Mario Kart (series)
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Mario Kart (Japanese: マリオカート Mario Kāto) is a series of kart racing games developed and published by Nintendo as a spin-off of its flagship Mario franchise. It was inaugurated in 1992 with its debut entry, Super Mario Kart for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, which was critically and commercially successful. There have been a total of twelve titles in the series: five for home consoles, three portable games, and four arcade games co-developed by Bandai Namco Entertainment.
The success of Mario Kart has spawned many cartoon-style racing games published by various gaming companies from the 16-bit generation onwards. It has also been referenced in the Paper Mario role-playing series and inspired several stages in the Super Smash Bros. fighting games. The games in the series have sold a combined total of over 100 million copies worldwide.
Following the Japanese launch of F-Zero, a Super Nintendo Entertainment System game which was exclusively single-player, Nintendo developers decided to create a two-player racing game for that console as a follow-up. They made a prototype that featured a generic "guy in overalls"; it was decided that Mario characters and concepts be included when the developers added Mario driving one of the karts, out of curiosity as to how the game would look, and were satisfied with it. Thus, the Mario Kart series was born, with its first title, Super Mario Kart, released for the SNES on August 27, 1992. Development of the first Mario Kart game was overseen by Shigeru Miyamoto, then the general manager of Nintendo's EAD division, who is best known for creating the Mario franchise and other successful Nintendo properties. Darran Jones of Imagine Publishing's magazine NowGamer attributed the original success of Mario Kart to its use of the Mario characters and to being a new type of racing game.
In the Mario Kart series, players compete in go-kart races, distributed among several single-player and multiplayer modes, and control one of a selection of major Mario franchise characters. Up to twelve (originally eight) characters can compete in each race. When the characters are ready to begin racing in the starting grid, Lakitu comes in with a traffic light hanging from a fishing pole, which starts the countdown; when the light turns green, the race officially begins. During the race, the player's viewpoint is from behind or in front of his or her kart. The goal of the game is to either finish a race ahead of other racers, who are controlled by the computer and other players, or complete a circuit in the fastest time.
Question mark boxes are arrayed on the race tracks and give power-up items to a player-character if their vehicle passes through them. Common power-ups include the Super Mushroom, which gives players a speed boost; the shells of Koopa Troopas, which can be thrown at opponents; banana peels, which can be laid on the track as hazards; Boo, who turns the player's kart invisible so that obstacles will not hit it and steals for them an item from another racer; a Bullet Bill, which sends the player rocketing ahead, plowing over other racers who get in the way; lightning bolts, which a player can use to electrocute and weaken all of the other racers; and the Starman, which renders the player's kart temporarily invulnerable to attack. The type of weapon received from an item box is often random, though sometimes influenced by the player's current position in the race. For example, players lagging far behind may receive more powerful items while the leader will only receive small defensive items. This gameplay mechanic is designed to give other players or computers a realistic chance to catch up to the leading player.
In some games, lines of coins are found on the courses, which if run over and collected, will increase a kart's top speed and can be used to unlock kart parts. Having coins also helps players when their kart is hit by another: instead of spinning and losing control, they lose a coin. Coins are also lost when karts are struck by power-ups or fall off the tracks. The series also features advanced maneuvers such as drifting (also called power sliding), which allows a kart to rapidly turn in a direction preventing the need to brake; and hopping, which helps a kart to avoid obstacles or off-road parts and sometimes can be used to execute tighter turns (the kart makes a short hop and turns in the air, speeding off in the new direction when it lands).
