The Kart Racing Genre

Due to E3, I was made to reflect on the kart racing genre and the leaps and bounds in which it has progressed.

Long before my time on the computer was committed to identity theft and debauchery, I was a young child obsessed with DOS games. One of the games that held my unwavering affection was a title by the name of Wacky Wheels.

The game’s mechanics were simple to the point of semi-insulting but I loved the fuck out of it and it was the first game that ignited my lifelong love affair with the kart racing genre.

Why didn’t I just get Super Mario Kart for the Super Nintendo you ask?

Because, my friend, my time on SNES was spent almost exclusively trying and failing to complete the epic masterpiece known as The Illusion of Gaia.

Anyway, fast forward several years and my pure and untouched 7 (or 8?) year old body was thrust into puberty with the release of Super Mario Kart 64. An amazing game in so many ways at the time; the racing experience was even more weaponized and the characters now had actual voices!

However, even at that age I rather rapidly discovered an exploit that would almost guarantee a win every time; just pick Toad. Skill wasn’t too greatly emphasized in the genre at this point in time.

(Ignores Diddy Kong Racing)

Sony responded to Nintendo by releasing the undying classic Crash Team Racing. Strategies and mechanics were now implemented in order to introduce a true presence of skill within the genre. Characters with rather shitty handling could now make up for their inherent shortcomings by drifting through tight corners. This drifting technique was coupled with the ability to power boost, a short burst of turbo that would cause your vehicle’s exhausts to erupt with orange flames. The turbo boost was performed by well-timed tap of L1, similar to parrying in fighting games… a little.

The adventure mode was also something new and unheard of.

Instead of picking tracks through an opening menu like previous games, this one actually had the player navigating a whole world through his or her kart and then accessing tracks.

In addition, the game had mind-blowing tracks (circuits) and equally ridiculous characters. Continuing the progression started by its predecessors, the game was highly weaponized. Players could now power up the weapons they received by collecting the mango-like wumpa fruit. Weapons and defenses were now able to be utilized in a variety of ways other than simply firing. Trap weapons such as TNT crates could be flung forward in the path of a winning racer. Forward firing weapons such as rolling bombs could be fired from the rear in case you wanted to be rid of that enemy racer who just happened to like the look of your ass from up close.

The famous Aku Aku mask also made its appearance within the weapon crates. As an individual who is of both West African and South American descent, I found it to be incredibly offensive.

The hours of enjoyment I derived from that game are nothing short of shameful. But this was the title that introduced the mortal flaw that is now inherent within all kart racing games; I’ll get to that in a second.

The genre became filled with both obvious copycats and sequels to the aforementioned legends in the following years, with the sequels changing little from their predecessors. Crash Tag Team Racing is exempted from this rule as it implemented an adventure portion to the game where players would play as the obviously mentally deficient Crash and  he would do his normal platforming bullshit between races. As the name implies, there were two characters per kart in similar fashion to Mario Kart Double Dash but the game was not as good as Crash Team Racing.

The next game that changed the genre was, of course, ModNation Racers. The level of customization within that game was nothing short of extraordinary, and perhaps exhaustive. From characters to tracks, witnessing the creations of fellow gamers was always fun. In what other game can Obama go head-to-head against Spider-Man, Majin Buu and Super Mario?

This game was also highly weaponized like every modern title within the genre and, probably more than any other game, illustrated the genre’s inherent mortal flaw; rob jobs.

Due to the abundance of Cold War level weaponry in kart racing games, the closer one comes to the end of a race, the brickier the shits will be that are shat. In other words, the more successful you are at a race, the more danger you are in of being blasted into last place by some trigger-happy asshole.

No game illustrates this more than ModNation as weapons can be powered up to eventually attack the entire racing populace, which is naturally what every player does. The game introduces ways to circumvent this such as shields (which drain your boost meter) but when you have 9 other players trying to blast you into oblivion your failure is a certainty.

Weaponry is an essential part of the kart racing genre and judging from IGN’s coverage of LittleBigPlanet Karting at E3, it looks like that won’t change anytime soon. Naturally, I am excited for this title and my butthurt over rob jobs will only be increased in the months after attaining the title as that is the nature of the beast.

I wonder though, is there any way to extricate that annoying characteristic from the genre without bastardizing it as a whole?