Super Mario Kart was the first video game I ever played. I don’t mean it was the first game I ever bonded with or played to completion — I mean that it was my very first experience with a controller. I don’t remember much else about that moment —how old I was, who I was playing with, where we were — but I do remember the particular thrill of realizing that the buttons I was pressing were making the Princess move in her car.

When my boyfriend got Super Mario Kart with the SNES Classic Edition, and I picked up that gray controller for the first time in years, it made me think about how far video games have come in such a short time. There are obviously games out there that provide an incredible metric when it comes to graphics, animation, storytelling, etc. But there’s something beautiful about the simple evolution of Mario Kart that showcases Nintendo’s style and innovation over the years. 

It’s easy to reduce each new Mario Kart game to a rehashing of the same, 28-year-old formula. But I’d like to take a moment to explore the evolution of the Mario Kart and give a little extra love to a game that’s so close to my heart.

Who is Mario Kart for?

Mario Kart is a fun and lightly-competitive party game series that’s seen massive success since its debut on the Super Nintendo. It fits Nintendo’s “games for all ages” brand really well due to its accessibility and relative unpredictability — the use of items and track gimmicks ensures that even skilled players aren’t guaranteed to win, giving everyone a fair shot at the gold. The controls are easy to learn and fun to master, making the game compelling for both those who want a quick, good-natured Grand Prix and those who seek the crown… and the bragging rights that go with it.

If you appreciate games with growing character rosters, increasingly complex customization options that encourage experimentation without punishing “bad builds,” easily-navigable UI, and just plain fun racing games, Mario Kart is a good series for you.

The Mario Kart Games in Order

Without further ado, let’s look at the Mario Kart games in order and see how the series has taken shape over the years.

Super Mario Kart [1992]

Super Mario Kart
  • Release Date: September 1, 1992
  • Platform(s): Super Nintendo

Super Mario Kart was the first installment of the series, released on the SNES to highly positive reception. It came about following Shigeru Miyamoto’s desire to make a racing game like F-Zero that could accommodate two players on the screen simultaneously, and is now cited as the game that started the kart-racing genre.

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SMK 1
SMK 2

The mechanics introduced in Super Mario Kart would go on to set the standard for the series as a whole. This first game included an eight-character roster, with players competing against each other and/or computers in three-round “cups” across various tracks and difficulties. Players could use power-up items and track gimmicks like speed-ups and difficult terrain to their advantage, and play in either Grand Prix (GP), Time Trial, or Battle mode.

Super Mario Kart saw great success and continues to make lists of all-time best console games. It’s been re-released on multiple occasions for Nintendo’s more modern consoles, and its successors have made the top-seller lists for many of the company’s console and handheld systems.

Mario Kart 64 [1997]

Mario Kart 64
  • Release Date: February 10, 1997
  • Platform(s): Nintendo 64

The franchise’s move to the N64 brought polygonal 3D graphics that allowed for more dynamic tracks. Rather than merely racing around a flat circuit, players had to be wary of bridges, pits, and changes in road elevation throughout the race. It also introduced four-player multiplayer, slipstreaming, and a rubberband AI for the computers that keep races close and competitive as they progress.

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Mario Kart 64 met divided reviews, initiating the criticism that would go on to follow future installments as well. The game’s simple controls, repetitive gameplay, and lack of “significant” progress since the last installment would prove to be a common mantra among the series’ critics. The good news? The formula’s reputation as being tired and too simplistic eventually led to far more engaging gameplay.

Mario Kart: Super Circuit [2001]

Super Circuit
  • Release Date: August 27, 2001
  • Platform(s): Game Boy Advance

Mario Kart: Super Circuit marks the series’s first foray into handheld systems. It remains relatively similar to its predecessors in concept, but features more handheld-compatible options. Super Circuit’s VS mode, for instance, allows up to four players to compete on a single game cartridge using third-generation Game Boy link cables.

Super Circuit was received more positively than Mario Kart 64 both in the public and critical eye, boasting critical acclaim and high sales for the appeal of a portable installment.

Mario Kart: Double Dash!! [2003]

Double Dash
  • Release Date: November 17, 2003
  • Platform(s): Nintendo GameCube

Mario Kart: Double Dash!! returns the series to home consoles with some significant changes to the game’s mechanics. Not only is it the first installment to feature 3D-rendered characters in place of 2D sprites, but it’s also the only game in the series that supports fully-cooperative play. Double Dash!! allows for two players per kart, with one player driving and the other managing items and other small tasks (players can swap roles at any point during the race). Using the GameCube’s LAN functionality, up to 16 players can connect together for a race comprised of eight teams.

