Welcome back to part 2 of On Character Selection Mario Kart. In the first part of this series, we covered all of the Mario Kart games from Super to DS (+ the Arcade games). Now in part 2 we are going to go from Mario Kart Wii to the present day and beyond! So last we left, Mario Kart DS had removed a majority of the newcomers added in Double Dash!! and only added in three newcomers, Shy Guy, Dry Bones and the first guest racer in ROB. Thankfully though, Wii would rectify all of this.
Mario Kart Wii
Mario Kart Wii had the biggest roster by far at this point, with 25 racers in total. Nearly every single character from Double Dash!! is back including Dry Bones from Mario Kart DS. The only missing characters from Double Dash!! were Paratroopa and Petey Piranha, however, there is evidence the files that both of these two were planned to appear. The most likely reason for their exclusion is the inclusion of both Koopa Troopa and Dry Bones makes Paratroopa a little redundant and for Petey Piranha it might be possible that he was too big. Due to the nature of Double Dash!! the Karts were much larger overall but in Mario Kart Wii they went back to the small, single size. There is also the inclusion of Motor Bikes that may not have gone well with Petey’s model.
Now onto the newcomers, Mario Kart Double Dash!! and DS are key titles in character selection for the series as they subtlety began trends in the character choices that would get more prevalent as the games went on. Let’s see if you can notice with these character choices.
The first one of these is Rosalina. Rosalina was a new character introduced in the series between Mario Kart DS and Wii. Her debut appearance was in Super Mario Galaxy, half a year before this Mario Kart. She was a very popular character among fans and it was almost assured Nintendo would push her for future games. She’s definitely a unique newcomer in this game, but you had to unlock her.
The only newcomer that was available at the start of the game was Baby Peach. Baby Peach also debuted between DS and Wii with Mario & Luigi Partners in Time. She got a second appearance in Yoshi’s Island DS shortly after. Baby Peach is the first character from the Mario & Luigi series added into Mario Kart and may have been done for balance. Mario Kart Wii does it’s best to balance the roster with an equal amount of small, medium and large characters which likely influenced the roster. We also got the introduction of Baby Daisy. Just like Toadette before, Baby Daisy is an original character who exists to be the Baby Luigi to Baby Peach.
Next, we have Funky Kong. Funky Kong is a bizarre choice as he’s been playable before this in Donkey Kong Jungle Climber, Konga 3 and Barrel Blast but that is usually to be the fourth player. He’s been around since the first Donkey Kong Country but has had less or a presence as Dixie Kong or Cranky Kong. Now we could bring the argument of balance back into this as neither of those characters would be tall like him, but King K. Rool would’ve been and is far more relevant. So, why Funky Kong? Well, let’s also look at the next character first, as I believe they share the same reason for inclusion.
Dry Bowser was a skeleton version of Bowser introduced in the first New Super Mario Bros. His appearance here makes this the first time multiple versions of the same character have appeared as separate characters (excluding the babies and their adult selves). Like Rosalina, this was his second ever appearance, but I wouldn’t say he was as popular as she was or as relevant. And he isn’t the only option for a tall character so why was a copy of Bowser chosen? Well, it’s the same reason Funky Kong was chosen and the same reason Baby Daisy was chosen: asset flipping.
Arguably, the racers of Mario Kart are not the primary focus of the series. Instead, the focus is on the race tracks and that is always where the majority of the focus goes. However, people expect more characters to be available with every game and Nintendo knows this, so they came up with a neat little way to save time. This was asset flipping, but not using assets off a storefront like the term is more commonly associated. Instead, they did it with their own assets. This might’ve first began in Double Dash!! with the two Baby Bros., the two Toads, the two princesses and the two Koopas. Arguably the partners here could’ve been made using assets from the originals as they share very similar looks or body types. It’s easier than making a character from scratch after all and can add more content.
Dry Bones in Mario Kart DS could’ve also been done this way by using an edited version of the Koopa Troopa model from Double Dash!! but there is less evidence for that. However, in Mario Kart Wii it is entirely possible. Baby Daisy could’ve been made off of Baby Peach, Funky Kong off of Donkey Kong and Dry Bowser off of regular Bowser. That means in Mario Kart Wii there are only two truly original newcomers: Rosalina and Baby Peach. This is a trend that we will see in every Mario Kart from here on out.
