What's Next for Mario Kart?
By Vishaal Bedi
With the recent release of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, thoughts have turned to when we’ll see the next entry in the Mario Kart series. Although we have, in my opinion, the best Mario Kart game currently on Switch, this is a pure port of the Wii U title with all the characters and DLC unlocked. Sales data has shown that nearly 50% of people who own Nintendo’s hybrid system have Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and this number continues to trend upward with each new Switch purchase. It’s clear that this is one of the top titles on the console, and it’s continuing to sell immensely well. Mario Kart Tour, a mobile effort, is expected to come out later this year and will, to some extent, quench our thirst for a new addition to the series, albeit on a smaller scale. But, from the SNES era onwards, each mainline console has had its own Mario Kart game, so it’d be surprising if the Switch didn’t get a version all to itself.
There are many reasons why Nintendo could choose not to make a new game though. One of the biggest reasons is the immense popularity of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. To date, it’s sold over 15 million units and this number is expected to continue to rise. Why should Nintendo bother making a new entry for this generation when the Wii U port is making so much money? The counter argument is this: had Nintendo simply ported over Super Smash Bros for Wii U as they did for Mario Kart 8, and branded it as a ‘Deluxe’ version, that game would have also sold very well. However, they chose to create a brand new Smash Bros. game instead, putting the best of the entire series into one new ultimate offering, and hooking in heaps of players - whether they had the Wii U game or not.
This is why I’m sure that Nintendo, at some point over the Switch’s life-cycle, will make a brand new Mario Kart game. In this article, I’ll propose two different paths that the franchise could take. So, pick your favourite kart and start your engines!
1. Mario Kart Ultimate
One option would be to make a Mario Kart Ultimate collection – a similar concept to Smash Bros. Ultimate. The Mario Kart franchise has a rich and successful history, so an ‘Ultimate’ version that gives us every character and racetrack, across both the console and portable versions, would be highly appealing. It’s the wealth of cups and individual tracks that would be the attraction here. We all have our favourites, courses where we’ve spent countless hours breaking time trial records and perfecting our drifting.
Imagine playing with the Double Dash mechanic on certain tracks from Mario Kart 8 too. There would definitely have to be some new characters and racing mechanics involved, similar to Mario Kart 8’s anti-gravity and speed boosts. Being able to switch your front and back racers in a Double Dash format, or having rally races where you can swap out multiple characters at certain points (e.g. after a lap completion or a checkpoint), could add a more strategic element to the races. Maybe options such as a straight drag raceway, with items and obstacles similar to the Olympic 100m dash, could be included.
I’d like to see new racers introduced as well, along with more detailed statistics on each of them. We certainly don’t need 70+ characters for a Mario Kart game, but given that we’ve seen figures like Link introduced in Mario Kart 8, it would be nice to see some new faces join the race. Some names that come to mind are Sonic the Hedgehog (although he has own rival game), one of the new starter Pokémon from Pokémon Sword and Shield, Fox McCloud, Samus, or even some unexpected characters like King K. Rool or Banjo-Kazooie (Keep dreaming on that one! - Ed). There are many options that could be leveraged from the Smash Bros. Ultimate roster too.
A ‘Mario Kart Ultimate’ game would be a great way to celebrate the history of the franchise. And, by adding in new features, it’ll make the game feel like a fresh offering as well.
2. Mario Kart 9
The second path Nintendo could take is to simply create a brand new Mario Kart game. As well as the core set of existing characters, it should offer new entries too, similar to the ‘Ultimate‘ option. It’d also be good to have more detailed statistics around each racer’s strengths and weaknesses, along with the existing statistics on each of the karts, gliders, wheels, etc. It would be reasonable to expect 16 new racetracks, with 8 cups – 4 of them being brand new, and the other 4 from previous Mario Kart games, to add to players’ nostalgia. The usual set up we’ve grown accustomed to over the past couple of iterations.
A new Mario Kart game will need to have some new racing mechanics too, which could also be similar to the ones discussed earlier. As well as being able to swap characters in and out mid-race, there could also be an option to have kart damage, like with Mario Tennis Aces’ rackets, where a certain amount might slow the kart down or even end the players’ race. You could make this optional too to aid accessibility. Super Smash Bros. allows players to tweak the rules for each battle, and a similar customisation option for Mario Kart would be a welcome change. Having the ability to turn items off and race purely based on skill, or only having certain items available, would also add a new element of excitement and energy to the series.
Elsewhere, what if Mario Kart had a dedicated story mode? Diddy Kong Racing had one back on the N64, and this could add new depth to the franchise. Ideally, it would be a different scenario from the usual Bowser kidnapping Princess Peach though. A story mode that’s engaging while adding value to the game wouldn’t be easy for Mario Kart, but it is possible. Given that Nintendo has recently put a strong emphasis on breaking conventions and questioning assumptions, (looking at you Breath of the Wild) this would be a perfect opportunity to experiment with the franchise.
As to the vehicles, what if elements of snowboarding from 1080° Snowboarding, flying from Pilotwings and Jet Ski racing from Wave Race were incorporated into the next Mario Kart game as well? Picture specific tracks - such as snowy mountains or white water rapids, that require a specific vehicle. Instead of traditional karts for these special races, players could choose snowboards or jet skis, or even hovercraft a la Diddy Kong Racing. One of my favourite elements from that game was the water-based races. With the gliders, Mario Kart already has some flying elements, so it’s possible that this concept could be expanded a bit. This would certainly bring something fresh and exciting to the franchise.
So there’s a few ideas Nintendo could throw into the next iteration of Mario Kart. Which path do you think they should take? Should snowboarding, flying and Jet Ski races feature in the series’ next instalment? Would you like a DKR style story mode? Or would you happily gorge yourself on an ‘Ultimate’ celebration of the franchise? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Vishaal has a background in Engineering, advocating for users through design research and storytelling. The Nintendo 64 was his first Nintendo console and he’s been a Nintendo kid at heart ever since. His favorite Nintendo game is Super Mario Galaxy 2.