Toad. In GP, you could play as Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, or Blinky the ghost. Sorry, Toad, you’re cool and all…but…it’s PAC-MAN for crying out loud! So you can guess who I picked. There was also a Pac-Man track that I liked the best. You drove through the Pac-Land countryside, and if you picked the hard version of the track, when you went through the cave you’d go through a classic giant Pac-Man maze!
One of the coolest things about Mario Kart Arcade GP is that every time I see it at GameWorks, there are little kids flocking to it. It does my heart good to see little kids enjoying an arcade game, especially since how dead arcades have become lately.
There’s a sequel to Arcade GP, but I’ve never played it or seen it. I sure would like to, though. Since it was made after the Namco-Bandai merger, one of the new characters you can be in it is a Tamagotchi. I wonder if there’s a new Pac-Man track in it? I wouldn’t mind a Wii port of the two arcade Mario Kart games.
Probably one of the worst things about the Mario Kart legacy are the countless clones that have come out due to its popularity. Shrek Kart and Nicktoons Racing? I mean, come on. But some of the clones are actually pretty good, so here’s a short list of my favorites. Of course, there are other racing games that I like, such as Ridge Racer and OutRun, but these are the ones most like kart racing.
Diddy Kong Racing
While DKR featured the worst of Rare’s character designs (Pipsy the Mouse?), it nearly surpassed MK64 because you could drive three different vehicles, it added some much needed variety. The bad thing about DKR is that when it came out for the N64, it was that year’s featured holiday title. In a related situation, I think that was the year I got my PlayStation. DKR does feel a bit too collect-a-thon-ish, especially the DS version.
Crash Team Racing
The Crash Bandicoot characters are some of the most unoriginal and ugly looking video game characters out there, and I hate most of the Crash games, too. But not this one. CTR showed that the PSOne could do a Mario Kart game just as good, if not a little better, than MK64. My favorite addition was being able to get speed boosts by not only powersliding, but by getting lots of air time on ramps as well. Very good idea. The polar bear rocked.
Konami Krazy Racers
I think the reason why this was released in the USA was because Mario Kart on the GBA wasn’t around yet. No competition. Had a lot of crazy chibi Konami characters in it, like Goemon, Dracula from Castlevania, the Power Pro baseball guy, Metal Gear, and Vic Viper from Gradius. It’s probably the closest thing we’ll get to a Parodius game in the US. What a shame.
Kirby Air Ride
Here’s another game that I like so much about it, I don’t know where to begin. It’s way better than Double Dash, that’s for sure. It’s made by the folks who made Super Smash Bros., and just as that took the fighting genre and put it on its ear, the same thing goes for Air Ride and kart racing games. The extra modes like the Super Sprint-like Top Ride were great, and the City Trial was insanely creative. Actually, just steering your ‘cars’ around was totally different here than in any other game. You really should try and check this game out if you have a GameCube or Wii.
Pac-Man World Rally
EGM magazine said this was one of the worst Mario Kart clones, but I don’t think it was THAT bad. Sure it was totally unoriginal, I mean, even the ‘shell’ weapons were the same color (bouncing green, red homing). Maybe it’s the Namco bias and Pac-Man fan in me, but I still think the tracks were really fun to race on, the music was great, and they at least TRIED to give it some classic Namco flair. In the PSP version, you could even play as Mappy and Mr. Driller. How hardcore is that?
Here’s another one that EGM named as one of the worst kart racers, but I liked it anyway. It had a lot of classic Final Fantasy references, fanboy moments, and a general ‘feel’ to it. Plus it did some pretty creative stuff if you actually played long enough, like being able to customize your character’s racing stats, and unlocking super secret characters like the pixelly guy from 3-D World Runner. And it was a darn cute game, too. Plus they didn’t skimp on the production values, the credits music had full vocals and everything.
Mario Kart Wii
OK finally it’s time for my general first impressions of the Wii Mario Kart game. A few days before its release, I actually went to a special Mario Kart Wii event where people could try the game early from a demo truck, and get some freebies like a Mario Kart driver’s license, a Mario Kart license plate, and air fresheners for your car. I’m glad I went because I know now not to buy any more crappy Wii Wheels (more on that later), and my kart license is neat. I got to pick my favorite character to put on the license, but the guy working there insulted my taste in characters. But he was a doofus. The girl working there was much cooler. Here’s some pictures that I took of the event. My favorite is the one of ‘little’ brother Jeff trying to squeeze into the kart!
My first impressions of Mario Kart Wii are not exactly positive, but not necessarily negative either. It’s a lot like Double Dash, and since that’s my least favorite Mario Kart game, that doesn’t bode well for the Wii version either. But hey, even the worst Mario Kart game is a heck of a lot better than most other titles.
The main bad thing about the Wii game is the Wii Wheel totally sucks. And don’t just pass it off as me being used to using a regular game controller for years and years. While that may be part of the problem, I used to review not only games, but controllers and accessories as well for the newspaper, so I know all about good and bad control schemes and accessories. And this one is not good at all.
But using a GameCube controller is so much better. I actually even like the new trick system, and I don’t mind moving my thumb off the stick to do tricks in the air with the D-pad, since you can’t move in the air anyway. Racing with motorcycles was fun and a nice change of pace, too. I wouldn’t mind if the next game was called Mario Excitebike! The problem that most reviewers talk about where computer players pelt the first place racer with blue shells is all true, unfortunately. It’s even bad in 50cc. I’m not looking forward to 150cc!
The good news is I haven’t had any trouble with the online stuff. It’s set up similar to the DS game, and so far, has worked flawlessly for me. I’ve gone a few races with strangers and played a few battles and races with a good buddy of mine that used to play Super Mario Kart and MK 64 with me a long time ago. We had to ‘voice chat’ with phones, so that kind of sucked. Seeing everyone’s name above their car was kind of distracting, though. I don’t know how well online will work once more people have the game and the servers get congested, but as of right now, it’s working a heck of a lot better than the online part of Brawl does. I still have yet to play a successful online match in Brawl. The online part of Mario Kart Wii may help it be a step above Double Dash on my list.
And the new tracks are really fun to race on, too. I have a lot of favorites. Toad’s Factory has a lot of ever changing obstacles. And plus, well, it features Toad. I wonder if that’s the factory that makes those wind up Mario toys in Mario vs. DK? I also like the ski slope stage, the Koopa Cape stage where you go through a warp pipe underwater, and the Mario Galaxy themed Rainbow Road is one of the best, and even features remixed music from both Galaxy and past Rainbow Roads! And having a bunch of classic tracks is icing on the cake.
Of course, my favorite character in the Wii game is still Toad, but there are a couple of newcomers that I am warming up to. Baby Peach is just plain adorable in an annoying way. Next time I play online, I’ll probably pick her just to annoy the other racers. And how can Galazy’s Roselina be a heavyweight?
Well, I think that’s all I care to say about Mario Kart Wii. Here’s a list of how I rate each game, from best to worst:
Super Mario Kart
Mario Kart: Super Circuit
Mario Kart 64
Mario Kart DS
Mario Kart: Arcade GP
Mario Kart Wii
Mario Kart: Double Dash!!
So do you like Mario Kart games? Which ones are your favorite? Who are your favorite characters? Favorite tracks? Do you like any other kart games? Tell us!
Here’s my Wii info if you want to clobber me online:
My Wii number: 0949-9733-6233-5579
Brawl: 2363 5303 4060
Kart: 0387 9167 0097