But before I move onto the next game in the series there is one other newcomer we have yet to mention: Miis. Miis were a big aspect of the Wii and implemented in a lot of games around this time. In an Iwata Asks, Miyamoto confirmed that Miis were developed by a few of the members of the Mario Kart team and so they had the best knowledge of how to implement them. But, this was still Mario Kart so he was iffy on their inclusion. In the end, the Miis became unlockables so that they could use them as racers but the game would still be Mario Kart.
Mario Kart 7
Wii had the largest roster of any Mario Kart up to this point but the next game would be a handheld title and so once again the roster was cut down significantly. This is another pattern with the Mario Kart series as they jump between the home console version and the handheld version of the game, always removing characters and re-adding them later. So, just like between Double Dash!! and Mario Kart DS we saw nearly the whole roster being cut. Surprisingly, Waluigi was also cut despite Daisy getting to remain. This wasn’t always intentional though as there is evidence that Waluigi was meant to be implemented and just lost out due to time.
Mario Kart 7 actually saw a decent amount of newcomers this time around, only one less than Wii. However, one of these newcomers was Shy Guy who was brought back for the download play role just like in Mario Kart DS. Yet he is still a newcomer technically as this was the first time he could be manually chosen and used in single-player. Saying he got an upgrade might be the best description.
Speaking of upgrades we finally got a newcomer who had been stuck in the NPC role for the entirety of Mario Kart’s history. This was Lakitu, the hosts and referees of the Mario Kart series. A lot of people have always associated Lakitu with Mario Kart and this is what likely drove him to be playable. There might’ve also been an element of asset flipping as he would’ve had to be modelled for the referee role again and they could reuse that model as a racer.
Someone who it’s a bit harder to figure out the inclusion of is Wiggler. Wiggler isn’t one of the original Mario enemies but he is a bit more recurring. Around this time he began to see a bigger boom in spin-off games, being playable in Mario Power Tennis and Super Sluggers. He appears a lot as an enemy in the Mario RPG titles but usually as a boss with actual dialogue and a bit friendlier to the bros. than most. This rise in relevance and maybe popularity could have caused his appearance.
Maybe Wiggler could be explained by someone on the team having a thing for insects because he isn’t the only one added. Possibly the most random inclusion in Mario Kart yet, we have the Honey Queen from Super Mario Galaxy. Apart from appearing in both Galaxy games, she doesn’t really have any presence in the Mario series at all. Plus in those games she is huge so they had to actually shrink her down to work for Mario Kart. I can only assume they wanted a newcomer from Galaxy after Rosalina’s success and the Honey Queen appeared in more games than Lubba so why not? No clue I am afraid.
One I can guarantee the answer for is Metal Mario. While Funky Kong, Dry Bowser and the Babies at least had some alterations done to their model, Metal Mario is literally an asset flip of Mario with a new texture and tweaked stats. I almost feel confident in saying that when they realised Waluigi wouldn’t make it in time they just slapped together Metal Mario to fill in the slot.
And that does it for Mario Kart 7, which gives us one game to go (albeit one with a few variations).
Mario Kart 8
In keeping with past trends, the next console version of Mario Kart removes some of the more oddball choices of the handheld game and re-adds various characters from the last console title. Not as many characters got added back as before, being only the babies and two important spin-off characters in Toadette and Waluigi, but there is a good reason for this as Mario Kart 8 added more newcomers than any prior game (sans Double Dash!!). So, this roster ended up being larger than any prior Mario Kart game, even before the DLC but I am getting ahead of myself.
The main addition for characters this time around were Bowser’s seven Koopalings. These minions of Bowser are major players in the Mario universe but it took them eight games before they finally appeared here, with good reason. There are two problems that prevented the Koopalings from getting in. The first was that you can’t just add one or two Koopalings, they come in a packet of seven and so you need a game with a big enough roster to accompany them and this arguably didn’t happen until Mario Kart Wii. The other issue though is that the Koopalings dropped significantly in relevance until after Mario Kart Wii launched. They were main players in the Mario series up until the jump to 3D and then they disappeared, outside or remakes and a brief appearance in the first Mario & Luigi game. It wasn’t until NSMB Wii that they made a grand return and began appearing in every 2D Mario since. This newfound relevance is why it was their chance to appear now, skipping 7 due to roster limits.
