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Mario Kart 9 shouldn’t turn the series into ‘Nintendo Kart’

Following a report that Mario Kart 9 is in the works, fans have been sharing their hypothetical visions of what the game could be. While the game is still a rumor, it’s assumed that there will eventually be a sequel to the sales juggernaut that is Mario Kart 8, which released nearly a decade ago in 2014. Based on the continued sales this game still rakes in on Nintendo Switch, Nintendo is obviously in no rush to get a sequel made and out the door, but that hasn’t stopped fans from making some ambitious predictions.

Almost any time a conversation about a potential Mario Kart 9 comes up, there’s one common request: Crossover characters. A vocal group of people out there want Mario Kart to be the new Super Smash Bros. with tons of guest characters filling in the roster. Some are content with it sticking to Nintendo properties, dubbing it Nintendo Kart, while others want characters from all gaming properties in the driver’s seat.

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Neither of these options is what the series actually needs. Mario Kart 9 needs to focus on delivering what the series actually does best by providing one of the best arcade racing experiences around.

Mario Kart is a racing game, not a Mario game

Mario and skeleton Bowser racing on the track.

Mario Kart might seem like the perfect platform to introduce Super Smash Bros-sized crossovers thanks to its focus on characters, but it’s not really the series’ strength. Mario Kart has never been about the drivers, but the actual act of racing itself. On the other hand, Super Smash Bros. is built around the fantasy of smashing characters from different franchises together to see which would win in a battle. No one buys Mario Kart games because they can’t wait to see who would win in a race between Mario and Birdo.

Mario Kart is built on the core arcade kart racing experience. That means imaginative courses across colorful and unique environments, simple kart controls and handling, and yes, even unpredictable items that are designed to punish the most skilled drivers. That’s what defines Mario Kart.

Look at the heap of Mario Kart clones that have come out over the past few decades. With rare exception, they all failed to garner the same level of attention, even the ones with a big IP behind them. Nickelodeon Kart Racers didn’t break down right out of the gate because it didn’t have enough famous characters. It lacked the tight design that makes Mario Kart fun.

Naturally, the Mario IP is huge in its own right and does a lot of heavy lifting in terms of marketing. Mario is one of the most recognizable characters in the world, and parents know they can grab a game with his face on the box for their kids without worry. But the series wouldn’t still be as popular as it is if the games themselves were bad. Each and every entry has maintained a level of quality that makes them easy to pick up, exciting, and fun year after year.

Failing to meet expectations

Sora and Mario shake hands in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.

Super Smash Bros. became a victim of its own standards, which is the main issue that could come to Mario Kart 9 if it decided to focus on crossovers. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate was embroiled in discourse through its life span, most of which was squarely focused on its character choices. From the moment Nintendo revealed that “everyone” was back for the sequel, fans became obsessed with debating who should get in next. Right up until the final character was revealed, people were wondering if they would finally bring in Doom Guy, Crash Bandicoot, or whoever their favorite character happened to be.

Every time a character was announced, the overwhelming sentiment was at best apathetic and at worst toxic. It became impossible for Smash to satisfy everyone, even though the amount of love, care, and work put into adding each guest character went above and beyond anything we should have expected.

Similar debates are already sparking debate about Mario Kart 9 before we even officially know it exists. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe included Link, Isabelle, and an Inkling, which was enough to draw the expectations of a new Smash-style crossover. Without any news on the title, it already feels like fans are setting themselves up for disappointment. Super Smash Bros. is a celebration of the gaming industry, but one that had the joy sucked out of it due to high expectations that are hard to live up to.

I don’t want that for Mario Kart 9. I don’t want to see people arguing for any and all Nintendo characters to make an appearance again, especially knowing that the roster will likely never come close to Ultimate‘s size. And for the ones that do get in, would just adding a racer be satisfying, or will they need their own kart, soundtrack, track, and special item, too?

Unlike Smash, new characters don’t have a marked impact on balance or mechanics in Mario Kart. They have different weight classes, but there’s no other mechanical difference between Mario, Toad, and Bowser. If anything, it’s the karts themselves that are the real characters here. A big roster means very little when the characters don’t have any real impact on the gameplay, which is all Mario Kart needs to focus on to be successful.

There are plenty of Mario characters to fill out a kart racers roster. A glut of cameos wouldn’t add real substance to the game in a way that matters. I’m just hoping Nintendo focuses on making another fantastic kart racing game that’s fun to play and tosses fans’ crossover idea away like a banana peel.

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