This article was originally posted on March 1, 2010. We’re reposting this classic article now because it’s still fun to read, dammit. Enjoy!
The four console incarnations of Mario Kart (SNES, N64, GC, and Wii) are compared in terms of difficulty to complete 150cc races (the hardest setting) with a gold medal, that games’ highest honor. A team of game development ninjas were unleashed upon the game over a 36 hour period to determine comparative difficulty, playing single player races in every 150cc cup event for the four titles. Collected data indicate that the order of difficulty is:
Super Nintendo SMK > GameCube MK:DD > N64 MK64 > Wii MKW
The original Super Nintendo title is the most difficult, and the newest Wii title is the easiest. Readers are welcome to verify and corroborate our findings with their own experimentation.
The Mario Kart franchise is one of the most beloved racing series in existence, boasting a title on every major Nintendo console since the Super Nintendo. While most users simply play the game in battle mode against inebriated comrades, the astute gamer will note that hidden away in the main menu there is also a “single player” mode in which users can race against the computer in a series of races. When played on the hardest “150cc” setting these races are infuriatingly challenging, and we therefore felt it was necessary to have an understanding of the relative difficulty of the four main console Mario Karts (the SNES original, Mario Kart 64, Mario Kart: Double Dash, and Mario Kart Wii).
For the complete game completion marathon team Fire Hose decided to race each and every Grand Prix cup event and win the gold medal on the hardest 150cc setting, meaning 20 gold medals (4 SNES, 4 N64, 4 GC, and 8 Wii). Researchers/minions were locked in an airtight room at GAMBIT and not allowed to leave for food, water, or sanitary reasons until all 20 gold medals were earned. Difficulty was determined by listening for the amount of cursing emanating from the room, how long each medal took to earn, and how often researchers swore they would “never play this fucking game again, for any reason”.
Mario Kart Wii was first title tackled and the easiest of the bunch; an expert user can expect to win these races on a regular basis, and the various boost mechanics (popping wheelies, power sliding, midair tricks, and prolific booster pads) offer multiple opportunities to get ahead of the competition. Mario Kart 64 is only slightly more difficult, as the rubber banding mechanics aren’t so punishing as to prevent the first place racer from occasionally acquiring useful items. There is a large element of chance in this game though from environmental hazards, such as cars in Toad’s Turnpike and Bullet Bills in Rainbow Road.
Mario Kart: Double Dash is somewhat harder than the previously mentioned titles; rubber banding on items is more pronounced making it harder to keep a first place lead, blue shells are plentiful for racers towards the end of the pack, and the computerized opponents are adept at power sliding and stealing items from the unwary player. However, the hardest game of the bunch by far is the original Super Mario Kart. This game’s 150cc mode can be aptly described as “dickish”; computerized players have unlimited at-will abilities such as a feather jump and special attack that are severely damaging and often unavoidable, there is no rubber banding of items to help a player catch up from behind, computerized players that fall behind gain super human speed in order to catch up, and the coin mechanic (ditched in later games) adds an unnecessary level of complexity and another potential failure point.
The original Super Mario Kart was likely so brutally difficult due to an inability to program especially smart AIs. Rather than spending lots of time trying to (most likely unsuccessfully) make smart AIs the programmers simply opted to create a set of advantages for computer players that just feel flat out unfair. Perhaps this helps to explain why the N64 version was easier, as maybe the developers wanted to create a more accessible sequel that would be less frustrating. With the advent of the Gamecube, a system designed to speak more to “hardcore” gamers, it seems that Nintendo made their greatest effort to create a truly balanced Mario Kart that would appeal to and work for a broader slice of audiences. Of course, with the Wii’s focus on a more casual audience it made sense to tone down the competitive nature of the game to make it easier for less frequent gamers to pick up and play (and play well).
Was this Nintendo’s actual thought process making these games? We don’t know, but after playing these games all weekend we’d like to think so.
Complete Game Completion Marathon Website (you can still donate!)