The Koopalings, unfortunately, took up most of the newcomer slots this time around, and the only other two newcomers to join them were Baby Rosalina and Pink Gold Peach, two characters who had were made from previous characters via asset flipping. Rosalina was chosen because of her growing popularity and Pink Gold Peach to go alongside Metal Mario who returned from 7. These last two angered a lot of fans as it made the asset flipping clear. People were annoyed with Baby Daisy and Metal Mario as well but at least the former fit as a partner to Baby Peach (much like Toadette with Toad) and the latter was already an established character. These newcomers were neither of these. It’s a good thing the extra’s improved things.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe + DLC
Once other Mario Kart games launched that became it, they were barely touched again, outside of a bit of online maintenance. This was not the case for Mario Kart 8 which saw a series first not only for DLC but also an enhanced port that has created the question of whether we will see two Mario Kart games on one system for the first time.
Starting with the DLC, as it came first, we saw two packs with three characters each. Those who got the season pass were actually treated to 8 different colours for Yoshi and Shy Guy. These costumes were used previously in the handheld games for download play but you never had a choice like you did here. Alternate costumes for racers is another first that Mario Kart 8’s DLC added and we would see more of these in later DLC.
The big draw of the DLC was Nintendo’s implementation of guest characters, specifically Link from the Legend of Zelda and, Isabelle and Villager from Animal Crossing. These weren’t the first guest characters in the series, as ROB already appeared in Mario Kart DS, but these were big additions none the less with a course based on their games. The inclusion of these characters may have been for two reasons. The first is to experiment and see if other Nintendo properties can work in Mario Kart, and the second is the same as Smash’s DLC plans. Having big names like Link and Isabelle available as DLC will likely push more copies than say, Spike or Kamek. They are just more recognisable.
This is a good thing too as the other 3 characters added in DLC, Tanooki Mario, Cat Peach and Dry Bowser are not major enough additions to warrant purchasing on their own. Yes, they may be the series main characters but why would the average consumer buy another Mario, Peach and Bowser when they already exist in the games? Their inclusion here is the same as Dry Bowser’s in Wii, it pads out the character selection and is easier to make. Tanooki Mario and Cat Peach were two power-ups that were quite popular and relevant, both appearing in 3D World.
Moving onto Mario Kart 8 Deluxe we saw another 6 characters added, three veterans and three newcomers. The three veterans were all from Mario Kart Wii: King Boo, Bowser Jr and Dry Bones. Two of the newcomers were the Inklings, in both gender forms. Splatoon was Nintendo’s newest IP and was a massive success so it seems obvious to promote them here. The final character is more interesting to talk about.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe added in Gold Mario, a simple texture swap of Metal Mario. Gold Maro had a lot of relevance at this time, debuting in NSMB2 on 3DS and then appearing in Mario Golf, Smash and even getting an amiibo. He was actually already added to the Mario Kart Arcade games so this isn’t even his first appearance in the series. That’s not why he is interesting, in fact, his reveal upset people as it was another form of Mario. But it makes sense as the ultimate reward in Mario Kart are the Golden vehicle pieces and Gold Mario just adds to this, he doesn’t add any new stats on. Not like the Female Villager did.
See, in Mario Kart 8 there were two genders for Animal Crossing’s Villager and they were selected in the same way as alts. were for Yoshi and Shy Guy. What people didn’t realise was that the female villager actually has different stats entirely and in Deluxe she was given her own slot to represent this. I find this interesting as it hints at the possibility of variations of characters being simply added as ‘premier skins’ rather than on the CSS. So, for example, you pick Mario and get the option between regular, Tanooki, Metal, and Gold; each one with their own tweaks to make them actual racers rather than how the colours are with Yoshi, Shy Guy and the Inklings. It is just food for thought.
With that, I have covered every Mario Kart game, but before we remove our analysis caps let’s look into the future and see what we might expect from the next Mario Kart title. To do this we should keep in mind these key findings:
- In the past, it always went console handheld but as the Switch might unify this I don’t expect the roster to shrink again. Unless it goes to mobile phones but I imagine that will be a spin-off instead.
- Nintendo will continue to asset flip some newcomers to pad out the roster. The focus of Mario Kart is clearly on the tracks and not the racers so the majority of the focus will go there. Nintendo has found a good way to save time and resources and they won’t stop now. Let’s just hope that these newcomers are more in-line with Dry Bowser and Funky Kong rather than Baby Rosalina and Pink Gold Peach.
