The complete history of Mario Kart

Above: Who'd have thought a silly, racing spin-off would become one of Nintendo's biggest franchises?

Image Credit: Z-Trigger

When you think about, it really sounds like a stupid idea for a game.

I mean, what was Nintendo thinking? “Let’s just put all of the Mario characters in little karts and have them race and throw banana peels at each other.” Um, OK? Is this a joke?

Well, the joke’s on us. Mario Kart has become one of Nintendo’s biggest franchises, and the gaming giant has made sure to release a new one with every console it makes. With the upcoming Mario Kart 8 coming out on the Wii U on May 30, we thought it would be fun to look back at the series’ history.

Super Mario Kart

It was flat, but we loved it anyway.

Above: It was flat, but we loved it anyway.

Image Credit: NintendoLife

System: Super Nintendo Entertainment System
Release date: Sept. 1, 1992
Number of racers: 8

It’s hard to believe that the kart-racing genre wasn’t always around, but it really got its start with Super Mario Kart. The Super Nintendo classic enabled two players to race against each other as different characters in the Mario franchise on colorful courses. You could also fight your friend in Battle Mode, where each player had to eliminate the other by using weapons.

The roster included Mario, Luigi, Yoshi, Princess Peach, Bowser, Toad, Koopa Troopa, and Donkey Kong Jr.

Super Mario Kart was one of the Super Nintendo’s most popular releases, and it helped create a new sub-genre of racing games. Instead of focusing entirely on skill, Mario Kart added items to the mix. The player could use homing shells, banana peels, and invincibility stars to gain an advantage. Even if you were stuck in last place, there was always hope you’d get some good items and make a big comeback. Keeping true to Nintendo’s philosophy, it was fun for everyone, and Super Mario Kart established one of the company’s most enduring series.

Mario Kart 64

Mario can always count on giant billboards of himself for encouragement.

Above: Mario can always count on giant billboards of himself for encouragement.

Image Credit: Desktop Backgrounds

System: Nintendo 64
Release date: Feb. 10, 1997
Number of racers: 8

Super Mario Kart’s first sequel was a huge title on the Nintendo 64. Mario Kart 64 enabled up to four players to race and battle simultaneously. While the hardware limitations of the Super Nintendo forced all tracks to remain flat, levels in Mario Kart 64 featured changes in elevation, pits, and other obstacles.

The roster remained largely the same from the previous game although Wario replaced the Koopa Troopa. Donkey Kong Jr. got upgraded to the new version of Donkey Kong that debuted in 1994’s Donkey Kong Country.

Mario Kart: Super Circuit

It looks crude now, but having Mario Kart on a portable was a big deal.

Above: It looks crude now, but having Mario Kart on a portable was a big deal.

Image Credit: Nintendo

System: Game Boy Advance
Release date: Aug. 27, 2001
Number of racers: 8

Mario Kart: Super Circuit was the first portable iteration of the series. It’s also the only Mario Kart to launch with a Nintendo system. Graphically, Super Circuit was similar to the original Super Mario Kart. While it featured new tracks, it also included all of the courses from the original. The roster remained the same from Mario Kart 64.

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keith maxx
keith maxx

That's an exhaustive list. It's nice to see the franchise's history, and I'm a bit embarrassed to say that I've only played the first title... to date. I'm going to correct that a bit with MK8 this weekend!

Michael Ajibade
Michael Ajibade

Great article.  I have played the second arcade release of Mario Kart via emulation.  I want to experience it in an actual arcade.

Jonny Good
Jonny Good

Super Mario Kart could support up to 4 people. I used to have sleepovers with 2 or 3 of my friends and we'd play all night on the gigantic 24" TV! Oh, those were the days.

Greg Wampler
Greg Wampler

@Jonny Good That's's only a 2-player game. Even with the multitap that could allow 5 players still wouldn't work as there is no 3 to 5 player mode in the game....

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