“Super Mario Kart” turns 30: from “Street Racer” to “Smurfs Kart”, the vast heritage of a cult game

"Super Mario Kart" turns 30: from "Street Racer" to "Smurfs Kart", the vast heritage of a cult game

Buckle up, let’s go back thirty years. On August 27, 1992, Nintendo released super mario kart in Japan and this whimsical racing game, with colorful courses full of obstacles and bonuses, quickly became, with 8.7 million cartridges sold, one of the Super Nintendo’s biggest commercial successes. A dizzying start on the 16-bit console that then hints at the commercial success of the franchise, whose fifteen official episodes have sold nearly 168 million copies.

But the impact of super mario kart in the video game landscape it is not only measured by commercial records, it is also measured by the number of its heirs. This is how a multitude of pups from other stables appear in his rearview mirror. If they are successful (diddy kong racing, crash team racing, Sonic and Sega Star Races) or distressing (m&m Kart Racing, South Park Rally), displaying a known name (Muppet career mania, Pac-Man Kart Rally) or if they were made by fans (Sonic Robo Blast 2 Kart), etc., impossible to name them all, each year bringing its share of new competitors. Vintage 2022 is no exception to the rule: chocobo gp (pulled from Final Fantasy) lined up on the starting track in March and will soon be joined by disney speed storm Y Smurfs Kart.

Super Mario Kart.

“It’s a compliment to be compared to such a beloved series”slips Steve Lycett, who directed Sonic and All-Stars careers (2010) for Sumo Digital. “But we also want to be remembered and offer some competition… Games are even better when there is rivalry”, adds the English mischievously. But the franchise Mario Kart Have you ever really had to worry?

Imitated from the start

From his earliest years, super mario kart emulates When it was released, developer Andy Edwardson told the World have been fascinated by its graphics that imitate 3D:

“I wanted to be able to make a game like that. Many developers told me that it was not possible on PC, that the machines were not powerful enough. However, that didn’t stop me. »

Like a fan who reinterprets his favorite hit, the Briton worked for almost a year at the Beavis Soft studio to design idler wheels (1994), which features zoo animals and uses hedgehogs as projectiles. Posted by Apogee Software (Wolfenstein 3D, Duke Nuke), was, at the time, considered by PC gamers to be the best game to rival super mario kart.

Crazy wheels.

when it comes out the same year street racerits creator Mevlüt Dinç remembers that“to be compared to Mario Kart it was just amazing”. The imitators are then few and the deviation of the concept attracts the attention of the public. The parallel drawn between his own game and Mario Kart it’s less embarrassing for this game designer Turkish-British street racer takes the opposite of the good-natured atmosphere of the Nintendo title: inspired by the fighting game street fighter ii (1991) and American wrestling, it is possible to hit opponents with a baseball bat or whip.

street runner.

“At first glance, it can be compared street racer of super mario kart. Except that this impression dissipates when we look at its different modes. You can fight in arenas and even soccer in a vehicle. In the end, it has nothing to do with it.”points to the one that gave birth to the brat of the kart game family.

“Diddy Kong Racing” at the Plumber’s Wheel

During the early years, the genre is therefore divided into two categories: those of the original Nintendo license, on the one hand, and those that are inspired by it, sometimes in a very clumsy way, on the other. The frank disappointments multiplied from the end of the nineties. Mega Man battle and chase (1997), Bomberman Fantasy Race (1998), Chocobo Racing (1999), speed freaks (1999) then the approximate South Park Rally (2000)… so many simplistic and forgettable reworkings of a booming recipe, so much so that the term “clone” is used in the press to designate them.

But, at the same time, the entrance on the track of diddy kong racing (1997) on the Nintendo 64 changes that. Including characters from the Japanese firm, developed by the Americans at Rare (donkey kong country, Golden Eye 007), complicates the concept to highlight. The first idea of ​​its creators is to broaden perspectives. “We wanted really big 3D worlds to explore, like in [le jeu de plate-forme] Super Mario 64 »details in World Lee Schuneman, its director. “Since we had to differentiate ourselves, we tried to bring additional things. We came up with the idea of ​​piloting a plane and a hovercraft.”evokes Welsh.