- Relevancy is really important. Country DK replaced Jr. for that reason and this is also why the likes of the Koopalings, Baby Peach, Rosalina and the Honey Queen were added. It seems that the Mario Kart team looks at what is currently in the Mario Kart series and uses that for inspiration, not just for characters but locales and NPCs.
- Alts. and variations may get more a focus. Mario Kart 8’s DLC began this but there is no reason it would go away. The team like texture swapping to add more content so I can’t imagine them not having an easy win with other coloured Yoshis, Shy Guys and maybe Toads or Koopas in the future. They may not go as far as model swaps though.
- Sorry Kirby fans. Have you ever noticed what ties all the guest characters together in Mario Kart? This includes ROB and the non-character references with F-Zero and Excitebike. All of these series are made by Nintendo’s internal EAD/EPD teams. This is probably done because they all share an office and getting permission for these IP would be a cake-walk, unlike going to the office of a second party or partner and asking them. This puts a damper on the likes of Kirby, Pikachu, Shulk or Marth getting into Mario Kart (outside a full-blown ‘Smash Kart’).
- So far the average for newcomers from Double Dash!! onwards is 8. The console games have varied with the amount they add, with Double Dash!! being the most and Wii being the least (ignoring 64 which added none). It depends on how many asset-flipped characters they decide to do.
- There is always a focus on mainline Mario games, both 2D and 3D. Very rarely will they look into the spin-offs and if they do they usually pick a character who debuted in the mainline and is just getting relevance from the side-games.
So those are seven big points to consider when speculating newcomers, which I am going to do now as an example haha. I’m gonna go with the average and say we will get 8 newcomers, with 2 of those being guests from other Nintendo series. Of the 6 Mario characters, we have 3 made from the ground-up. These will be Pauline, whose resurgence in Super Mario Odyssey has brought her up to a level similar to Rosalina after Galaxy and will likely keep her around; Madame Broode, the leader of the Broodals is also relevant and would make a nice new heavy-weight. The Broodals are more popular but they have the issue that the Koopalings have, to a lesser extent with 4 instead of 7. If they did get added they would take up most of my slots, but Madame Broode encompasses all of them into one neat package. Then there is Nabbit. Nabbit was a major character in the last 2D Mario game and even playable in New Super Luigi U. The focus on Koopalings is most likely why he missed his chance in Mario Kart 8 but he has not dropped out of relevancy quite yet.
Next, we have some characters that could be easily added using models from other characters. The most likely is Captain Toad as he is popular, relevant and his creator requested him for the series. He can easily be a heavier Toad so it is a simple addition. Next is a Hammer Bro. For some reason, Mario Kart always likes to give Bowser at least one new minion of his to race alongside him and Hammer Bro is one of the bigger mobs to not appear yet. Kamek might be more popular but Hammer Bro could be made using Koopa Troopa assets so that’s why he gets in. Finally, we have Baby Pauline. ‘sigh’ I had to include one of these kinds of choices and if Baby Rosalina is anything to go by it is more likely they will ride off of Pauline’s hype rather than add an existing baby like Baby Wario or Baby DK.
Finally the two guest characters. When thinking over in-house Nintendo characters who would also fit in Mario Kart, I have narrowed it down to three series: Arms, Star Fox and Pikmin. Arms is the new and popular IP from Nintendo, like Splatoon before. However, unlike the Inklings, the characters of Arms don’t lend themselves very well to kart racing. This is what prevents Captain Falcon or Samus from making the jump. So, Fox McCloud could work instead and it is also a Miyamoto game like Zelda. However, the series is in a weird place right now so Nintendo might not see a benefit to Fox appearing. Captain Olimar seems like a lock though. The style easily lends itself to Mario Kart and Miyamoto has hinted at a Switch game so he’ll be relevant as well.
Those are my eight choices and just for the record, I expect the Koopalings to be removed in the next game and, Diddy Kong & Birdo to come back. But those are my predictions so let me know who you expect after thinking about the facts I laid out above. I know there was a bit more speculation in this edition than the Smash one had but people really need to start interviewing the Mario Kart team on their character choices. I know I will if I ever get the chance!