Whenever a new Nintendo console is announced, it’s not long before anxious gamers begin asking, “When’s the new Mario Kart game going to come out?” 1992 revolutionized the racing genre of video games by launching Mario’s career in the racing circuit. Much like a red turtle shell racing towards its unsuspecting prey, Super Mario Kart quickly made a name for itself in the Super Nintendo’s library. While the colorful racing title has evolved and grown in popularity through the years, the core of Mario Kart has always remained the same. So even though the franchise’s newest entry might be your latest racing obsession, the original game that started it all has a number of secrets that you might not be aware of. Sure, you might have unlocked all of the characters in Mario Kart 8 and even have a world record or two, but how strong are your retro skills? Arm your banana peels and avoid those oil slicks because here are 17 Things You Never Knew About Nintendo’s Super Mario Kart.
17. It Uses the Super Nintendo’s “Mode 7” Graphics Capabilities
When Super Mario Kart hit the scene, it featured some of the most breathtaking graphics that had ever graced the Super Nintendo at the time. This is no mere fluke, but rather the title making excellent use of the SNES’ “Mode 7” graphical enhancements. The Super Nintendo introduced Mode 7 graphics technology earlier with its launch title, F-Zero, a fellow racer. Titles that made use of Mode 7 texture mapping would allow for innovations in the scaling and rotation of planes, resulting in a three-dimensional-esque look. Mode 7’s aesthetic was revolutionary for the time, but has met a degree of backlash in recent years. This technology has also corresponded to Super Mario Kart and other Mode 7 titles being more difficult to properly emulate accordingly.
In addition to the Mode 7 touches, Super Mario Kart also contained a DSP (digital signal processor) chip which Super Nintendo games included to better manage the calculations of three-dimensional assets. However, Super Mario Kart’s version of this, the DSP-1, would go to become the most popular DSP chip featured in SNES titles.
16. Super Mario Kart Featured Poison Mushrooms, Eggs, and Fireballs as AI Projectile Items
Every Mario Kart player is well aware of the crushing humiliation of being wiped out by a turtle shell or shrunk to a fraction of your size courtesy of some ill-timed lightning bolt. In addition to the usual power-ups that Super Mario Kart allows you to stock up your arsenal with—goodies like banana peels, stars, boos, and feathers—there are actually a few specialty items that you’ve never had in your inventory before.
Super Mario Kart includes a few character-specific power-ups that the CPU won’t hesitate to mow you down with, even though they’re strictly off limits to any human gamers out there. These items include an egg that Yoshi will use, which functions much like a banana peel, and a poisonous mushroom that Peach or Toad are capable of using, that operates a lot like the lightning bolt. Bowser also has a fireball item that largely works like a banana peel, only it moves from left to right, making it more difficult to avoid. So where’s Mario’s custom hammer projectile? He is the star of this race after all!
15. AI Mario and Luigi Will Randomly Turn invincible to Assure Your Destruction
Trying to understand the actions and reasoning behind CPU-controlled characters in video games is enough to make a sane gamer snap. After all, just look at the dedication that viewers put into cracking the character motivations in Westworld. Super Mario Kart might not feature any cowboys, but it does still contain a rather intricate AI system that is dead set on making you eat its dust. Just like how certain AI-controlled racers will retaliate with custom items, the Mario brothers also have some secrets hidden up their tailpipes. Apparently, regardless of their inventory, the CPU-powered versions of Mario and Luigi are capable of pulling a Starman out of nowhere and turning invincible. This handicap of theirs is yet another way for the game to goose the competition and assure that obtaining first place is as difficult as possible.
On the topic of the Mario brothers, it’s also worth noting that due to the title’s storage limitations, Mario and Luigi actually share the same body textures with simply a color palette swap being used to differentiate between them. Mario and Luigi still receive distinct models for their faces, but the rest of them sees critical assets being re-used.
14. That’s Donkey Kong Jr. In the First Game, Not Donkey Kong
Nothing like simian semantics to get you in the mood to burn rubber, right? Through the many Mario Kart titles, one Nintendo character who has been a constant supporter of the Mario Grand Prix is good ol’ Donkey Kong. DK’s presence on the racetrack might be a given now, but believe it or not, he’s actually absent from Mario Kart’s debut release. With Donkey Kong Country not existing yet in 1992, Nintendo’s relationship with its ape community was very different (Wario also wasn’t created yet, hence his exclusion). At this point Donkey Kong Jr. was just as much of a heavy-hitter as his father, and so the tank-top wearing monkey found himself in Super Mario Kart.
