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The Evolution of Mario Kart
Since its 1992 debut, the Mario Kart franchise has sold more than 100 million units worldwide on Nintendo systems ranging from the Super Nintendo to the Wii U. With the latest entry, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, racing to the Switch on April 28, EW takes a lap down memory lane with a look at every game in the series (we’re not counting the Namco-developed arcade versions). Buckle up, grab a red shell, and speed through the past 25 years of kart-racing history.
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Super Mario Kart
Super Nintendo, 1992
It’s hard to imagine a time when video game characters didn’t hop into go-karts and race each other, but it was Mario & Co. who first discovered the need for speed. Super Mario Kart pushed the SNES’ Mode 7 graphic effects to the limit, offering pseudo-3D racing in a 2D world (even if half the screen was taken up by a map). It birthed a new racing genre that would be followed by everyone from Pac-Man to Crash Bandicoot to Sonic the Hedgehog.
Introduced: Everything. Mario Kart is a veritable road map for how it’s done: Take a bevy of beloved characters, add various themed weapons and power-ups, and put them on tracks based on the series’ world. —Aaron Morales
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Mario Kart 64
Nintendo 64, 1997
Nintendo perfected the Kart style with the second go-round: 3D graphics, four-player support, and more ambitious tracks, including the revised Rainbow Road, which is still the longest Kart track ever.
Best feature: Winning all the Gold Cups at the highest difficulty earned you the “Extra” difficulty, where you raced through mirror-image versions of each track. The brain-teasing Mirror Mode has been part of every ensuing installment. —Darren Franich
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Mario Kart Super Circuit
Game Boy Advance, 2001
Remember the Game Boy Advance? No? The first small-small-screen iteration of the Kart franchise wasn’t too different from the Nintendo 64 version. But if you had a Game Boy Advance, and if you had Super Circuit, and if three of your friends had a Game Boy Advance, you could link all your Advances and play together.
Best feature: Along with 20 new courses, you could unlock the original 20 Kart tracks. —DF
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Mario Kart Double Dash
It’s widely regarded as the redheaded stepchild of the series — the Luigi, if you will — but for no good reason. It’s arguably the most innovative game in the entire franchise. Double Dash!! shook things up by putting two characters in each kart, doubling the pleasure and the fun.
Best feature: The two-player co-op mode, with one player steering while the other controlled weapons and power-ups, made for some serious bonding moments. —AM
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Mario Kart DS
Nintendo DS, 2005
The DS is the best-selling console in Nintendo’s history, and the Kart franchise made fine use of the handheld device’s two-screen setup, with the bottom screen granting you an overhead view of the course.
Introduced: The Missions Mode, allowing you to drive through courses collecting coins and battling bosses.
Best feature: If you did play online, you could play as a Shy Guy. Who didn’t love the Shy Guys? So cute. So spooky. —DF
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Mario Kart Wii
The top-selling Mario Kart game (so far), Wii completed the franchise’s transition to connectivity, with fully integrated online play and the opportunity to play as your own personalized Mii character.
Introduced: Size and scale. If Double Dash!! is considered the Luigi of the series, then Wii is the Wario.
Best feature: Hardcore fans might sniff at the Wii Wheel, which enabled you to “steer” using the Wii Remote’s motion sensor. Yes, it exemplified the worst instincts of the Wii era, which often emphasized knick-knacks over inventive gameplay. But there’s no denying that the Wheel brought a new dimension to the game. —DF
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Mario Kart 7
The third handheld entry in the series took full advantage of the 3DS, with eye-popping 3D effects, gyroscopic tilt controls, online multiplayer play, and the ability to exchange data via Spotpass and race against other players’ ghosts.
Introduced: Hang gliders and propellers that let you glide through the air and drive underwater, taking racing to brand-new heights. And, er, depths.
Best feature: Players could build customizable vehicles with unlockable parts to find the best fit for their racing styles. —AM
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Mario Kart 8
Wii U, 2014
The series goes HD, and the detail is astounding. See Mario’s mustache quiver majestically in the wind! In addition to airborne and underwater areas, Mario meets Wipeout with antigravity racing that lets you drive on walls and ceilings of spectacular tracks.
Introduced: YouTube integration, allowing you to create and watch shareable racing reels. —AM
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Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
Mario Kart 8 jumps tracks to Nintendo’s new console with a deluxe edition that improves the visuals and bundles all of the game’s DLC and adds new courses, new characters, and new vehicles. Most importantly, the revamped and much-improved Battle mode features five modes and eight arenas in which to fight your friends.
Best feature: Because the Switch doubles as a home and portable system, you can always be racing whether on the couch or on the subway. —AM