To support these eight-team races, Nintendo expanded the game’s character roster to a full 20 characters, each with their own unique item sets that match with their intended partner. Incidentally, this is the first game that features Toadette, who is introduced as Toad’s racing partner. 

Double Dash!! received primarily positive reviews and remains one of the most iconic games in the series due to its unique multiplayer settings. 

Mario Kart DS [2005]

Mario Kart DS
  • Release Date: November 14, 2005
  • Platform(s): Nintendo DS

Mario Kart DS returns to Nintendo’s handheld systems and the franchise’s original eight-character roster, though it does feature four additional unlockable characters and more kart options than its predecessors. The game is played on the DS’s top screen, while the bottom screen can toggle between current race standings, stats, and a bird’ s-eye view of the track and upcoming obstacles. 

Mario Kart DS marks the first installment to support online play and single-player Battle mode, as well as eight-player local play. It also introduces a Mission mode where players can race as a predetermined character to complete specific tasks over the course of a race, defeating bosses and progressing to the mode’s next level.

Mario Kart Wii [2008]

Mario Kart Wii
  • Release Date: April 27, 2008
  • Platform(s): Nintendo Wii

Mario Kart Wii is the best-selling installment of the franchise, standing out not only as the most popular Mario Kart game, but the second best-selling title on the Wii console. It received high critical acclaim due to its creative incorporation of motion controls and massive additions to the game’s core concepts.

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Not only did Mario Kart Wii expand the character roster yet again, it neatly categorized its characters into distinct weight classes that enabled more detailed kart customization and race settings. Bikes and sportbikes were also added to the base kart roster, giving players more options for speed and drifting during a race.

The most notable feature of the game is the aforementioned motion control — using the Wiimote, players could “steer” their kart/bike as though operating a wheel or a handlebar, rather than simply using the Nunchuck’s analog stick. Nintendo even released special Wiimote controllers shaped like steering wheels, much to the delight of fans.

Mario Kart 7 [2011]

Mario Kart 7
  • Release Date: December 4, 2011
  • Platform(s): Nintendo 3DS

Although it didn’t meet the same success as its predecessor, Mario Kart 7 still holds its own acclaim as the best-selling 3DS title. Building on the kart customization options of Mario Kart Wii, this installment features fully customizable karts and bikes regardless of the player character’s weight class.

It also introduces more mechanics to the game’s formula, which eventually carries over to its successors. These mechanics include hang gliding, underwater driving, and a toggle that allows players to swap between first- and third-person racing.

Mario Kart 8 [2014]

Mario Kart 8
  • Release Date: May 30, 2014
  • Platform(s): Nintendo WiiU/Switch

Mario Kart 8 takes a huge step forward in the form of anti-gravity racing, modifying some of the franchise’s classic tracks to accommodate the new mechanic. This title boasts the most extensive character roster in the franchise, bringing in familiar faces from other Nintendo franchises through DLC, often including a themed track and additional kart/bike options to match their respective aesthetics.

In 2017, an enhanced Switch port was released and retitled Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. This edition featured everything from the base game, as well as new items, tracks, and characters. The port also supported Nintendo Labo, allowing players to control their racers with the motorbike set. 

Both installments featured Amiibo support, which unlocks Nintendo-themed outfits for the game’s Mii racers.

Mario Kart Tour [2019]

Mario Kart Tour
  • Release Date: September 25, 2019
  • Platform(s): Mobile

Mario Kart Tour brings the franchise to mobile gaming, eliminating the traditional ranking system in favor of point-based wins. Players can participate in bi-weekly themed tours with other players across classic Mario Kart tracks, as well as courses based on real-world cities.

The game performed well in initial sales, but has garnered a decent amount of criticism for its online-only option (meaning that it requires a stable connection to play) and its rampant microtransactions.

The Future of Mario Kart

Although there are rumors surrounding an eventual Mario Kart 9 (as well as some predicting a 2020 release), we haven’t received any official word from Nintendo on upcoming installments. It’s safe to assume we’ll see more of this franchise in the years to come. We’re just not yet ceratin when that will be.

I hope you enjoyed our list of Mario Kart games! We’d love to hear from you regarding your favorite installment and why you enjoyed playing it down in the comments below.

In the meantime, happy gaming!

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