There are two types of Mario Kart in this world; those that focus on driving and those that focus on items. This is something that I’ve been slowly noticing in the series for years. Every now and then I’d find myself confused as to why I liked some of the Mario Kart games so much more than others. They all do pretty much the same thing. You’re racing and trying to use items to your advantage in order to win. So what was it? Nostalgia? Familiarity? Style? There had to be SOME reason for it. It was until recent years that I started to piece it together. What I found was that it came down to a pretty simple factor that makes a big difference. Control. Not so much the control scheme but rather the WAY you control. I think handling might be a better word for it. I noticed that in some Mario Kart games you handled a lot more responsively and simplistically than others, which influences the priority of certain skills over others. I know it’s kind of tricky to talk about, but try to follow me here. I think I’ve finally found out how to categorize these two types of Mario Kart games and hopefully by the end of this observation it will all make sense.
Essentially, there are two types of Mario Kart games. There are technical Mario Kart games and tactical Mario Kart games. So what is the difference? Well, let’s start with technical Mario Kart games. In a technical Mario Kart game the focus of play is more on the technical skills of driving. This isn’t to say using items is unimportant, but it’s far less important. Typically, you’ll need to really learn the layout of tracks to find the optimal places and times to turn. The vehicles will generally move much more heavily, which is why drifting braking, and turning appropriately is so important. If you don’t know how to handle yourself or know the layout of the track you’ll most likely lose even with some of the luckiest item pickups. Likewise, you can often recover from poor item luck with exceptional driving performance. Technical Mario Kart games are more difficult to jump into or master but generally have more balanced, fair competitive gameplay. I would say that Super Mario Kart, Mario Kart: Super Circuit, Mario Kart: Double Dash, and Mario Kart 8 all fall under the category of technical Mario Kart games. So what about tactical Mario Kart games?
Well, as you may have guessed by now, tactical Mario Kart games are nearly the opposite. Tactical Mario Kart games focus more on the tactical usage of items. Again, it’s not as though the driving part is unimportant, but improper use of items even with some of the best driving will often not be enough to win in these games. Typically your vehicle will be very responsive with tight control. This means that you often times can keep your edge even without necessarily being all that familiar with the particular track. It also means you need to pick and choose what items to use and when. Do you hold onto something good for later or use it now to try and get a better position? Who do you target with your shells? Where do you use your mushroom to boost? Basically, it becomes a game of item strategy more than simply racing. Tactical Mario Kart games tend to be easier to jump into and enjoy but also leave a lot more up to luck in terms of what you have at your disposal, making them less competitive by nature. I would say that Mario Kart 64, Mario Kart DS, Mario Kart Wii, and Mario Kart 7 all fall under the category of tactical Mario Kart games. But hey, maybe that’s just me.
Take everything you hear here with a grain of salt. I’m no expert or developer or anything like that. This has just been an idea based on my personal experiences with the Mario Kart series. I hope you at least understand where I’m coming from even if you don’t necessarily agree. If you have any questions or comments about this then be sure to bring them up so I can further develop my little classification here. If nothing else, I hope it was interesting and got you thinking a little more deeply about the Mario Kart series. There’s often more going on than we realize in game design, and this just might be something worth remembering in the future. I wonder which type of Mario Kart game Mario Kart 9 will be.