Let’s-a-Go: The Evolution of Mario Kart

Between flying bananas, a duo of princess-saving plumbers, an ape in a tie, and a fire-breathing turtle, the very notion of Mario Kart™ seems outrageous. Despite all of the game’s oddities, its original version went on to be named the Guinness World Records’ 2009 top game of all time — not to mention the six other nods it has earned from the world record mogul.

So, what makes this game such an international success? How has it changed over the years? Our team at Caliber Collision has recapped the evolution of the racing game to get you up to speed and on track with all things Mario Kart. As car enthusiasts ourselves, nothing revs us up more than the chance to start our engines and drive — both online and on the road.

1992: Mario Kart Gets the Green Light

On August 27, 1992, Nintendo released its first two-player racing game, Super Mario Kart, into the Japanese market. Featuring 20 racecourses and four battle courses, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) game set the precedent for all racing games to come. The roster contained eight familiar faces, including Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Yoshi, Bowser, Donkey Kong Jr., Koopa Troopa and Toad. Complete with obstacle characters such as Thwomps and Piranha Plants, alongside well-known items such as banana peels, green and red shells, lightning, and mushrooms, the game introduced many of the lasting features to appear in the 13 additional titles. With the course set, Nintendo was ready to race ahead into the development of the various versions to come.

1996: 3D Features Hit the Road

Four years after the game’s initial launch, Nintendo released Mario Kart 64 with 3D features such as bridges, walls, pits, and elevation. For the most part, the game’s characters stayed the same. However, Donkey Kong Jr. was replaced by Donkey Kong, and Koopa Troopa was replaced by Wario. In addition to the new tech, the game also introduced four-player racing and several new items. In game or in garage, our automobile aficionados here at Caliber can never pass up the opportunity to explore the latest and greatest trends of the time.

2003: Co-Op Play and 11 New Characters

After the Nintendo 64 release, the Japanese video game company went on to introduce the first handheld version of the game, Mario Super Circuit, and create the GameCube edition with a cartload of new features and faces. The co-op capabilities of Mario Kart: Double Dash!! let one player drive the car and the backseat driver control the release of items. So, whether you choose Toad and Toadette or Yoshi and Birdo, you can expect a dynamic duo able to demolish the competition with a combination of impeccable driving and serious item aim. Speaking of items, each character is also assigned their own “special” item to be used during the race. Mario and Luigi are able to release fireballs, and our ape friends Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong have a couple of giant bananas hidden in their center console. Regardless of your characters’ item, these new features provide opportunities almost as exciting as taking first place on Rainbow Road.

2005: Mario Kart Hits Arcades

With Mario Kart games available for nearly every gaming device released at the time, it was time to think bigger — human-sized arcade game bigger. In 2005, Mario Kart Arcade GP was released and became an instant success in arcades all over the world. Players could experience the characters and courses they’ve come to love while controlling the game from realistic pedals and steering wheels. Today, the 500-lb. arcade machine can be purchased for more than $11,000 — about the same cost as a fairly decent used car.

2008 to 2019: A New Era of Gameplay

The sixth installment in the Mario Kart series saw its release in 2008, for the Nintendo Wii. Like the games before it in the evolution of Mario Kart, Mario Kart Wii allowed players to choose from a wide selection of playable characters and over 30 different racetracks, which included specialized items to hinder opponents or gain advantages over them.

The 21st century brought new releases, new devices, and new opportunities to chase your need for speed. Between Mario Kart Wii, Mario Kart 7, Mario Kart 8, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Mario Kart Arcade GP VR, and Mario Kart Tour, Nintendo has pushed the limits of racing game features. Gaming console steering wheels, first-person steering, all-terrain vehicles, and biweekly downloadable themed tours were only a taste of the features that held the game at the top of its rankings for so many years. Featuring close to 30 characters, players could choose from some outrageous new names such as Metal Mario, Wiggler, Honey Queen, Funky Kong, and Pink Gold Peach.

2020 and Beyond

The dawn of a new decade saw the release of Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit, the 15th and most current installment in the series. Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit is a mixed reality game, featuring the use of an actual toy racetrack that you place around your home. Toy radio-controlled cars race around your home, streaming video from built-in cameras into the video game itself; the cars are controlled by the Nintendo Switch. Up to 4 players can play at a time. The track features a variety of Mario Kart themed items, making for intensely fun gameplay.

The franchise’s best-selling title, as of 2022, remains Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, an April 2017 release. That title sold 38.74 million units by the end of the third quarter of 2021, which surpassed the 37.38 million that was the previous record for the franchise. Notably, sales for the Nintendo Switch version of the game totaled well over 3.34 million units. By March of 2022, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe had sold 45.33 million copies across all platforms, surpassing the No. 2 bestseller, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, by more than 6 million copies.

As the 2020s march on, we can’t wait to see what’s next in the evolution of Mario Kart. With rumors spreading faster than you can throw a shell, we are constantly on the lookout for the next big Nintendo release. Fans who are anxious for Mario Kart 9 may get their wish sometime in 2022, with a release that is rumored to overlap with the drop of the highly anticipated second-generation Nintendo Switch.

While we love a good race as much as the next person, we strongly recommend leaving the turtle throwing to video games. Just like on your final lap of Mario Kart, the unexpected can happen in real life in an instant. If you find yourself bumped off course and in need of a collision crew, remember your team here at Caliber is always here — Restoring the Rhythm of Your Life.®

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