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The Complete History of Mario Kart : The Technological and User Interface Evolution of Mario Kart

Complete History of Mario Kart : Technological and User Interface Evolution of Mario Kart

The Complete History of Mario Kart : Technological and User Interface Evolution of Mario Kart. In the nearly three decades Mario Kart has thrived. The game has seen new features and greatly improved graphics that have kept the game relevant. With nine installations over consoles and handheld devices, the game is always a go to for going head to head with friends. 

But, the classic versions still offer a draw and have helped to create a used marketplace. Now there are sites like TheOldSchoolGameVault.Com that offer a marketplace for buying and selling these games. In addition, Gameflip offers a marketplace as well as GameStop. As a result of these games becoming more valuable as the demand for them is increasing substantially and the supply is dwindling.

Super Mario Kart, the game that kicked off the franchise, has sold 8.76 million copies as of December 2019.

The game consisted of only eight total characters: Mario, Luigi, Peach, Toad, Yoshi, Bowser, Koopa Troopa, and Donkey Kong Jr., his only feature in a game. The core items were obtainable in race, with the feather being the only item not in the current installation.

At its release in 1992, the game ran on the SNES console, which relied on a 256×224 output mode to CRT screens.

However, it was revolutionary for its use of Mode 7 graphics. The designers simulated a three dimensional look to SNES games using this technique. It rotated and scaled a background layer on top of the two dimensional characters, known as sprites. The simple visuals allowed the game to run at a full 60 frames per second, which would become the standard across the majority of the franchise. 

The Mode 7 graphics technique was directly imbued into the SNES console, which allowed for processing units to work simultaneously. This advantage is used in Super Mario Kart to create a 256×256 texture-mapped tile. And shift the perspective from a typical top-down view to a side angle that serves as the road.

Once the two dimensional sprites are layered on top, the game provides a convincing three dimensional illusion using flat surfaces. The three dimensional illusion ran more smoothly by giving each character 22 variations to accommodate character rotation while driving and three total sets for depth. 

Despite these revolutionary graphic elements, the game only plays in split screen, accommodating only two players at most.

However, this was intentional as Nintendo first and foremost saw Mario Kart as a two player game. Another racing game, F-Zero, released prior to Mario Kart, was Nintendo’s racing game with Mode 7 graphics intended for single player. With no full single player development in Mario Kart, solo play filled the lower half of the screen with the circuit map. Nintendo’s focus on multiplayer set a precedent for the Mario Kart franchise going forward.

The Complete History of Mario Kart : Technological and User Interface Evolution of Mario Kart

The SNES was the only console with Mario Kart that boasted Mode 7 graphics, but was joined in 2001 by the Game Boy Advanced installation, Mario Kart Super Circuit, which also boasted Mode 7 graphics. Although not a direct successor to the original game, it enhanced the Mode 7 graphics engine and featured the all original game’s levels in a retro section.

Despite being a handheld entry, Super Circuit still improved over the original. The circuits were more filled out with tree sprites, enemies, pipes, and now three rotating layers for the background. Texture quality was improved, and item boxes were fully rendered as sprites. The screen was also optimized and was fully used, no more forced horizontal split.

However, being a handheld device, its graphics were limited below to below the SNES’s 240p.

The handheld factor put another limiting aspect on its frame rate, running at only half the capacity of its predecessor. This led to the game running less smoothly relative to Super Mario Kart. Regardless, Super Circuit was still a great installation to the series, and the send off from non-polygonal graphics.

The Nintendo 64 created a revolutionary era for Mario Kart and other Nintendo games as it saw the franchise move from a pseudo three dimensional experience to an actual three dimensional experience. Super Mario Kart 64 took full advantage of the new three dimensional hardware; circuits now had height, with new structures such as castles, and hills and bridges rising above the ground.

Nintendo added Donkey Kong and Wario as playable characters in the game. As well as new items including: triple mushrooms, red shells, green shells, and bananas, and the infamous blue shell. Game designers engineered in-game voice sampling for each character as well.

Mario Kart 64 set a new precedent among the franchise with a four player split screen. The game’s success in providing a full three dimensional experience was, however, met with difficulty to maintain 60 frames per second throughout a race. Regardless, the game still had more to offer with hardware transformation and lighting across perspective-correct textures giving the tracks a more realistic look.