Running the risk of destabilizing the players due to its exploration of verticality or circuits without circumscribed routes, it passes mario kart 64 for a slightly wise student. What to do school with in the short term crash team racing (1999) – during development, the studio Naughty Dog (crash bandicoot) even reproduced one of the circuits from diddy kong racing to test the power of the PlayStation – or, in the longer term, in mario kart 7 (2011), which introduces underwater or aerial areas into the franchise.

Diddy Kong Racing.

Rare’s second idea with diddy kong racing is to reward expert players, which departs from the family philosophy wanted by Nintendo. “The team was made up of excellent players and we thought the public should be too”says Lee Schuneman. The young man (27 years old at the time) puts dexterity back at the center of the multiplayer experience, making it impossible to reverse the course of games in a few seconds thanks to an overpowered bonus, unlike Mario Kart.

Critically acclaimed, some even preferred it to mario kart 64 –, diddy kong racing it sold almost five million copies and established a new line of demarcation within the kart game: on the one hand, those who rely on technique to satisfy regular players over time, on the other, those with more unpredictable races, in the that a newbie can hopefully steal the show from someone experienced.

Also read: Article reserved for our subscribers “Mario Kart” or “Wii Sports”: when the controls are invited to the nursing home

blue shell syndrome

This distinction about the value placed on piloting skills is still valid, recalls Steve Lycett, director of Sonic and Sega Star Races. “It may sound controversial, but we don’t see Mario Kart like a racing game. This is more of a gun game where driving is secondary. On the contrary, we see ourselves as a racing game that offers weapons, but driving is more important for success., discusses who is now responsible for franchises at Sumo Digital, which has produced two sequels to the title. His influences also point to Sega’s iconic arcade game series, such as Outrun (1986) or Virtua Racing (1992).

Sonic and Sega All Stars Racing.

The next disney speed storm also takes advantage of the automotive experience of the Gameloft studio in Barcelona in asphalt 9, Antoine Cabrol advances, his main game designer. The game, which is scheduled for release in late 2022, may feature either Mulan or Mickey, claims a true “complexity”. The roadmap is closer to the spirit of diddy kong racing what of Mario Kart, and Antoine Cabrol takes his cue from acceleration bonuses, usually earned on the track. Here, they are replaced by a flag that can be used as desired: “So we let players use it at the right time, for example to take shortcuts. They will need to carefully plan their career strategy and adopt the behaviors that best suit each character. »

Disney Speedstorm will be released in late 2022 on consoles and PC.

Quite the opposite of Smurfs Kartwhich should also be released at the end of the year and is aimed at the youngest. “During testing, we found that kids are very open to twists and turns, while tougher players [assidus] will get frustrated quickly”explain Benjamin Ledoux game designer at Eden Games, the Lyon-based development studio behind the game. Thus, he calls for an eternal debate for fans:

“It is the stake of the blue shell [qui vise le leader de la course dans Mario Kart]. againstsome hate it, because it regularly changes the face of gaming. Whereas, to me, that’s really the most fun. »

Why resume this formula in 2022, ultimately very close to that of the big brother Mario Kartwhile its latest version, mario kart 8 deluxebroke all series records with nearly 47 million copies sold? “We’re not going to leave him alone… Maybe we’re a little tired of playing plumber or mushroom,” responds Yannick Geffroy, chief producer of Smurfs Karthighlighting a vision of the genre inspired by Franco-Belgian comics.

Even if he remains on the top step of the podium, thirty years after his first laps, the mustachioed plumber is far from finding himself one day alone on the circuit.

Also read: ‘FIFA 22’ and ‘Mario Kart 8 Deluxe’ dominated video game sales in 2021

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