Squealing tires and screeching turns, competitive drivers with sweaty palms and laser focus, crowds alternately screaming profanities and gritting teeth from the starting light to the photo finish—it’s not NASCAR or Formula 1. This is Mario Kart at its best.
With a large cult following for each of the five console releases—from the 1992 Super Nintendo classic to the Wii U’s Mario Kart 8—Mario Kart could arguably be one of the greatest video game franchises of all time.
Whether they raced defensively with heavyweights like Bowser or preferred to claim the throne as Princess Peach, fans of Mario Kart have spent 25 years gathering around a TV screen competing for the gold. As an ode to one of our favorite video games that has truly stood the test of time, we have gathered a few little-known facts about the legacy of Mario Kart.
18 fascinating facts about Mario Kart
1) Mario wasn’t even included at first—and neither was racing
The Mario character we know today didn’t actually appear in Super Mario Kart until nearly four months after Nintendo started development. According to an interview between Nintendo’s fourth president, Satoru Iwata, and the game’s lead developers, the entertainment company originally imagined a plain man in overalls in the first prototype, sans Mario’s trademark mustache.
The developers explained that their top objective was to make a game where two drivers could be displayed separately on the screen at the same time. Only after that initial prototype did racing enter the equation and Mario made his first appearance.
“At first, no racing was involved. It was just two karts moving around freely,” explained Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto (who would go on to serve as an acting director after Iwata’s death). “Then we noticed that it looked neat if you stopped one car and looked at the other car flying by. We decided to see what it would look like with Mario in one of the karts, and everyone thought that looked even better.” A quarter century of racers agree.
Battle mode came along a bit later, with the signature balloon popping in the plans from the early days.
2) The game features Nintendo’s groundbreaking Mode 7 graphics
It may not look like much compared to its glossier cousins on Wii and Wii U, but Super Mario Kart had some of the most visually striking graphics of its time.
The original game features SNES’ “Mode 7” graphics, which allow viewers to scale and rotate the background without the need for separate background images for each frame and viewpoint. The Mode 7 graphics were a great advantage for Nintendo’s games, offering viewers a mock-3D experience before that technology was really feasible. Mode 7 graphics allowed users to feel like they were in a 3D experience due to the manipulation of their environment, even though it was technically 2D.
3) Super Mario Kart’s commercials in the ’90s were peak ’90s
Take a WrestleMania announcer, add in some compelling race footage, paste in some dynamic word art for catchphrases like “WILD” and “MADNESS,” and turn the whole thing up to 11. The result is this intense and certainly “DYN-O-MITE” commercial for Super Mario Kart that absolutely screams (sometimes literally) ’90s aesthetic.
4) Yoshi, Bowser, and Donkey Kong Jr. are made to be bullies
Competition between players can be fierce as fire when it comes to Mario Kart. Once a player zooms past another, expect relentless taunting—both from the player IRL and from the character in the video game.
Typically, when Mario or Luigi pass their opponents, you’ll hear a car “honk” as they fly by. However, Yoshi, Bowser, and Donkey Kong Jr. were given character-specific taunts that are more than just the semi-friendly honk. In later games, that taunting expands to include a few other characters like Daisy, Mario, and the Miis in Mario Kart 8.
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5) In Japan, Princess Peach and Bowser celebrate a win with Champagne
The 1992 Japanese release of Super Mario Kart features Princess Peach and Bowser celebrating their victory by chugging a bottle of bubbly, leaving Princess Peach a bit flushed afterward. However, when the game arrived in North America, Nintendo nixed the scene to adhere to national standards about the depiction of the consumption of alcohol. Instead, the two characters toss the bottle up into the air.
6) Lakitu owns all the race tracks
Lakitu, the yellow guy in a turtle shell who controls the tracks and calls the shots, owns all of the race tracks in Super Mario Kart.
In the original 1992 instruction booklet, Lakitu greets players, letting them know he “runs this track.” The cloud-bound turtle observes players as they race through the courses, and behind the scenes, he is making sure the tracks are clean and prepared for the next race. If your racer goes out of bounds while racing, Lakitu will subtract two coins and set you back on the track.
7) For Mario Kart 64, Nintendo changed names and ads from the original version
The Japanese version of Mario Kart 64 featured Mario-themed ads from big-name brands like Marlboro. When the game headed across the Pacific to the U.S., the ads had to be changed so Nintendo wouldn’t face legal actions.
In the side-by-side graphic above, you’ll see the Japanese versions of the banners that knock off Marlboro, Agip, Mobil1, Goodyear, and 76, and their American counterparts.
But the ads aren’t the only change in the American version. Each of the courses also got a new name in Mario Kart 64, ranging from subtle shifts like “Moh Moh Farm” to “Moo Moo Farm” to more drastic rewrites like “Karakara Sabaku” becoming “Kalamari Desert.”
8) A shortcut in Mario Kart 64’s Wario Stadium will get you the gold every time
There is a shortcut in Mario Kart 64 that lets you beat this track in a record-breaking time. Because of the doubled-back nature of the track map, it’s possible to skip huge portions of the track by jumping over the walls. From the early straightaway of mud hills, propel yourself up for a jump, veer to the left as soon as you are mid-air, and if you time it right, you will land miles ahead of your opponents.
It’s tricky to nail, though: You have to choose the right racer, time it just right, get enough height, and cut the angle in just a way to get over the wall and stick the landing.