Many course themes recur throughout the series, including circuit, dirt, off-road, beach, desert, snow, and haunted tracks. Most courses are based on an existing Mario location (such as Bowser's Castle), but there are a number of courses that have not appeared elsewhere, such as Rainbow Road. Each game in the series includes at least 16 original courses and up to 6 original battle arenas. Each game's tracks are divided into four "cups," or groups in which the player has to have the highest overall placing to win. Most courses can be done in three laps. Course outlines are marked out by impassable barriers and feature a variety of bends, ranging from sharp hairpins to wide curves which players can drift around. Numerous obstacles appear on the tracks, ranging from generic obstacles to those themed after the Mario games. For example, the Bowser's Castle tracks feature Thwomps and sometimes Fire Bars or Lava Bubbles; beach courses may feature crabs and/or Cheep Cheeps; and the Mario Circuit tracks, depending on the game, may incorporate anything from pipe barriers to franchise-staple enemies like Piranha Plants and Chain Chomps. Another common type of obstacle is off-road sections which slow down the karts, such as shallow water or mud bogs.
The first game to feature courses from previous games was Mario Kart: Super Circuit, which contained all of the tracks from the original SNES game. Starting with Mario Kart DS, each entry in the series has featured 16 "nitro" original courses and 16 "retro" tracks drawn from previous titles, spread across four cups each. The four "nitro" cups ― the Mushroom Cup, Flower Cup, Star Cup, and Special Cup ― have been recurring cups throughout the entire series, while the "retro" cups from the more recent installments are the Shell Cup, Banana Cup, Leaf Cup, and Lightning Cup. As the player progresses through the cups, each is ostensibly more difficult than the one before it. In Mario Kart 8, 16 additional tracks are available across two downloadable packages, eight for each package downloaded, including seven retro courses, four original courses, and five courses based on other Nintendo franchises, namely Excitebike, F-Zero, The Legend of Zelda, and Animal Crossing.
The Mario Kart series' player-character rosters generally consist of memorable characters from the Mario universe, including the main protagonist Mario; his brother Luigi; his love interest Princess Peach; his sidekick Yoshi; his friends Toad, Princess Daisy, and Rosalina; his antagonists and rivals Donkey Kong, Wario, and Waluigi; and his nemesis Bowser; among others. Each character's kart has different capabilities with differing levels of top speed, acceleration and handling.
Since Mario Kart 64, all player-characters have been grouped into one of three distinct weight classifications. Smaller characters, labeled as "lightweights," have high acceleration but low top speeds, and lose a minimal amount of speed when off-road but are easily knocked aside by heavier opponents. Medium-sized characters, or "middleweights," have an equal balance of weight, top speed, and acceleration, and lose a moderate amount of speed when off-road. The largest characters, labeled as "heavyweights," can easily knock aside most opposing racers, have high top speeds but poor acceleration, and lose great amounts of speed when off-road.
Modes of play
Each installment of the Mario Kart series features a variety of single and multiplayer modes. The four modes that recur most often in the series are Grand Prix, Time Trial, VS, and Battle Mode.
In Grand Prix, one player is required to race against eleven (formerly seven) computer-controlled characters in a "cup," a series of four races (five in Super Mario Kart). Mario Kart games typically have four recurring difficulty levels: 50cc, 100cc, 150cc, and an extra "Mirror" mode (where tracks are inverted left-to-right); starting in Mario Kart 8, a fifth difficulty level, 200cc, was added. As the player progresses through the cups, the courses become more difficult, and as the difficulty level increases, the vehicles go faster. Players earn points according to their finishing position in each race. In earlier games, if a player finishes in a lower position, they must replay the race and may not proceed until a higher placing is achieved. The racer with the highest number of points after all races have been completed wins a trophy: bronze for third place, silver for second, and gold for first. Grand Prix is also playable in multiplayer mode for up to four players, though this does not affect the rest of the gameplay rules. Grand Prix is known as Mario Kart GP in the first three games.
In Time Trial mode, players race against the clock through the same tracks that are present in Grand Prix mode, attempting to set the fastest time possible. There are no opponent racers or item boxes, though the player will always begin each race with three Mushrooms in reserve. For any given course the shortest total times are saved, and the shortest single lap time of any race is also saved. The fastest time is saved as a ghost, a copy of the player's performance, which the player can race against later.
