Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Best Mario Kart Games You've Never Played

Ha ha! Finally! After what seemed like an eternity of fruitless hacking, I've got all the characters and stages in Def Jam: Fight for New York... and I didn't have to wade through the obnoxious story mode to claim them! Did I ever mention how much I hated having to unlock everything in games from the early 21st century with tedious busywork? Because I really, really hated it. (Not that having to pay for all that extra content is an improvement, mind.)

Anyway! Speaking of old GameCube titles, I wanted to talk about a couple that probably slipped under your radar. Like the Dreamcast and Playstation, the GameCube had an arcade counterpart with nearly identical hardware. That machine was called the Triforce, and it was the exclusive home of two Mario Kart games. The Mario Kart Arcade GP games were rare in arcades and prohibitively expensive to play, so until recently, you would have been extremely lucky to experience them for yourself.

Fortunately, Nintendont has made it a whole lot easier. This "virtual machine" lets you play GameCube games on later Nintendo systems, but it's also compatible with the small handful of titles released for the Triforce... and it works beautifully with Mario Kart Arcade GP and its sequel. Here, have a look for yourself!

Yep, that's Pac-Man. Namco worked on the two Mario Kart arcade games, so you kind of had to expect his addition to the cast. The sequel was released after Namco became Bandai-Namco, and adds Mametchi from the Tomogotchi series as a racer. No, he can't throw swirly turds at his opponents to slow them down.

What's most striking about the two Mario Kart arcade games is how gorgeous they look a decade after their respective debuts. They're faster and even prettier than Mario Kart: Double Dash, and their graphics make a stronger impression than the rather plain and flat visuals in Mario Kart Wii... a game which I'll remind you was running on more powerful hardware.

Unfortunately, the two games have a few not-inconsequential issues. Being originally designed for a steering wheel means you can't hold down the analog stick and throw items behind you to trip up the other racers. There are plenty of items available, but they're also plenty strange, with a pan replacing the traditional green shell and a Boo who clings onto your wheel, making it heavier. (I don't know how a ghost can make anything heavier, but eh, just go with it.) The sequel also adds unwanted color commentary, delivered by the world's most enthusiastic android. You'll frequently hear lines like "PAC-MAN! throws an item! WADDIO! now has square wheels! PAC-MAN! takes the lead!," making you want to reach for either the mute button or the announcer's tin-plated throat.

Despite these irritations, the two Mario Kart Arcade GP games are very much worth experiencing, and it's a shame Nintendo hasn't released home versions. They run on a Wii U with just a little bit of hacking... how hard could it be to make an official home port?


  1. I've played the first Mario Kart Arcade GP on an actual arcade machine before. The resorts at Disney World each have their own arcade in the main building (the one with restaurants and where guests can check in), and the first Mario Kart arcade game is one of the more common machines there.

    From my experience with the machine, with the exception of the cartoon mans and the weird tools the game feels closer to a standard racing game than Mario Kart. Like, some of the different tracks are alternate road layouts for the same basic track instead of stuff like driving through a water park or airship or the millionth version of Bowser's Castle.

    But anyway, if you're in the central Florida area sometime you can go resort hopping via the buses at Downtown Disney if you wanna check out the arcades and do some shopping. Don't even have to pay to get in like the main parks.

  2. I played one of the Mario Kart arcade games recently at a local arcade, and I can't say I was all that impressed. It wasn't terrible, and like you said, it certainly LOOKED good, but I'd argue that's more from a technical perspective. I feel like Nintendo's own Mario Kart games are more whimsical and fantastical than Namco's offerings. Also, like you said, there are some control issues that make the latter less appealing than the former. Still, I'm glad Nintendo let them make a go for it. Who knows, maybe the next MK Arcade title will be a real contender...

    1. Personally, I wish the items hadn't been so strange. They seem tailor made for the arcade cabinet, and don't really work on a home system. Presumably having a Boo cling to your wheel adds resistance to the wheel and makes it tougher to steer, but on Nintendont it makes absolutely no difference. The items in a traditional Mario Kart game are fairly straightforward, but I think that works to the game's advantage.

    2. Yeah, I got the impression that they just threw in everything and the kitchen sink because they could without thinking about whether they should.

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