The Scientifically Proven Best Video Games of All Time #22: Super Mario Kart

“The Scientifically Proven Best Video Games of All Time” is a statistical meta-analysis of 44 “Best Video Games of All Time” lists that were published between 1995 and 2016. Catch up on how we decided to sort the games and the rest of the Top 100 in the Introduction.

You can also help support the completion of this project through Patreon.

Even from its earliest days, the personalities behind the video game industry looked to pro wrestling’s combination of spectacle and soap opera for tips on how to behave. This dedication to competition came to a head in the early 90s when Nintendo and Sega engaged in the first “Console War.”

Beginning with the “Genesis Does What Nintendon’t” campaign in 1990, Sega began mercilessly picking at their rival over a variety of claims, some provable and some not. But that was just a warm-up for the infamous “Blast Processing” campaign and Nintendo’s eventual reply of asking their fans to “Play It Loud.” The Genesis and Super NES used these advertisements to compete in a head-to-head contest for the love and support of gamers everywhere, but the heaviest fighting actually took place on playgrounds and lunch tables between kids that weren’t even old enough to shave.

No game better symbolized this battleground of friend-versus-friend than Super Mario Kart.

With a new entry appearing every three years or so, the Mario Kart franchise has built up a huge following since its debut in 1992. But Nintendo developers Hideki Konno and Tadashi Sugiyama first began working on the game as a multiplayer-focused spinoff of F-Zero.

Super Mario Kart was one of the first Mario titles to break out of the traditional platforming mold, so it may not have occurred to the developers to give Nintendo’s mascot his own racing game at first… especially because Mario’s preferred modes of transportation up to that point included a giant sock (Kuribo’s Shoe in Super Mario Bros. 3) and a dinosaur named Yoshi.

But Super Mario Kart used a feature known as Mode 7, a graphical trick built into the Super NES that added a background layer to the screen which could be rotated in real time, fooling the human eye into seeing a 3D world where only 2D sprites existed. And once the Mario characters were added, it became the perfect platform for the developer’s multiplayer prototype:

“Our original plan [for Super Mario Kart] didn’t include Mario or karts. The game’s roots lie in one of the launch titles for the SNES: F-Zero. The game was designed for single-player gameplay because of our focus on getting across the sense of speed and the size of the courses. It was a prototype for a multiplayer version of F-Zero that ended up being the starting point for Super Mario Kart, and from there we went through a period of trial and error to find what worked.”

The developers got caught up in the same competitive spirit that would eventually engulf Mario Kart’s biggest fans, and the addition of ridiculous items like the Ghost and the Feather during the prototyping phase turned their simple project into something else entirely. Konno became obsessed with Super Mario Kart’s signature feature, and his shouts during testing foreshadowed the reaction of millions of gamers:

“I really played the game a lot during the adjustment and debug phases of the development. Because of the strong competitive gameplay, once I started test playing I would get excited and start shouting out while I played.”

Because Super Mario Kart seemed to be purpose-built to test the bonds of friendship, the game included an entire arsenal of weaponry that could send your average 12-year-old into fits of rage. I spent hours studying the best spots to deploy a Banana Peel to guarantee a spinout, and my math skills certainly improved after working out the angles for a perfect ricochet with a Green Shell.

After picking up a Star, you could use the speed burst and invincibility it gave you to surge to the head of the pack. Or you could aim your rampaging kart at other racers to ensure you knocked your friend right off the track. Maybe you got luckier and obtained a Lightning Bolt. The best time to use it was obviously when your friend was jumping over a large gap, forcing Lakitu to save them. And though it wouldn’t appear until Mario Kart 64, don’t even get me started on the politics (and proper gloating procedure) of using a Blue Shell.

Later games in the series would offer four-player simultaneous play, but at the time, Super Mario Kart’s two-player mode was revolutionary. Players could race against each other for the Gold Trophy through a series of Mario-themed tracks like the spooky Ghost House and the colorful Rainbow Road. Or, they could duke it out mano a mano (and put the weaponry to even better use) in the game’s Battle Mode. Lifelong Nintendo fans were created thanks to the game’s frantic mixture of pitch-perfect controls and insane weaponry. You will never lose a friend as fast as you do when you drop a Banana Peel directly in their face. Thankfully, they’ll come around a few minutes later when they fling a Red Shell right back.