The VS mode involves player(s) racing a track of their choice and also feature customized rules such as team racing and item frequency. VS mode has been changed several times throughout the series. In earlier games, VS mode is exclusive to multiplayer without any computer-controlled racers. Starting from Mario Kart DS, VS mode can be played either single player with CPU racers, or multiplayer with or without CPU racers. A notable exception is Mario Kart 7, where single-player VS races are removed and limited only to multiplayer, but the rules remain the same as in Mario Kart DS and later installments.
In Battle Mode, players go head to head on one of a number of dedicated Battle Mode courses, usually designed as closed arenas. Each player starts with three balloons and loses a balloon with every hit sustained; the last player possessing at least one balloon wins. In addition to the classic battle game, different variants of this mode were added as the series progressed, including one that involves capturing a Shine Sprite and maintaining possession of it for a certain period of time; and one that involves throwing Bob-ombs at other players to earn points. Starting with Mario Kart Wii, there is a time limit for each battle. For Mario Kart 8, the battles take place on race courses. In Mario Kart Wii, Mario Kart 7 and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, the player will respawn after losing all balloons, instead of getting eliminated.
List of games
At one point, there was also a game in the series planned for the Virtual Boy in 1995. Tentatively entitled VB Mario Kart, it was likely to be the first sequel to Super Mario Kart. The game was canceled due to the Virtual Boy's failure, and was never reported in the media until revealed in the August 2000 issue of German gaming magazine The Big N, along with other shelved projects for that system. Another Mario Kart tech demo for Game Boy Advance called Mario Kart XXL exists.
Appearances in outside series
The Mario Kart series has been referenced twice in the Paper Mario role-playing game series. Luigi references it in an "adventure" of his which he recounts between chapters of Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, where in the third of his stories, he states that he visited a location called "Circuit Break Island" where kart races are organized every day. Later, in Paper Mario: Color Splash, once all six Big Paint Stars have been retrieved, Luigi drives his kart on Rainbow Road to transport Mario to Bowser's castle to defeat him and restore peace to Prism Island. When Bowser gets returned to normal, he asks Mario if they have a kart race scheduled. Additionally, several stages based on Mario Kart have appeared in the Super Smash Bros. series: Super Smash Bros. Brawl features a Mario Circuit stage based on Figure-8 Circuit from Mario Kart DS, Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS features a Rainbow Road stage based on its appearance in Mario Kart 7, and Super Smash Bros. for Wii U features a Mario Circuit stage based on its appearance in Mario Kart 8, as well as reusing the Mario Circuit stage from Brawl.
Mario Kart has also crossed over into the Fortune Street series, where its DS installment features a playable Mario Circuit based on its Double Dash!! and DS versions, and the Wii follow-up features a Mario Circuit whose design is based on Mario Kart Wii. There are also stages based on Mario Kart in the Mario & Sonic series; for example, Olympic Winter Games features Mario Circuit from Mario Kart Wii, Bowser's Castle from Super Circuit, and Sherbet Land from Mario Kart 64 in its ski cross, ice hockey, and curling dream events respectively. Rainbow Road from Mario Kart 64 is featured in F-Zero X; figurines of Mario, Peach, and Bowser racing in their karts appear as dog toys in Nintendogs; and the Animal Crossing series features Mario Kart items in City Folk and references the series in certain lucky tickets in New Leaf.
Table of playable characters
The Mario Kart series has had a wide variety of playable characters throughout its history, including characters originating from outside the Mario franchise. Mario, Luigi, Peach, and Yoshi are the only characters to have been playable in every released installment.
1 - In Mario Kart 64, players control a Mini Bomb Kart once eliminated during Battle Mode.
