The sixth game in Nintendo's much-loved and rigidly formulaic Mario Kart series is out this week, but it's easy to forget that the series has undergone over 15 years' worth of iterations to get to its current, motion wheel-turning form.
With shells and banned shortcuts firmly slotted into our minds, we've taken a trip down memory lane to try and remember how the series made it up to this point, and how each installment built on the last (and made the odd controversial change) over its six console and handheld platforms.
Super Mario Kart
This eight million-selling Super Nintendo racer is the one that started it all, turning 'Mario Kart' into a household name. We could go on all day about how it practically invented a genre, but the important bit is how Super Mario Kart still stands up today. For pure, second-cutting kart racing, it's arguably the best of the series, and it's a testament to its genius track design that even the latest instalment has its courses on the roster.
Mario Kart 64
From the very beginning Super Mario Kart was designed with splitscreen racing in mind, and then Mario Kart 64 came along and surpassed the first game's multiplayer ambitions completely (and sold even more copies as well). The N64 racer was the console's first ever 4-player game, and is widely regarded as the series' best mates-in-front-of-a-telly multiplayer experience to date. The fact that here in the CVG office we still play 4-player races every day only strengthens this assumption, especially when HR has to dish out language warnings to keep the peace.
Mario Kart Super Circuit
Super Circuit was the first Mario Kart game for a handheld console. Technically, it was incredibly impressive to see the series running at full speed on a portable system (even if you needed a flaming torch to see the screen of the original GBA), and the game pleased many by adopting a more similar feel to the SNES original than Mario Kart 64. It even included all of the Super Nintendo's tracks as secret unlockables, which was the icing on the cake for those hoping for a return to the original retro, Mode 7 gameplay.
Mario Kart: Double Dash!!
Surpassing ten years since the SNES original, Nintendo decided it was finally time to take a risk with Mario Kart by shaking up the formula substantially. Introducing a second driver (or is that item-handler?) to each kart (or is that 'car' now?) as well as character-specific special items turned out to be a controversial move with fans. Although Double Dash!! Was praised for finally introducing something new to the racing series, it was also criticized for focusing too much on items, and less on the pure racing of the originals. Thankfully Nintendo fixed that for the next game...
Mario Kart DS
The second handheld Mario Kart installment was a wonderful refocus for the series, listening to the criticism of Double Dash!! And forcing a stronger weight on racing, while keeping some of the GameCube game's awesome item tweaks. With this rebalanced and refocused formula on hand, Nintendo took the series somewhere it's never been before; online. Nintendo Wi-Fi allowed for networked races across the world. Although eventually cheating and the infamous 'snaking' technique spoiled the experience, it was a great test for what would come next...