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Tracking 23 Years of the Mario Kart Franchise

David Craddock | 10 Nov 2014 07:00
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Cubes and Screens

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Released on the GameCube in 2003, Super Mario Kart: Double Dash!! added more characters such as King Boo and Princess Daisy from the Game Boy's Super Mario Land, but the main focus was on fast, chaotic play. For the first time, players selected two racers per vehicle, obliging them to consider how the weight of their courses would affect the spryness and speed of their kart. Going through Grand Prix mode and earning gold trophies unlocked new content such as racers, karts, and levels, another first for the franchise.

Two racers per player meant double the items able to be held. Each racer could use items unique to them, such as fireballs for Mario and Luigi, a gigantic shell for Bowser and Bowser Jr., and heart-shaped shields around Peach and Daisy. The game's heightened speed and the increased likelihood of items flying, shooting, and bouncing around the track at any moment made Double Dash the most frenzied Mario Kart yet. The game supported up to four players on a single screen, or up to eight consoles connected over a Local Area Network (LAN) using Nintendo's Broadband Adapter.

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Online tech became a centerpiece in 2005's Mario Kart DS. Taking advantage of the DS handheld's twin screens, the game placed the racing action on the top screen while the bottom displayed the map and rank of each player--a return to form of sorts that hearkened back to the split-screen interface of Super Mario Kart. Up to eight players could play Mario Kart DS over a LAN, while four could play over the brand new Nintendo WiFi service, matching players against strangers from all around the world, or friends who lived a few blocks away.

Most impressively, Mario Kart DS doubled the number of available courses in the preceding game, Double Dash, from 16 to 32. Half of those were retro tracks plucked from Super Mario Kart, Mario Kart 64, Super Circuit, and Double Dash. An even distribution of new and classic levels became the norm for each new entry in the series.

Coin-op

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Given Mario Kart's multiplayer pedigree, it's a wonder Nintendo waited until 2005 to bring the game to arcades. Instead of porting an earlier version, Nintendo published the Namco-developed Mario Kart Arcade GP, an experience crafted for coin-op. Each game was housed in a cabinet sporting a steering wheel, pedals, seat, and a camera that snapped a pic of the driver, whose mug appeared between accouterments worn by their chosen racer, such as Wario's mustache and yellow cap. Up to six cabinets could be synced up to compete, and players were able to see the snapshot of players who blasted them with items and left them in the dust. Namco mixed in characters of its own, including Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, and Blinky the Ghost.

Where most Mario Karts included 10 to 12 items, Namco stuffed over 90 into Arcade GP. Many items were exclusive to certain characters. Yoshi's tongue could snatch items from drivers, Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man were able to summon a Galaga ship to abduct rivals, and Bowser could hang Thwomp blocks that crushed players who drove beneath them. To keep players focused on driving, Arcade GP protected players in situations where they would have been left to fend for themselves in other Mario Kart games, such as wrapping drivers in a protective bubble while power-sliding.

Mario Kart GP gained a large enough following to warrant two sequels: 2007's Mario Kart Arcade GP 2, and Mario Kart Arcade GP DX in 2013. In certain regions, each version allowed players to save data such as their nickname and win/loss record on cards that could be scanned before the start of a race.

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