Every subsequent Mario Kart entry would replace Donkey Kong Jr. for his father, and in spite of almost re-joining the roster in Mario Kart: Double Dash!!, the ape has turned into a recluse. Donkey Kong Jr. would later pull himself out of retirement for appearances in Mario’s Tennis and Mario Tennis 64, but perhaps one day he’ll return to his first love, the racetracks.
13. Super Mario Kart Takes Place On Super Mario World’s Dinosaur Land
Super Mario Kart is so often looked at as the world of Mario mashed up with a racing title, but the reference going on here is actually a little more specific. Super Mario Kart is in fact a racing extension of Super Mario World, with all of the game’s courses stemming from locales visited within Super Mario World’s Dinosaur Land. With Super Mario World being the predominant SNES Mario title of the time, it makes sense that Super Mario Kart would so heavily borrow from it, but all of these extra associations are especially nice. Super Mario Kart uses the same graphical style, largely identical sound effects and musical cues, and the enemies encountered are a nice mix of Thwomps, Monty Moles, Cheep Cheeps, Boos, and other Super Mario World regulars. Sprite renditions of characters, such as Lakitu, also resemble their Super Mario World counterparts.
With the sterling job that Nintendo did turning Super Mario World into a racing title, it’s practically a shame that they didn’t get to release a Super Mario Kart 2 on the console that was specifically pulling elements from Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island.
12. The Official Way To Beat the Game is to Beat All Cups in 150cc
When it comes to racing titles, a lot of people might view “winning” as simply annihilating your friends in competition and consistently coming out on top. Bragging rights hold lots of power, but there is a real way to officially “beat” Super Mario Kart and see the true ending that was intended for dedicated gamers. After winning Gold in the Mushroom, Flower, and Star Cups in 100cc, you’ll then unlock the Special Cup and its corresponding tracks. Get Gold in Special within 100cc and you’ll unlock 150cc mode. Then, after a good deal more driving and you’ve gotten Gold in all of the Cups within 150cc, you’ll have earned your prize.
So what is it? Merely a text crawl! Upon officially completing the game, you’ll receive the message, “Excellent driving, you are now a Super Mario Kart expert!” Future Mario Kart titles would continue this tradition by rewarding a “true” completion with superficial changes, such as a new title screen design or extra congratulatory message. Hope all the carpal tunnel was worth it!
11. The Top Speed That Can Be Reached in the Game is 145 km/hr
Get ready for some cold, hard facts and tons of random numbers to get your engine revving! Super Mario Kart offers up eight different racers which can more or less be lumped into four racing categories. In any racing game there are a lot of factors to consider with who you decide to select, with Super Mario Kart being no different. Figuring out how your racer copes with their respective weight, handling, acceleration, and top speed, can make or break your race. Sure, you can just select your favorite character and call it a day, but the Japanese Super Mario Kart Nintendo Official Guidebook attempts to simplify the matter. According to the Guidebook, Bowser and Donkey Kong Jr. are the game’s fastest racers, with a top speed of 135 km/hr when on a “normal road” (as opposed to say 42 km/hr on Choco Island’s rock terrain and 74 km/hr on Vanilla Lake’s snowier sections). That being said, collecting coins increases your top speed by 1 km/hr for every coin collected, plateauing at 10. This allows Bowser and Donkey Kong Jr. to reach 145 km/hr, when they’re driving on a normal road, with ten coins collected.
10. A Harder Mode Can Be Unlocked Where You’re Permanently Tiny
There’s nothing more frustrating in a Mario Kart title than when you’re about to breeze past that finish line when suddenly a lightning bolt shrinks you down to miniature size and you get run over by ¾ of the racers. So why not take matters into your own hands and beat the competition to the punch? If you’re no longer getting a hearty challenge from Special Cup in 150cc and are finding yourself wishing that a Mirror Mode existed back in these days, here’s one way to make your races more excruciating. As you’re selecting your racer on the character selection screen, hold down Y and then press A. Doing so will make your character start the race tiny, adding a substantial challenge to your mission. Your character won’t move any slower, light when struck by lightning, but they will be susceptible to being run over by your opponents. Of course, holding down Y and hitting A again will return you to your normal size, but where’s the fun in that? You shrank yourself down for a reason!
