Thursday, November 16, 2023

Mario Kart X – The Next Mario Kart?

Mario Kart X fake logo where the X looks like a star

It's apparently Mario Kart Month on Hyrule Blog, where the release of the final wave of the Booster Course Pass for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe has brought a lot of things up. At least this time we'll slowly return to the topic of The Legend of Zelda...

After Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and its Booster Course Pass, every fan is probably wondering where Nintendo will go with this series. With 96 courses and 48 characters Mario Kart 8 Deluxe became a behemoth of a game, so how are they going to surpass this? One answer I keep seeing and hearing is that they should just keep all those contents and simply add to them. To compete with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe it needs to become "Mario Kart Ultimate".

But there is a problem with this idea: the next Nintendo console and with it the next Mario Kart game will likely have much better graphics, where you can't just re-use things from a 2014 title. A lot of time and effort will have to go into making the assets for the next game, which is probably already happening as we speak. Meanwhile, they've remastered contents from Mario Kart Tour for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, because here they were able to achieve a lot with lower effort and without a massive discrepancy in quality. For a new Mario Kart title this wouldn't have been so "easy".

So, a new Mario Kart game won't be able to compete with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe when it comes to its sheer amount of content, at least not right from the beginning. It needs a different selling point, something to create excitement and interest. And here I'm putting my money on the "Mario Kart X" idea, which is based on the rumors by Zippo from last year, but I came up with some thoughts of my own about this and it's an interesting idea to talk about.

The "X" stands for two things. It's "Mario Kart 10" for starters, where Nintendo will be inspired by Microsoft and skip the 9. For real, if we count Mario Kart Tour, as Nintendo seemingly does, then the next game will be the tenth installment in the Mario Kart series, so there is that. But the "X" will also stand for "Cross" or "Crossroads", as in crossing over with other franchises.

Of course, this isn't a new idea... Mario Kart DS had R.O.B. as a first guest character and the arcade games featured several characters from Bandai Namco, mainly Pac-Man. Mario Kart 7 featured Wuhu Island from Wii Sports Resort as a setting for multiple courses, which was also a home for the Mii characters introduced in Mario Kart Wii. And finally, Mario Kart 8 experimented with adding contents from several Nintendo franchises in its DLC, where we saw The Legend of Zelda, Excitebike, F-Zero, and Animal Crossing.

It was only a bit for each, though. For The Legend of Zelda you get Link, the Master Cycle and Hyrule Circuit. F-Zero has two courses and the Blue Falcon, but no playable character. Excitebike only has the Excitebike Arena. And the big winner was Animal Crossing with a course, three characters, and two vehicles. It was likely an experiment from Nintendo to see how people would react to this type of content in Mario Kart.

artwork of Mario fighting Inkling Girl on karts

And the result seemed clear... With the launch of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe then also came Splatoon into this mix with characters, karts, and Urchin Underpass for a battle course. And later we would get Link and the Master Cycle Zero from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild as a free bonus to add more for the Zelda fans. The crossroads were green from all sides and Mario Kart wasn't just about Mario any longer.

But it returned to being only about Mario shortly after... Since 2018 they did not expand on the crossover idea any further, where Mario Kart Tour and the Booster Course Pass didn't feature any more guest characters, vehicles, or courses. This is mainly due to the direction of Mario Kart Tour, but it may also be because Nintendo had already planned to keep any additional crossover contents for the next Mario Kart game, "Mario Kart X".

This isn't about making a "Nintendo Kart" or a "Smash Kart", though, where Mario will be just one of many franchises. In its heart it will stay Mario Kart, where the majority of courses and characters will still be from the Mario universe, like in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. Mario is the host and everyone else gets invited to his kart party. It's just that the crossovers will see more focus this time to attract as many Nintendo fans as possible and to create the necessary fanfare for the next game.

This will be achieved by adding more to what was already there, like finally featuring Captain Falcon as a driver, but also bringing more franchises into the mix, like Star Fox, Kirby, Metroid, Kid Icarus, and ARMS. Heck, maybe there will even be Fire Emblem, because Tiki riding a kart would be hilarious.


The Basics?

48 courses seems like a good number to start things off, where this may become the new standard going forward. It used to be 16 with Mario Kart 64 and Double Dash!! and then got doubled with the introduction of retro cups in Mario Kart DS, but 32 courses will be too low if any future Mario Kart wants a chance at competing with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.

