At their best, Nintendo games bridge generations. “Super Mario Bros.”, “The Legend of Zelda”, “Metroid”, “Donkey Kong”—these games, and the colorful cast of characters that populate them, have made appearances on most Nintendo consoles, such was their enduring popularity. Hell, even the “Super Mario Bros.” opening song has a place in the hearts of gamers young and old. (As evidenced by the many renditions performed over the years.) Occasionally that perfect hybrid would come along, a game that took classic characters out of their traditional worlds and placed them in a new arena. That’s what “Mario Kart” did. And it worked like a dream. The notion of battles, and races, and battle-races in souped-up go-karts manned by your favorite Mario character, well, it’s no wonder the game is currently on its 8th iteration.
But is too much of a good thing bad? Or is too much of a good thing a really, really good thing? Here are a couple points to consider when deciding whether or not “Mario Kart” still has its great stuff.
If you wanted to gauge fan feedback on “Mario Kart 8” (and you were in a particularly masochistic frame of mind) you could head to the boards and check out the opinions of the online commentariat. Doing so might alarm you, because you’ll see plenty of headers like “Is Mario Kart becoming stale?” and “Getting bored of Mario Kart.” Folks complain of, among other things, too little character variety and a track system that hasn’t changed all that much over the years.
Negative comments might lead some to believe that MK’s best days are behind it, but that’s taking the narrow view and it ignores the positive reviews the game has garnered (“Mario Kart 8” enjoys a 9.3 community rating on IGN and we gave Mario Kart 8 a 9.0 in our review), as well as the game’s history. After all, it’s this history that will determine MK’s relevance in the future. I wrote an interesting article the other day, about "Which Mario Kart Game Is the Best?" which takes a look at Mario Kart Wii Vs. the Nintendo 64 version.
From Super Nintendo, to N64, to Wii, to Wii U
The genius of “Mario Kart” is how designers have tailored it to suit the console of the time. While the game was perfectly serviceable upon its 1992 release for the Super Nintendo, it wasn’t until later that it really came into its own. N64s four-player capabilities and 3D graphics were tailor made for MK, and the gameplay mechanics were a perfect fit for the hardware of the subsequent Wii. It’s for these reasons that great fanfare usually accompanied the release of next-gen Nintendo Consoles, and for “Mario Kart” in particular.
Whether “Mario Kart” is still “fresh” likely depends on whom you ask. Certainly, there are those out there who are underwhelmed by the similar casts of characters and track design from one version to the next. But to reinvent “Mario Kart” completely (give it entirely new game mechanics, blow up the level design and start from scratch, etc.) would be to ruin what has allowed it to endure for 22 years.
The final analysis is that “Mario Kart” still moves the needle and it likely always will, provided Nintendo continues to let the game evolve alongside its next-gen systems rather than start from scratch with each subsequent console. If the latter were the case, it would be a classic example of the tail wagging the dog.