But for all the cross words and hurt feelings that emerged from your typical Super Mario Kart session, Nintendo knew the value of multiplayer play. Couch competition was king in the 1990s, and Nintendo would solidify their hold on any gamer’s social gatherings with the release of the Super NES Multi-Tap and the addition of four controller ports to their next console, the Nintendo 64.

As for the “Console War” and Sega, the “Blast Processing” era was a response to the failure of the Sega CD, a Genesis add-on that was superior to the Super NES in a lot of ways. But Sega continued to lose ground, and another add-on, the 32X, followed in 1994. After neither caught on with gamers, and with pressure mounting from Sony and their new PlayStation console, Sega was forced to launch the Saturn earlier than expected. With a disastrous lack of games, a price tag well north of the PlayStation’s $299, and a surprise launch four months earlier than expected, few people were even aware the system was available on store shelves.

Not surprisingly, the Saturn flopped.

In addition to its existence as a microcosm of the entire “Console War,” Super Mario Kart also spawned an entire sub-genre of racing games that is still popular to this day. Sega, Sony, Namco, Microsoft, and many more have all created kart racers for their stable of mascots. And characters from franchises as diverse as Sonic the Hedgehog, Crash Bandicoot, South Park, Angry Birds, Mega Man, and Mortal Kombat have all found themselves starring in cartoony racing games with absurd weaponry over the years.

Some of these games were very good… some were even great… but no other kart racer has been able to kill a friendship as fast as Super Mario Kart.


Used copies of Super Mario Kart are easy to find both online and at your local game store.

If you don’t have a working Super NES, the racing game is available to download through the Virtual Console service on the Wii, Wii U, and 3DS. A playable re-release of Super Mario Kart will also be included on the Super NES Classic microconsole.


Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Release Date: September 1, 1992

Average Ranking: 42.50
Selection Percentage: 68.18% (30/44)
Scientifically Proven Score: 74.32

Publication Rankings For Super Mario Kart
Hyper (1995) 1*

Next Gen (1996)

37

Next Gen (1999)

7

Edge (2000)

18
GI (2001) 35

GameSpy (2001)

NR

Edge (2003)

1*

EW/G4TV (2003)

NR
GameSpot (2003) 1*

IGN (2003)

14

1UP (2004)

1*

The Age (2005)

19
IGN (2005) 23

Yahoo! Games UK (2005)

7

Edge (2007)

14

IGN (2007)

15
IGN HoF (2007) 1*

Stuff UK (2008)

11

Edge (2009)

NR

Empire (2009)

17
GI (2009) 33

FHM (2010)

5

GamesTM (2010)

1*

The Phoenix (2010)

NR
Gamereactor (2011) 26

GamesRadar (2011)

46

Stuff UK (2011)

10

1UP (2012)

49
G4TV (2012) 28

GamesRadar (2012)

NR

Time (2012)

NR

EPN (2013)

13
GamesRadar (2013) NR

Gaming Bolt (2013)

NR

PC & Tech Authority (2013)

NR

GamesRadar (2014)

NR
Popular Mechanics (2014) 32

Slant Magazine (2014)

NR

Stuff UK (2014)

6*

Edge (2015)

NR
GamesRadar (2015) NR

IGN (2015)

NR

GamesMaster (2016)

52

Time (2016)

33

Harris, Blake J. – Console Wars – It Books – 2014

Houghton, David – Games Radar – Super Mario Kart began life as an F-Zero multiplayer prototype, reveals Retro Gamer interview – 2017

This entry was posted in Features, Retro, SPBVGOAT, Top Story, Wii, Wii U and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.
John Scalzo is Warp Zoned's Editor-In-Chief and resident retro gaming expert. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at john AT warpzoned DOT com.

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