9. Lakitu Owns All the Race Tracks
It’s about time Lakitu gets the respect that he deserves. Sure he’s stuck doing all of the boring maintenance, housekeeping, and rule observance that keeps Super Mario Kart’s Grand Prix running like a well-oiled machine, but he’s more than just a dude in a cloud that pulls you out of water hazards. That cloud dweller actually owns all the racetracks that you’re racing your friends on. If you happen to read through Super Mario Kart’s instruction manual, you’ll be treated to a glimpse of Lakitu’s larger role in all of this. If your racer goes out of bounds on a track, Lakitu will also subtract two coins from your racer because everyone’s got a price. Apparently Lakitu owns all of the courses in the game, which is why he’s the one monitoring and keeping order within the races. Maybe the reason that Lakitu is throwing out spiny shells in Mario’s platforming titles is because he’s discouraged that he’s not doing maintenance on his tracks. At least he finally gets to be a racer in Mario Kart 7 and 8. The guy’s earned it!
8. Super Mario Kart is the Only Mario Kart Game to Feature Five Tracks Per Cup
The Mario Kart titles might have gotten more complicated through the years, but it’s kind of interesting that the original title would boast the most courses per cup out of any other Mario Kart. All other Mario Kart games feature four tracks per cup, but Super Mario Kart hits the scene strong by offering up five. It makes for a lengthy racing title on the SNES that offers up a total of twenty tracks through four cups. What’s also significant is that each track in Super Mario Kart also has five laps, rather than the typical three offered up in most of the Mario Kart titles (although there are exceptions). Maybe game directors Tadashi Sugiyama and Hideki Konno just had a weird thing with the number five? The one exception that finds a Cup in Mario Kart exceeding five tracks is in the All-Cup Tour featured in Mario Kart: Double Dash!!, which has you racing through all 16 Grand Prix courses in a row. Hope you made all your crucial pit stops first.
7. Yoshi, Bowser, and Donkey Kong Jr. Have Character-Specific Taunts
Racing games are all about showing your dominance and flinging your weight around on the racetrack. Competition requires attitude and in Super Mario Kart, three racers in particular are doing their best to psych you out. While racing, if either Bowser, Donkey Kong Jr., or Yoshi happen to pass you, you’ll get the experience of witnessing one of these more original taunts first hand. That being said, if any other racer happens to go by you, you’ll still hear a traditional “beep” from their horns (but won’t be able to pull off the move yourself). It’s great to see the title showing off its personality in early examples like this, it’s only puzzling to wonder why every character couldn’t feature such a touch. Yoshi doesn’t exactly go together with Bowser or Donkey Kong Jr. other from the fact that they’re all not human, but then why isn’t Koopa Troopa included here, too? This was all also way before Super Smash Bros. would go ahead and give every character their own demeaning taunt. Anything to help that blood boil!
6. All of Super Mario Kart’s Courses Are Unlockable in Mario Kart: Super Circuit
It was kind of a game changer when Nintendo realized that they had the power to also be delivering handheld versions of Mario Kart madness rather than restricting it to being a console game. Mario Kart: Super Circuit would mark the first handheld Mario Kart, arriving on the Game Boy Advance. In a lot of ways Super Circuit even feels like a GBA update of Super Mario Kart rather than an outright sequel to the game. The title also adopts Super Mario Kart’s graphical style and aesthetic, creating a similar look between the games that cannot be ignored.
What’s awesome about Super Circuit is that not only does it feel like Super Mario Kart in a lot of the same ways, the title even gives you the opportunity to practically re-play the game within the new title. All twenty tracks from Super Mario Kart can be unlocked in Super Circuit, with them appearing in the “Extra Tracks” section of the game. While the courses might be the same as their SNES counterparts, the gameplay still takes from Super Circuit’s slightly updated style.
