from “Street Racer” to “Smurfs Kart”, the vast legacy of the cult game

Fasten your seatbelt, let’s go back thirty years. On August 27, 1992, Nintendo was released Super Mario Kart in Japan and this fantastic racing game, featuring colorful circuits full of obstacles and bonuses, quickly became, with 8.7 million cartridges sold, one of the biggest commercial successes of Super Nintendo. A whirlwind start of the 16-bit console suggests the commercial success of the franchise, whose fifteen official episodes have sold almost 168 million copies.

But the effect of Super Mario Kart in the video game scene is not only measured by commercial records, it is also measured by the number of his successors. That’s why his rear view mirror saw a crowd of children from other stables. Are they successful (Diddy Kong’s career, Crash Team Racing, Sonic Racing and Sega All-Stars) or depressing (M&M’s Kart Racing, South Park Rally), shows a known name (Muppet Race Mania, Pac-Man Kart Rally) or if it is made by fans (Sonic Robo Blast 2 Kart), and others, it is impossible to name them all, every year brings its share of new competitors. The 2022 vintage is no exception to the rule: Chocobo GP (taken from Final Fantasy) lined up on the starting track in March and will soon be accompanied by disney speed storm and Smurfs Kart.

Super Mario Kart.

“It’s a compliment to be compared to a beloved series”slips by Steve Lycett, who directs Sonic Race and All-Stars (2010) for Sumo Digital. “But we also want to remember and provide some competition… Games are better when there is rivalry”, added English subtly. But the franchise Mario Kart Is he really worried?

Simulated from the ground up

From his early years, Super Mario Kart imitating. When it was released, developer Andy Edwardson said world attracted by its 3D-simulating graphics:

“I want to make a game like that. Many developers told me that it cannot be done on PC, that the machines are not powerful enough. That didn’t stop me, though. »

Like a fan reinterpreting his favorite hit, the Brit worked for almost a year in the Beavis Soft studio to design. Wacky Wheels (1994), which features zoo animals and uses hedgehogs as projectiles. Published by Apogee Software (Wolfenstein 3D, Duke Nukem), it was, at the time, considered by PC gamers to be the best rival game Super Mario Kart.

Wacky Wheels.

When it came out in the same year Street Racerits creator Mevlüt Dinç remembers that“to compare with Mario Kart just nice”. Imitators are rare and conceptual deviations attract public attention. The parallel drawn between his own play and Mario Kart all the less embarrassing for it game designer Turkish-British Street Racer takes on the opposite of Nintendo’s great title status: inspired by the fighting game Street Fighter II (1991) and American wrestling, it is possible to hit opponents with a baseball bat or a whip.

Street Racer.

“At first glance, one can compare Street Racer on Super Mario Kart. Except that this impression disappears when we look at its different ways. You can fight in arenas and even football in a car. In the end, it will do nothing”says the one who gave birth to the brat in the family of kart games.

“Diddy Kong Racing” on the plumber’s wheel

During the first years, the genre was divided into two categories: those of the original Nintendo license, on the one hand, and those who were inspired by it, sometimes in a clumsy way, on the other hand. Frank’s frustrations increased from the end of the 1990s. Mega Man Battle & Chase (1997), Bomberman Fantasy Race (1998), Chocobo Racing (1999), Speed ​​Freaks (1999) then the approx South Park Rally (2000)… there are so many simplistic and forgettable reworkings of a recipe that evolve, that the term “clone” is used in the press to refer to it.

But, at the same time, the entry of the track of Diddy Kong’s career (1997) on the Nintendo 64 changed that. Includes characters from the Japanese company, created by Americans Rare (I’m a donkey country, Golden Eye 007), this complicates the concept to stand. The first idea of ​​its creators is to expand perspectives. “We want to explore the big 3D world, like [le jeu de plate-forme] Super Mario 64 »details of world Lee Schuneman, its director. “While we need to differentiate ourselves, we try to bring more things. We are thinking of piloting an airplane and a hovercraft”roused the Welshman.

Takes the risk of destabilizing the players through his exploration of the vertical or circuits without circumscribed routes, he passes Mario Kart 64 for a less intelligent student. What will the school do in the short term Crash Team Racing (1999) – during development, the Naughty Dog studio (Crash Bandicoot) despite copying one of the circuits of Diddy Kong’s career to test the power of the PlayStation – or, in a longer term, to Mario Kart 7 (2011), which identifies underwater or aerial areas of the franchise.

Diddy Kong's career.

Rare’s second idea with Diddy Kong’s career is to reward expert players, diverging from the family philosophy dear to Nintendo. “The team is made up of very good players and we think the public should too”, said Lee Schuneman. The young man (27 years old at the time) therefore put dexterity back at the center of the multiplayer experience, making it impossible to reverse the flow of games in a few seconds thanks to an overcome bonus, unlike on Mario Kart.

Critically acclaimed – some prefer it Mario Kart 64 –, Diddy Kong’s career sold almost five million copies and established a new line of demarcation within the sport of kart: on the one hand, those who bet on the technique to satisfy regular players over time, on the other, those with more unpredictable races, where a novice can. hoping to steal the show from someone who knows.

Also read: Article reserved for our subscribers “Mario Kart” or “Wii Sports”: when controllers invite themselves to the retirement home

blue shell syndrome

This difference about the value placed on piloting skills is still valid, remembers Steve Lycett, director of Sonic and Sega All-Star Racing. “It might be controversial, but we don’t see it Mario Kart like a racing game. This is more of a gun game where driving is secondary. On the contrary, we see ourselves as a racing game that offers weapons, but driving is more important to success”, analyzes the one who is now responsible for the Sumo Digital franchises, which spawned two sequels to the title. His influences also look at the iconic Sega arcade game series, such as OutRun (1986) or Virtua Racing (1992).

Sonic Racing and Sega All-Stars.

The next one disney speed storm Also taking advantage of the motor racing experience at the Gameloft studio in Barcelona Asphalt 9, development of Antoine Cabrol, his principal game designer. The game, whose release is scheduled for the end of 2022, may feature Mulan or Mickey, it claims to be true “complex”. The roadmap is closer in spirit to Diddy Kong’s career that of Mario Kart, and Antoine Cabrol took the example of acceleration bonuses, usually chosen on the track. Here, they are replaced by a gauge that can be used at will: “That’s why we leave the players free to use it at the right time, for example, to take a shortcut. They must carefully plan their race strategy and adopt the characteristics that best suit each character. »

Disney Speedstorm will be released at the end of 2022 on consoles and PC.

The exact opposite of Smurfs Kartwhich should also be released by the end of the year and target the youngest. “During the tests, we found that children are very open to twists and turns, while most hardcore players. [assidus] easy to fail”declare Benjamin Ledoux game designer of Eden Games, the Lyon-based development studio behind the game. Thus he gathered an endless debate for amateurs:

“This is the blue shell stake [qui vise le leader de la course dans Mario Kart]. VSsome hate it, because it constantly changes the face of games. Meanwhile, for me, that’s really the most fun. »

Why continue this formula in 2022, finally very close to that of the big brother Mario Kartwhile its latest version, Mario Kart 8 Deluxebroke all records in the series with nearly 47 million copies sold? “We can’t leave him alone… Maybe we’re tired of playing plumber or mushroom”, answers Yannick Geffroy, chief producer of Smurfs Kartwhich promoted a vision of the genre inspired by Franco-Belgian comics.

Even if he stays on the first step of the podium, thirty years after his first laps, the mustached plumber is far from finding himself one day alone on the circuit.

Also read: ‘FIFA 22’ and ‘Mario Kart 8 Deluxe’ dominate video game sales in 2021
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