When looking for suitable games for the “Attack of the Clones” series, I often (always, to be honest) end up using games that either spawned or are part of an enduring franchise. The reason for this is simple: games that spawn imitators must be successful in their own right. Successful games, then, tend to sell well enough to justify sequels. Despite this, my initial ground rules when I developed this series were to focus on a particular game and not a franchise. I would focus on Zelda (NES) rather than Zelda as a series, for instance. I have decided to ignore this self-imposed rule for this entry, though, and just look at games that emulate the style of the entire Mario Kart series.
Vehicle combat in video games can be traced all the way back to Taito’s Crashing Race way back in 1976; this was a simple game where players would rack up points by, well, crashing cars into one another. The concept would be refined several times over the years, with games like 1983’s Spyhunter focusing on cars using guns and later titles such as Rare’s R.C. Pro-Am on the NES incorporating weapons into a racing environment. These sort of titles laid the groundwork for a genre that Mario Kart would go on to both invent and define. Mario Kart on the Super Nintendo combined cartoony mascots, a wide variety of themed weapons and tracks, and arcade-style racing to create what is now known as the kart racing sub-genre. Over 50 games in this sub-genre, starring everyone from the foul-mouthed kids from South Park to the M&M’s brand mascots, have been developed since then. All can realistically be called Mario Kart clones, and with such a large pool to select from, many are quite good. Let’s see a few examples.
Crash Team Racing (Sony PlayStation)
Crash Bandicoot was a huge success for the PlayStation brand. While he never quite reached the levels of notoriety of a Mario or Sonic, he was still the de facto face of the PlayStation back in the days when it was thought a platforming mascot was essential to your consoles’ success. Crash developer Naughty Dog, after creating three platformers starring the manic marsupial, decided to expand the character’s game portfolio with Crash Team Racing. Released in 1999, three years after Mario Kart 64, this game was not the first nor the last Mario Kart clone of its generation.
This game isn’t particularly creative, and more than any other game on this list, it really feels like a direct clone. The game even has the “press gas right before the race starts” boost that Mario Kart has. Its adherence to the formula is actually a strength, however, as Crash Team Racing is a surprisingly solid racing game. The game doesn’t try to add its own spin on the genre, it just copies Mario Kart in all the right ways while allowing you to play as the heroes and villains of the Crash Bandicoot games. The track layout is good, and the graphics were impressive for their time. The title even adds a story mode, a feature not present in Mario Kart but appearing in the next game on our list.
Diddy Kong Racing Nintendo 64
No Mario Kart clone or Kart Racing conversation would be complete without discussing Rare’s Diddy Kong Racing. Diddy Kong Racing is a unique game to discuss for several reasons. First of all, it’s a kart racer published by Nintendo that is not an entry in the Mario Kart series. Second, it is actually the game that several Rare characters, such as Banjo and Conker made their debut. Third, it actually began its life as an R.C. Pro AM sequel. As I mentioned earlier, R.C. Pro AM was a NES title that incorporated weapon based combat into a racing game. In this way, it was actually a precursor to the sort of combat Mario Kart would popularize. Still, the game ended up being a mascot fighter and therefore qualifies as a Mario Kart clone.
Another important point about Diddy Kong Racing is this: it’s really good. The game was released on the same system as Mario Kart 64, a landmark entry in that storied franchise, yet it still manages to stand out as an N64 classic on its own. This is at least partially due to some key differentiators the game could boast in relation to Mario Kart. Chief amongst these is the option to pick one of three vehicle types (car, plane, and hovercraft), each with their own pro’s and con’s, as opposed to just sticking with a go-kart. Diddy Kong Racing also sports an adventure mode, in which Timber the Tiger and friends must match up against the villainous Wiz-Pig. This makes the game a more story orientated affair. Add in an excellent David Wise soundtrack and you have a kart racer for the ages.
Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed (Wii U, PlayStaion 3, Xbox 360, PC, 3DS, Vita)
The Sonic franchise has always centered around its protagonist’s speed, so it’s no wonder that the Blue Blur has starred in several racing titles over the years, beginning with Sonic Drift on the Game Gear in 1994. Drift is a largely forgettable game, but it does have the distinction of being one of the earlier Mario Kart clones. SEGA would try to place Sonic in other racing games over the years, but none really stuck until the Sonic and All-Stars Racing series. The original game in this series, simply titled Sonic and All-Stars Racing is a fine title. It’s sequel, Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed, took things to an entirely new level, though.
All-Stars Racing Transformed, like its predecessor, is a mascot racer starring characters from the Sonic franchise as well as many other SEGA series such as Alex Kidd or Monkey Ball. As one would expect from this sort of title, the racers must compete in a variety of stages based on previous SEGA games while using a myriad of offensive and defensive minded power-ups. While the first Sonic and All-Stars Racing had players selecting different types of vehicles, ala Diddy Kart Racing, this game introduced a gimmick in which your vehicle would actually transform depending on the terrain in which you were traversing. Your vehicle would go from a boat to a car to a plane at a moment’s notice. This allows for some creative and insanely fun track design, and it really makes this title stand apart from all the other Kart racers out there.
The Legacy of Mario Kart
Mario Kart spawned an entire genre of games. Furthermore, it is still going strong. The game is still a system seller and a must own title on whatever hardware it is released on. It is one of the most fun multiplayer gaming experiences I have personally partaken in, and, with 110 million combined units sold, I think that many other likely agree with me. This is one series whose legacy is still being written.