The Mario Kart series has spawned a range of merchandise over the years. Scalextric produced a slot car racer set based on Mario Kart DS, including figures based on Mario, Donkey Kong, Wario, and Luigi. A line of radio-controlled karts has also appeared based on the series, featuring Mario, Donkey Kong, and Yoshi, controlled by Game Boy Advance-shaped controllers. Mario Kart 64 has been promoted with figures of Mario, Luigi, Yoshi, Donkey Kong, Wario, and Bowser made by Toybiz; and another figurine line featuring all eight player-characters available only in Japan. There is also a line of "Sound Drops" inspired by Mario Kart Wii featuring eight of the game's sound effects, and a land-line telephone featuring Mario holding a lightning bolt while seated in his kart.
K'Nex produced sets with tracks from the game and figures of Mario, Luigi, Yoshi, Donkey Kong, and Bowser in karts and bikes. These have been released to promote Mario Kart Wii, Mario Kart 7, and Mario Kart 8. McDonald's released an eight-character set of Happy Meal toys based on Mario Kart 8, where the characters' karts were customizable with stickers. Nintendo itself has also offered Mario Kart-related merchandise, such as a soundtrack for Mario Kart 64 offered by mail; and varying pieces of merchandise through the Club Nintendo customer rewards program, such as a Mario Kart Wii-themed stopwatch, gold trophies modeled after those in Mario Kart 7, and a CD featuring the soundtrack of Mario Kart 8.
European casino game manufacturer Maygay produced a slot machine game based on Mario Kart 64, in which the objective is to race around the track to get the "super jackpot" bonus in the center, along the way using powerups and collecting cash from the reels, the three central prize trails, or the six character-based special features.
The Mario Kart series has received widespread critical and fan acclaim. On Metacritic, all entries in the series hold aggregate review scores of 82 to 91 out of 100, except for Super Mario Kart, which was never reviewed there. On GameRankings, all eight main Mario Kart installments hold very high approval ratings, ranging from 82% (Mario Kart Wii) to 94% (Super Mario Kart). The Mario Kart games have also been praised by many other gaming reviews publishers including Edge, IGN, The Age, GameSpot, and Official Nintendo Magazine among others. In its 250th issue, Nintendo Power stated that the series was one of the greatest multiplayer experiences, citing the diversity in game modes as well as the overall entertainment value. The Mario Kart series has also been lauded by the Guinness Book of World Records, which gave it six records including "First Console Kart Racing Game," "Best Selling Racing Game," and "Longest Running Kart Racing Franchise," while also naming its SNES debut game the top console game of all time based on initial impact and lasting legacy.
The games in the series have sold a combined total of over 100 million copies worldwide, with Mario Kart Wii as the best-selling entry, at 36.83 million. Nintendo assigned the Player's Choice marking label to all four of those Mario Kart games that were in existence during its time, and its successor label, Nintendo Selects, was given to Mario Kart Wii in Europe and Oceania.
The original Super Mario Kart has been listed among the greatest games ever made by a number of organizations. IGN, in listing it as the fifteenth-best game ever, called it "the original karting masterpiece." It has also been credited with creating the kart racing subgenre of video gaming, as many developers have attempted to replicate its success, including Sega with Sonic Drift, Ubisoft with Street Racer, Konami with Konami Krazy Racers, Sony Computer Entertainment with Crash Team Racing, etc. Response to all these competing kart racers has been mixed: GameSpot stated that they tended to be bad, and 1UP.com said that their producers tried to improve upon the Mario Kart formula without success.
Super Mario Kart was the first non-platforming game to feature multiple playable characters from the Mario franchise, leading the way for not only its various sequels but also the many other spin-offs that the Mario characters have appeared in, including both sporting games (those relating to tennis, golf, baseball, and soccer) and non-sporting games (Mario Party among other series). The genre-spanning nature of the Mario franchise that was sparked off by the success of Super Mario Kart has been described as key to Mario's success and longevity, keeping fans interested despite the infrequency of the traditional Mario platforming games. Mario Kart and all of the franchise's other spin-off series have helped it rise to its present status as the best-selling video game franchise of all time.