Mario Kart has been a staple in the Nintendo fan’s diet since the days of the Super Nintendo. There’s been four console iterations so far and every Mario Kart fan has their favourite. With Mario Kart 8 announced and on the way, I decided to play all the console versions again to weigh up their pros and cons, think about the legacy they leave, and decide which version is the best.
. . .
Super Mario Kart
Graphics: Mode 7 was made a big deal of at the time of SMK’s arrival- it was 3D gameplay without actually being 3D. Super Mario Kart’s graphics were certainly more technically impressive than they were visually. I remember most of my time spent playing SMK was on a friend’s tiny TV. I remember it looking kind of okay on that TV, you only ever split the screen in two so the action never got too tiny to see. When I downloaded it from Wii’s Virtual Console and played it on a big screen TV, it became apparent it really hasn’t aged well. This isn’t the game’s fault- I blame Nintendo for being too lazy to make any improvements to allow the game to be enjoyed on the big screen.
Replay Value: There is really nothing other than GP race and battle, single or two players. When I played it back in the 90’s, I remember my friends being super keen on battle mode, while I was more interested in racing. There was 20 tracks to race on, and while not as varied overall, that’s still four more than MKDD and MK64. All the tracks kind of look the same now, but man how we played the crap out of all of them back in the day. I have gone back to it a few times, mainly thanks to Wii’s Virtual Console, but it’s not as fun as it once was.
Multiplayer: Super Mario Kart was a fine example of incredibly fun multiplayer, even though it was limited to two player split screen. There was two player GP races with six computer opponents across the 20 tracks, as well as four Battle courses, where players had to pop their opponents’ three balloons using the various weapons.
Legacy: I tried to get my friend to play SMK with me in 2013 and they were less than enthusiastic. I don’t have a copy of the game on Super Nintendo so it had to be on VC, with Classic Controllers. Compared to the newer versions, the old 2D Mode 7 graphics look and feel dated, and digital (d-pad) controls for driving just don’t cut it any more. It needs to be pointed out that this is the game that created a genre- the kart racer.
Overall: As fond as my memories are of Super Mario Kart, unlike a lot of Super Nintendo games, SMK just doesn’t stand up that well today, especially on modern televisions. That of course isn’t the game’s fault. Yes, it’s the game that created a genre, and yes, the battle mode is the best the series ever had.
I give Super Mario Kart 80%. Gamerankings.com gives SMK and aggregate score of 93.6% and ranks it 4th among Super Nintendo games.
I played Super Mario Kart most recently on Virtual Console. Is it the same without a SNES controller?
Mario Kart 64
Graphics: Mario Kart 64 has a much grittier and “realistic” art style than the games that followed. Double Dash!! went kartoony with bright, bouncy feel, while Mario Kart Wii refined that look with more detail and even more colour. I much prefer Mario Kart 64’s look. I’ll mention the darker, less cartoony textures, the more realistic lighting and fire effects, and the use of sprites instead of polygons for the character models.
I think this is a much better fit for the series, or maybe it was just a better fit for the tracks involved in MK64. Toad’s Turnpike was set on realistic highway, Choco Mountain in a realistic rocky mountainside. The flame effects from drifting were also more real looking, save for the “VVV EEE EEE” letters popping up. Did this all just happen due to the limitations of the 64’s hardware? Maybe, but still the overall art style of MK64 is the best the series has ever seen. It’s a shame the sprites get blocky up close, though.
Other games in the 64’s library released around the same time (like Diddy Kong Racing, Extreme G or Lylat Wars) used characters built out of polygons. Why Nintendo chose to use those sprites I’m not sure, but they worked for me. They were “set” in the environment more believably than the models from Mario Kart Wii or Double Dash!!.
Replay Value: The 2 player GP is still extremely playable today. This version of Mario Kart features the most memorable tracks, like Koopa Beach, Kalamari Desert, Toad’s Turnpike, and Moo Moo Farm. Not to mention my all time favourite Mario Kart track, Yoshi Valley. The game is let down by the fact there is no 3 or 4 player GP mode. This probably didn’t matter as much in the 90’s as it seems to now. Battle Mode for me was a let down. The maps were too big.
Multiplayer: Four players on one screen at the same time? This was a major selling point of Nintendo 64, and MK64 made great use of this feature. As I said, it’s a shame there was no 3 or 4 player grand prix mode with computer opponents. This was probably due to the N64’s hardware limitations, but at the time four players in one race on one tv was exciting and riveting. Only Goldeneye and WaveRace 64 offered multiplayer as engaging as MK64’s.