The next Mario Kart should also implement the Reverse Mode from Mario Kart Tour and ditch Mirror Mode. It's just so much more fun and interesting to drive the courses backwards, where they feel like completely new courses in some cases. And with 48 courses present, Reverse Mode will make it seem like there are 96 courses already. 200cc then will be available in both the normal and the reversed variants.

We could still see the four traditional cups, filled with new courses for the Mario franchise, including your obligatory Mario Circuit, Bowser Castle and Rainbow Road. The remaining eight cups on the other hand could offer a mix of guest content and retro courses, where for the latter they will likely bring back tracks like Hyrule Circuit or Mute City.

The core items will also still be from the Mario universe for your typical bananas, mushrooms, and shells, but the game could bring back the special items from Mario Kart: Double Dash!! and Mario Kart Tour, which can only be obtained and used by specific characters, to offer something from other franchises as well. For example, Link could have a Hookshot or a Clawshot, which lets him quickly pass players in front of him. Or Samus (who would likely race in her Zero Suit) could obtain a Metroid, which latches onto a nearby player. This way we could experience items from all guest franchises, while keeping the typical Mario Kart item set.

It's similar to the currencies from other games in certain courses, like the Rupees in Hyrule Circuit. This could also get explored a little further, where the prime example are Banana Coins on the Donkey Kong tracks.

Apropos, the courses based on Donkey Kong Country Returns and Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island are also good examples for how Mario Kart can explore the Mario-verse and its related franchises a little further. Why not also make a Super Mario Land track or some crazy WarioWare course? If we can have Hyrule in Mario Kart, then certainly also something from these games...

The New?

What's missing in this concept is some novelty, something that no Mario Kart has done before. Well, getting items from other franchises could fill that role, but character-specific items in themselves aren't a new idea. And we're talking about a big, new gameplay idea, like bikes or gliding.

A common suggestions is drilling as a new driving mode, but this would probably work better with the Drill Mushroom item from Super Mario Bros. Wonder and won't be as groundbreaking as it sounds at first. It might be an option to dodge attacks and take certain shortcuts at the expense of speed.

Drill Mushroom and Wonder Flower artworks

The Wonder Flower on the other hand could be an item that truly changes things, where they could do all sorts of crazy things to the courses. Flip everything on its head, add new hazards, or make you go in reverse. Hyrule Circuit could turn into Lorule Circuit with this. The potential is limitless and could add a unique feature to every course, both new and old. It could also get very annoying and detract from the usual driving, so it may not be the best idea... It's also the most obvious idea at the moment, where Nintendo usually isn't that predictable.

Another idea that you will see quite often is a course creator. And while this could indeed be fun and interesting, it would likely become its own game, a "Mario Kart Maker", just like Super Mario Maker did.

Ideally, with a Mario Kart game focused on crossovers, you would get a new gameplay mechanic that let's things cross over. One idea could be "course merging", which lets you throw two or more course into a mix, where then the courses are connected with each other via portals. You could start on Mario Circuit, but after the first curve a portal takes you into Hyrule Castle from the Hyrule Circuit and at the end of the castle another portal takes you onto the Rainbow Road. These portals would stay fixed for a single race, but you never know what you will get with the next race.

Weird portals connected different worlds may even serve as an explanation how Mario and co. suddenly ended up racing in Hyrule or in Mute City... It's a new mechanic that wouldn't distract from the crossover aspect, but rather lead into it.

And this could also be something that simply wasn't possible before on the Nintendo Switch and older systems due to hardware limitations, because it needs to load multiple courses at once and change between them seamlessly. It would also prevent the game from ever getting stale, because the possible combinations of courses is countless.

The problem with this idea is that this isn't something that would work well within the normal cups. First you want to experience the courses as they are and not in slices. This would have to be a separate mode, which then doesn't make it something that really defines the entire game from start to finish.

So, I don't really have the one idea right now that will revolutionize Mario Kart, but luckily I'm not a director at Nintendo, so I don't really have to and I will be happy to be surprised in the end. But I'm still convinced that the next Mario Kart will dive deeper into crossovers and make this one of its big selling points, where in a follow-up post we will look at what this could mean specifically for The Legend of Zelda.

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