If you do this each time you soar in the sky after riding up a dirt hill, you will come out as the winner and finish each loop in a little over a minute. If you get really enterprising, you can find a way back over the wall you just jumped, making each lap take mere seconds.
9) Super Mario Kart’s handbook encourages cheating
Screen peeking—where you take advantage of a splitscreen video game by scoping out where your opponent is in the level—gets a really bad rap in games like Halo and Call of Duty, but the Super Mario Kart handbook specifically says that it is OK to look at your opponent’s screen when competing in Battle Mode. So next time someone says you’re breaking the rules and cheating, feel free to pull out this little tidbit to set the record straight.
10) Luigi’s Raceway in Mario Kart 64 has a secret hidden off the track
The Japanese version of Mario 64 has a collision on the grass outside of the Luigi’s Raceway tracks. In order to get to the hidden secret, a player has to bounce off another player, over a wall, and onto the grass above the tunnel. However, the secret collision was taken out of the game for the U.S. version, so don’t try it at home or else you will go out of bounds.
11) Super Mario Kart takes place in Dinosaur Land
Super Mario Kart is actually played in the same universe as Super Mario World. In the ’90s Super Mario World was the first SNES Nintendo title game, and Super Mario Kart borrowed courses from the previous game’s universe. Many assume that Super Mario Kart has an exclusive world, but the game actually revisits courses from Dinosaur Land.
12) Donkey Kong Jr. was in Super Mario Kart, not the O.G. himself.
In the Mario universe, Donkey Kong and his many family members have a lot of drama.
There is some confusion between the original Donkey Kong and his family members Donkey Kong Jr., Diddy Kong, and Cranky, but despite the first assumption, Donkey Kong Jr. was in Super Mario Kart. The smaller version of the original Kong had previous roles like an arcade game in the ’80s, but after his breakthrough in Super Mario Kart, he was gradually kicked to the curb. Donkey Kong Jr. was dropped from following Mario Kart games and was replaced with Diddy Kong or Cranky.
13) Everything you need to know about Mario Kart Wii is in this spreadsheet
This entire spreadsheet breaks down the minutiae of Mario Kart Wii: the speed, weight, and handling of each vehicle and character; the distribution of items in each position; and even the ghost records and unlock times on every course. Some characters, like Rosalina, have a few different ways to unlock them, like with one-star ratings on a set of courses or by connecting with players online and winning races on the now-defunct Wi-Fi Connection servers.
Bless whoever made this spreadsheet.
14) Mario Kart 8 is the first of the series to features animated mustaches
Mario and Luigi’s mustaches are their most iconic traits, and Mario Kart 8 for Wii U captures the magic with mustache physics. The game features next-gen animation that shows Mario and Luigi’s mustaches moving with the wind as they race through the tracks.
15) Mario Kart’s Thwomp characters are from Japanese mythology
The Thwomps and Whomps, which are animated brick-like blocks in the Mario universe that threaten a player’s path on the track, have roots in Japanese mythology. They were inspired by nurikabe spirits, which are said to appear to block a traveler’s way.
In Mario Kart 64, one of the big blue blocks—a Thwomp named Marty—is locked away behind bars in Bowser’s Castle. Some intrepid players discovered a secret way to unlock him: Drive three counter-clockwise circles around the fire-breathing statue at the beginning of the level, then race a lap backward, then drive three clockwise circles around the same statue. Zoom into the next room to see the bars in front of Marty slowly lift.
16) The introduction of the blue shell was a practical concern
Hideki Konno, director of Mario Kart 64, explained in an interview with Kotaku that the game designers really wanted to level the playing field in that game—“we wanted to create a race where everyone was in it until the end.” There’s just one problem with that plan: The console’s processor couldn’t keep up with rendering eight racers all on one screen, so this item was introduced to disperse some of the players, Kotaku speculates.
Fortunately, by Mario Kart Wii, the designers had introduced the possibility of dodging the blue shell with precise timing. Now, in Mario Kart 8 and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, players have even more options for escaping the dreaded spiky shell, including the super horn item, which blows the shell to smithereens. Watch it in action below, along with a few other tried and true methods for escaping unscathed.
17) Mario Kart 8’s antigravity mechanic wasn’t the original plan
When the game was released for Wii U, racers faced a whole new shape of track: In addition to being able to soar through the air or drive underwater, drivers could now flip their wheels sideways to turn the cars into little hovercrafts. This allowed courses to flip and twist and turn in entirely new ways—but it wasn’t always the plan.
Hideki Konno explained in an interview with MTV in 2013 that the first idea was for carts to have a drill on the front to be able to bore through the earth. “When we were also thinking about new ideas for 8, and we thought, ‘well, since we did all that, why not put a drill on the karts, and have them go through the earth somehow, subterranean racing.’” This apparently wasn’t exciting enough, so the antigravity tires were born.
18) There’s more than one way to go for the gold
Sure, you know the goal of the game is to get first place in all the races, but there’s more to it than just a gold trophy. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for the Nintendo Switch also includes an unlockable gold version of Metal Mario.
It’s not for the faint of heart, though: Gold Mario requires you to get first place in every 200cc race. If you really want the full Midas Touch experience, you can also upgrade to a gold kart, gold tires, and a gold glider, but you’ll have to work for that too.
- Gold cart: Win every cup with a one-star rating on 150cc and in mirror mode.
- Gold tires: In 150cc time trial mode, beat every single staff ghost
- Gold glider: Pick up 10,000 coins
Editor’s note: This article is occasionally updated for relevance.