Take a regular, non-lunatic racing game. Thrust it into the ridiculous-fun-o-matic (whatever that is). What emerges from the bottom? Mario Kart, that’s what.
The first installment was released in 1992 for the SNES. It wowed the world with its funky Mode 7 sorcery, its wonderful presentation and its bite-your-own-face-off-in-fury, cheaty cheaty A.I. Here was the moustachioed maestro himself, introducing us to a genre that would soon explode with terrible pretenders. Need I remind everyone that even the Crazy freaking Frog got his own kart racer?
Super Mario Kart brought us the magic formula, and it has stubbornly changed little in two decades. Sure, the series has begrudgingly allowed spangly propellers and gliders and such since, but the core experience is mostly untouched. It’s pure, crazy couch co-op fun, toon-tastic chaos that is pure Nintendo.
Remember that pitched battle that erupted in your living room in the nineties, after some cad stole your star in the last turn of Mario Party? That’s very much the vibe here. Family friendly and wholesome as Nintendo may profess to be, it’s all filthy lies. The Blue Shell is still among the most ungodly villains in video games, and the whistling that heralds its approach… oh, the whistling. It’s like Indiana Jones running from that big ol’ boulder, only even more impending-doom-ier.
Favourite Mario Kart memories will be different for everybody. Perhaps it’s returning home after school each day to play with a friend. Or finding a cannily-hidden shortcut before they did, demonstrating it, and feeling like a prophet from the year 3000. It may simply be a specific track, or piece of music. Maybe it’s the balloon-popping gladiatorial contest of the battle mode. Whatever the case, for many, Mario Kart is more than a game.
It’s one of those childhood fixtures, really. Often, the appeal of retro games is pure nostalgia, reflecting on how much we enjoyed playing a game back in the day (however questionable the choice may have been in hindsight). I, for one, am now stuck with a lifelong love of the Mega Drive Jurassic Park, and I apologize to no man for it.
But in the case of the Kart, it’s different. The franchise endures for a number of reasons. Primarily because, as kart racers go, it’s as solid as a very rocky rock solid thing. Made of rock. It’s brilliantly accessible too, and truly fun for everyone. Grandma, the kids, hardcore players with Gamertags like KillTehNoobs88, everyone has a little time to try and wang green shells up each others’ exhaust pipes. You’ve grown up with the series, or you’ve merely dabbled and grown up aware of it. Either way, the influential series has had an effect on so many.