The Origin of Mario Kart: Who Created Mario Kart?

The Origin of Mario Kart: Who Created Mario Kart?

It sounds bonkers coming off the back of incredible side-scrolling platformers. Mario and friends, driving in go-karts and pummelling each other with items? It totally works and it’s difficult to imagine a Nintendo console without a fresh Mario Kart entry! In today’s blog let’s take a look at the origin of Mario Kart.

Origin of Mario Kart: The power of Mode 7 Technology

Let’s dive back in time to see how Nintendo gave birth to the Mario Kart series. When the Super Famicom or SNES launched way back in 1990, it was joined by a brand-new racing concept. No, not Super Mario Kart, but the space-age F-Zero.

Zoom zoom, It's F-Zero for SNES

The game was designed using Mode 7; a new piece of tech that used clever rotation and scaling to give the illusion of 3D. Back then, and even now, it was ground-breaking. Powerful, space-age, and demonstrated that raw power of the SNES!

The Need for Multiplayer in the Origin of Mario Kart

With that in mind, Nintendo went off to brew another racing game powered by Mode 7. F-Zero was a single player experience, so the main goal was to add multiplayer. It would allow for two friends or enemies to battle for that first place crown!

The initial concept didn’t even feature Mario, but it instead had characters racing overalls sitting on a track. Interesting, but not exactly exciting enough to fly off the shelves like F-Zero. As seen from sprites on The Cutting Room Floor, it looked a little generic. Each racer having different colour palettes and the same base driver sprite.

Classic sprites for Super Mario Kart protoype

Who Created Mario Kart?

Mario Kart was created by a team that developed a prototype where carts could move around freely around a track. The most impressive part was seeing your fellow racer drift past you, that sense of sharing the same space and really selling that two-player concept.

According to Shigeru Miyamoto in an Iwata Asks interview, “We decided to see what it would look like with Mario in one of the karts, and everyone thought that looked even better. Who knows, maybe the designer who drew the overalls on the earlier guy intended that it be changed to Mario all along!”

Super Mario Kart start screen on SNES

The Origin of Mario Kart? An Amusement Park

The team had their characters now, but why karts instead of cars or even the bikes of Excite Bike? Instead of dropping Mario into Formula 1 cars, the team wanted something a little bit more fun, cartoony, and frantic.

Nintendo was inspired by go-karts for Mario Kart

The project’s director Hideki Konno went hard on the research, reading books on kart racing and the team even went to a local amusement park for a day of go-kart racing. It was that concept that made the team opt for karts instead of Formula 1 cars.

Who created the power slide in Mario Kart?

As well as pioneering mascot racers, Nintendo also pioneered the “power slide” or drift mechanic, wanting you to feel excited as you zip around a track, instead of over-realistic racing. It also came from Konno watching videos on classic street drifting – where cars would take on corners whilst slamming on the breaks and counter-steering, risking rolling off a mountain if done wrong.

Konno noted how the team tried to implement specific drift controls, but the majority couldn’t quite do it. After research, they opted for a simple hop and holding down the shoulder buttons instead!

How Nintendo was inspired by Japanese car drifting for Mario Kart

Origin of Mario Kart: The Items

The SNES classic also gave birth to items. Ever done an item-less race? Shudder. You can in more recent Mario Kart games, it’s super calming but if you slip behind the pack, it’s near on impossible to catch-up. It’s hard to believe, but the first Mario Kart game also had items.

The items of Mario Kart

Apart from balancing races, items were introduced due to the popularity of Pachinko and similar arcade games. The lower your rank, the better the item you might get, and racers up in front would get more standard, defensive items. The team considered an option to remove items, but eventually stuck to their guns as a selling point for the game.

So there we go, a little slice of Mario Kart history and the origin of Mario Kart – how this special series came to be!

Get that Retro Pixel Mario Kart Vibe

Want to celebrate all things, Mario Kart? Get those retro vibes and make a bid for first place with our Mario Kart tshirt inspired by the series. It’s super comfy, with a unique print voted for by the community!

Mario Kart Pixel t-shirt retro


About J

J is TeeChu's founder and resident artist, a big Sonic and Zelda fan. Born and raised on hedgehogs and forest adventures!

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