5. The Game Uses a “Rival-Based” AI System
If you’ve ever played any Mario Kart title, then you’ve no doubt also experienced the rage of computer-controlled characters breaking the rules in order to change the race’s final outcome. So often the last-minute actions of the AI will cause you to scream in frustration as the game uses math to prevent you from earning the Gold. Curiously, while every Mario Kart title makes use of a “Rival” system in some way, Super Mario Kart goes about the idea with a slightly different approach.
Super Mario Kart’s AI functions by having one very fast driver, another fast driver, one medium speed opponent, one slow one, and three very slow opponents in each race. While disrupting the order of the slower opponents isn’t a big deal, hitting one of the faster rivals will result in them very quickly recovering, barely missing a beat in their race. Due to this formula, so often the results at the end of races will show similar results because of how the rival system is working. As the years have passed, the phrase “rubber band AI” would come to be known for this certain handicap in the games.
4. A Prototype Cartridge Was “Released”
It’s certainly not unusual for prototype or beta versions of titles getting leaked and seeing a public “release” of sorts. Star Fox even had a full-on canceled sequel that got to see the light of day through similar situations! Super Mario Kart’s prototype might not be the Holy Grail of video games, but it does offer a fun alternative look at the title that hints at a slightly different racing game. The changes noted include alternate music, different battle courses (set on Choco Island), and additional animations for the awards ceremony. That final change is the most interesting, with this prototype adding humorous animations if you rank second or third in your Cup, which do not appear in the finished version.
While none of these changes are as juicy as alternate characters, they’re still worthwhile for hardcore fans of the title and game development history in general. It’s great that a humble video game forum member was able to acquire this item and share their findings with the world!
3. Super Mario Kart is the 4th Best Selling Game for the Super Nintendo
With the breakout success that Super Mario Kart has seen, it’s not surprising to learn how much of an impact the game has made. The title has sold over 9 million copies worldwide as well as getting the honor of being one of Nintendo’s prestigious “Player’s Choice” titles, which single out top-selling games. In addition to these sales, Guinness World Records: Gamer’s Edition 2009 went as far as naming the title “#1 Best Console Game,” as well as proving that it’s the “Most Critically Acclaimed Mario Kart Game.” Other accolades for the game have included being named #32 in Nintendo Power’s “100 Best Nintendo Games of All Time” for their 100th issue in 1997. Game Informer went one step further by placing the title 33rd on their “Top 200 Games of All Time” list in their 200th issue in 2009. Obviously the game has made an impression!
In spite of any dips in popularity the series has seen through the years, the Mario Kart franchise as a whole has sold over 110 million copies. That’s probably like 3 trillion turtles shells that have been fired over time.
2. It Wasn’t Conceived as a Mario Racing Game
While the idea of a Mario racing game might be a no brainer now, the idea of making such a title was sort of fallen into by accident. The title innocently began as a means of creating a two-player racing game, which Super Nintendo’s audience was hungry for after the success of F-Zero. When the game was being mapped out, its original main character was just a generic “guy in overalls.” Developers added Mario as one of the characters on a whim because they were curious about what it would look like. When it looked better than anything else they had, they began their facelift of the title. The decision to incorporate Mario characters and elements into the game didn’t happen until three or four months into development.
Now not only has Mario had numerous racing installments, he’s also played golf, tennis, baseball, and even gone to the Olympics. It makes you wonder if Nintendo would be making Guy in Overalls Power Tennis if they hadn’t had the late-minute inspiration.
1. In the Japanese Version of Super Mario Kart, Bowser and Peach Get Drunk
The awards ceremony that falls at the end of each Cup have always been a small joy from the Mario Kart titles. Mario Kart 64 would even go to wickedly comedic lengths to depict the disappointment in placing fourth and just missing out on this honor. In Super Mario Kart’s Japanese release, every character has a winning animation at the awards ceremony that involves a traditional bottle of champagne. For Bowser and Peach’s animations, they actually drink the champagne, and get pretty damn soused in the process! As innocent as this brief animation is, it actually violates Nintendo of America’s policy on alcohol depiction and consumption. In the US and European versions, Peach and Bowser’s animations are changed to merely tossing their champagne bottles or vines growing out of them. So if you’ve ever been looking for a reason to pick up an old Super Famicom and a copy of the game, there’s your motivation. Drunk Bowser.
You’re all now Super Mario Kart experts, but are there any secrets from the title that we forgot? Sound off below, and please be gentle with the banana peels.