Legacy: Every year or so I fire up the old N64 and Mario Kart 64 always makes the rotation. My non N64 owning friends have played it with me and enjoyed it, and the wonderfully designed tracks never get old. It’s this transition into 3D that inspired a million Mario Kart klones, and while the sound and graphics look a bit dated these days, the art style keeps it different enough from the other versions to enjoy time and time again.
Overall: MK64 has the best of everything about the series. Memorable tracks with plenty of shortcuts to discover, spot on controls, and intense 2 player action. Extra points have got to be given for the 4 player option, even though it’s let down by the fact there’s no CPU opponents in that mode.
I’m giving Mario Kart 64 92%. Gamerankings.com give MK64 an aggregate score of 87.01% and ranks it 11th out of all Nintendo 64 games.
What was you favourite Mario Kart 64 track?
Mario Kart: Double Dash!!
Graphics: Mario Kart Double Dash!! had a different artistic style to MK64. Bolder, brighter and more kartoon (sorry) like, MKDD looked great and ran incredibly smoothly. It wasn’t however, by any means, a showcase for GameCubes graphical capabilities like Waverace Blue Storm or Starfox Adventures. I was particularly unimpressed with the spark effects while drifting, and the explosion effects.
They just looked too cartoony and didn’t feel like they were truly part of the environment. That said, fully polygonal character models feature for the first time, and they look great, especially considering there’s 2 characters per kart. The best looking tracks are Dino Dino Jungle, Wario Colosseum, and Mushroom City.
Replay Value: I really wish there was a four player GP mode in MKDD. You could fairly enough assume that this feature was lacking in the 64 version due to hardware limitations, but I’m not sure why it was omitted from the GameCube version. It’s a shame, and it’s prevented my friends and I from returning to the game as often as I’d like. In the GameCube days, my friend and I certainly played the heck out of the game, and the amount of shortcuts, a mirror mode, and the sheer number of character combinations really helped the replay value.
Each character had their own unique special move, something that only ever happened once in the Mario Kart games. Fighting over Baby Mario because he had the Chain Chomp special, or Paratrooper because of the three red shell special was commonplace in my house. I believe MKDD has the best selection of original tracks of all Mario Kart games, and the fact you could play a 16 track super Grand Prix also added to the fun.
Multiplayer: Unfortunately there was still no four player grand prix mode. This meant that there was no CPU opponents if you had more than two human players. It’s a shame, and I would have thought it was possible on the GameCube’s hardware. I would have gladly sacrificed graphical quality or a bit of frame rate smoothness if I could have played with my friends in 4 player split screen and enjoyed the fun of an eight player race. Double Dash!! also featured and local 8 player mode via the use of the GameCube LAN adapter. I never got to try this out. But now that I’m older and have more money, I might be able to gather all the components to make it happen.
It does seem though, that Nintendo learnt from the mistakes of MK64’s battle mode. The courses were scaled down a bit and the “capture the flag” mode was pretty cool. Battling it out on top of a giant GameCube floating in space was pretty memorable. Multiplayer, and indeed the game in general, is certainly helped by the fact that the GameCube controller is so extremely responsive and is perfect for Mario Kart. The big A button for accelerating feels incredibly comfortable, and the analogue stick is the most responsive ever built. You want to play some GameCube games just to get the controller in your hand again, and Mario Kart Double Dash!! is certainly one of those games.
Legacy: MKDD brought a few new things to the table. Most notably, having two characters per kart, and each character having their own special weapon. Like a lot of Nintendo games on GameCube, this Mario Kart didn’t follow the formula or try to please the fans. It’s cool Nintendo tried something different, but ultimately these mechanics were both welcome distractions and unnecessary gimmicks. This to me is evidenced by the fact these features were dropped in all subsequent releases in the series. It might also be remembered for the version that didn’t let you jump.
Overall: Mario Kart Double Dash!! is probably the game that was most played on my GameCube. The only other game that came close is Smash Bros. Melee. I play through it again as often as I can. Tracks like Baby Park, Mushroom City and Mushroom Bridge are some of the best in the series’ history. The novelty of the two player per kart mechanic is something unique, and makes this Mario Kart game worth going back to. The lack of CPU opponents in 3 or 4 player GP mode does let the game down though.