Small details such as smoke, dust, fire, sparks, and background scenery were added. The sparks in particular were evolved into indicators for larger drift bonuses in future installations. 

For the new console it was a time of experimentation. Its power in three dimensional rendering was state of the art, but had big technical limits. The N64 used object pop-in, “a method of culling polygons from the scene past a certain distance.” This was Nintendo’s way of controlling the number of polygons rendered on screen, but not the most efficient. Nintendo capped Super Mario Kart 64 at a mere 30 frames per second.

Super Mario Kart 64 was the only game to have its graphics capped.

Where even then it was still faulty. These limitations on the game are minuscule relative to its advancements in three dimensional rendering, as it paved a new road for the rest of the series.

The next drop in the franchise came with Nintendo’s new next-gen console the GameCube. The GameCube’s installation of Mario Kart came with a full refined three dimensional rendering, a full 60 frames per second, and a unique aspect from the rest of the games.

Mario Kart Double Dash was displayed with a 640×480 picture, backed by higher resolution texture maps. It brought in more detailed character animations, lighting, and post-process effects like depth of field. Double Dash included the unique feature of a co-op race with two players in the same kart. Even in four player split screen, and the newly added 16 player local network multiplayer Double Dash maintained 60 frames per second. 

Nintendo’s DS released after the GameCube, was the next installation in the company’s handheld gaming devices, was not a powerful device. But, it received a Mario Kart release that minted new heights for handheld devices. Although not a true installation to the series, the DS version added online play and allowed textures up to 1024×1024.

The Complete History of Mario Kart : Technological and User Interface Evolution of Mario Kart

However, it took a step down from the N64 only using point texture filtering. Making for “rougher, more pixelated effects on distant textures”. This is despite being a somewhat lesser turning point in the Mario Kart franchise. The DS showed that handheld consoles were nearing the capabilities of a standard home console.

Released in 2006, the Wii followed the GameCube as Nintendo’s next flagship home console. Suitably named Mario Kart Wii. The game was improved by the console’s hardware upgrades, however, lacked any major technological upgrade. “Improved post effects, including bloom lighting, lens flares,” and a reduced overbearing depth of field.

Engineers cleaned the overall visuals. And the designers were able to boost the graphics to look cleaner and less blocky. However, Nintendo capped three and four player games at 30 frames per second, a disappointing precedent in the future installations. Mario Kart Wii, however, had several new characters and items. And now 12-player races, as well as the introduction of bikes into the game. Nintendo introduced jump boosts and tricks to the game for the first time as well.

By the 3DS, Mario Kart had solidified itself as a staple three dimensional racer. Although only technologically advancing the depth perception, though crucial, Mario Kart 7 added more in game features.

Players could now unlock wheels, gliders, and frames to build your own kart, and also drive underwater in some maps.

However, designers removed bikes and 12-player races. Despite being on a handheld device, the 3DS transformed handheld Mario Kart. It became a go to game to play with its stereoscopic 3D.

The releases in the franchise, Mario Kart 8 on the WiiU, and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on the Switch, were not too fundamentally different in technological advances or gameplay, with a few exceptions. The WiiU brought 720p to the game for the first time, however, it maintained bad precedents.

Texture filtering and an fps cap on three and four multiplayer are prime examples. Mario Kart 8, despite these small hitches, was the height of Mario Kart gameplay, but without the full battle mode. Engineers were able to add Battle mode to the switch’s Deluxe version of the game as well as a now 1080p resolution.

The Nintendo Switch represents the company’s merging of handheld consoles and home consoles. As it seamlessly is able to switch between a standard console and a portable one. Though Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is not an entirely new installation, it is the pinnacle of both the Mario Kart franchise and Nintendo consoles.

The Complete History of Mario Kart : Technological and User Interface Evolution of Mario Kart Written by Christian Moy

Edited by Calvin Ma, Michael Ding & Alexander Fleiss

Artificial Intelligence In Game Design


The Complete History of Mario Kart : Technological and User Interface Evolution of Mario Kart