I give Mario Kart Double Dash!! 94%. Gamerankings.com gives MKDD an aggregate score of 87.02% and ranks it 81st among all GameCube games.
Did the fact you couldn’t jump in Double Dash!! affect your opinion of the game?
Mario Kart Wii
Graphics: I was expecting Mario Kart Wii to be a graphical showcase for Wii. The machine didn’t have a Waverace game to show off the hardware, and before MKWii’s release, nothing had shown any significant improvement over what could be achieved on GameCube. But it wasn’t to be.
This is most evident when you look at the difference between the graphical presentation of the GameCube tracks within Mario Kart Wii. They don’t really look and better, some textures have been improved, colours altered, and the game runs in 16:9 widescreen, but that’s it.
MKWii runs at a silky smooth 60 frames per second in one and two player modes, and the overall presentation is clear and crisp.The explosion and lighting effects are again lacklustre, and the environments overall are pretty lifeless and uninspiring. There are times, like in the ramp sections of Coconut Mall, where the game looks downright ugly. Although I’d like to see the series move toward a more gritty and realistic art style, cartoony, clear, and crisp works for Mario Kart Wii and was probably the only choice given the limited capabilities of the Wii hardware.
Replay Value: Where do I start? There’s 32 tracks to play, a create-your-own grand prix (or sorts) and the most welcome development of all- CPU controlled opponents in three or four player mode. This makes for a much more enjoyable racing experience, shooting from twelfth to first against three humans and nine CPU opponents never gets old.
The control options in MKWii deserve a mention. Being able to choose what control method suits you is awesome. The Wii Remote/Nunchuck combo is the best- flicking the remote to jump feels so natural. Then there’s the Wii Wheel, the control method the game was apparently designed around- wider tracks being the most evident consequence of this. There’s also the GameCube controller or Classic Controller to try as well.
So many competitors have come and gone since MKWii was released. Cars 2, both Sonic All Stars Racing games, ModNation Racers (and more) have passed through my machines. My friends and I always come back to Mario Kart Wii. You just don’t get tired of it, even after playing for years and years. An amazing feat.
Multiplayer: The best of any game in the series. Online multiplayer features for the first time in a console version, and it works perfectly. The online matchmaking system was (and seems to still be) flawless, and playing with twelve human opponents added a new dimension to the Mario Kart experience. The four player local multiplayer is also the best the series has seen. Although the frame rate takes a hit, it’s still an absolute blast.
Modern televisions allow for a much more enjoyable multiplayer experience, and MKWii offers one of the best there’s ever been. The battle mode is nothing to write home about, and while I’d commend Nintendo for trying something different with team based battles- they’re simply not as fun as we’ve seen in other version of the game.
Legacy: While Mario Kart Wii is the most current console version, it will be remembered as the game that sold systems. I don’t know anyone that owns a Wii and not Mario Kart. The inclusion of the Wii wheel made it a game for everyone, even if the overall design of the tracks had to be compromised in an attempt to ensure its feasibility. The flow on effect from making Mario Kart suddenly so accessible might carry over to the Wii U. I reckon once Mario Kart 8 is released, Wii U sales will finally take off. What would more casual players want a new version of more than anything else? Mario Kart.
Overall: MKWii takes the fundamental aspects of the Mario Kart experience and simply makes them better. A great online component, more balanced weapons, a good variety of characters to choose from, a control method accessible to everyone- the list goes on. I will say though, that out of the sixteen original tracks featured in the game, not many of them are too memorable. I’d say that MKWii has the weakest set of original tracks out of any console version. For every stand out like Coconut Mall, Maple Treeway or DK Snowboard Cross, there’s one or two uninspired tracks like Grumble Volcano, Daisy Circuit or Moo Moo Meadows.
I’m giving Mario Kart Wii 95%. Gamerankings.com gives Mario Kart Wii an aggregate score of 87.02%, and ranks it 57th among all Wii games.
. . .
It would be pretty easy to assume the series simply just gets better with each new iteration and therefore the latest one is the best. The title of this piece is “Mario Kart: Which Console Version Is The Best?”. I’ve thought about the best and worst aspects of each game and thought about how each one has stood the test of time. Mario Kart Wii is the latest version, but it’s also the best version. The tracks may not be the most inspired there’s ever been, but the wealth of options and the inclusion of CPU opponents in three and four player races more than makes up for that.
What is your favourite console Mario Kart? Let me know by leaving a comment! You can follow me on twitter: @rustyshell or Miiverse: zinger_AU
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