Mario Kart for the GameCube - or whatever it ends up being called - will be a momentous event in the console's history, for good or for bad. It'll be developed by EAD - creators of Mario Kart 64 - overseen by Shigeru Miyamoto himself no doubt, and graphically at least it's looking seriously mean. In the short demonstration video produced for E3 earlier this year, Mario and Luigi were shown jostling for position on a beautifully bump-mapped road adorned with a Mario Kart logo. A powerful spotlight shone from above and in front, illuminating the pair and the bumpy road on which they fought. As Mario roared into the lead, you could see his little foot frantically pumping the gas and his little fingers - individually modelled - anxiously gripping the wheel, as he leant into every twist and turn. After the enormous success of the GameBoy Advance iteration of the game, Mario Kart on the GameCube is highly anticipated. An unknown number of Nintendo characters will duke it out on-screen in various cartoon environments, with old favourites Mario and Luigi joined by Karting dynamos Donkey Kong, Bowser and others. The early footage of the game aptly demonstrates the wealth of detail afforded to each character, and the GameCube is perfectly capable of allowing for high detail polygonal models and intricately detailed tracks to boot.
Back with the old, out with the new?
The usual collection of power-ups and bonus items will litter the course, and naturally Nintendo will add a four-kart multiplayer mode to keep gamers happy. The game is due sometime in 2002, and one expects to see more detailed footage of it closer to E3 2002… The game is very early in development, and what we have already seen could evaporate pretty quickly, but the emphasis seems clear; detailed racers and locations with the utmost care and attention afforded to the gameplay mechanics. Of course any changes to the fundamental Mario Kart formula are very hard to speculate on at the moment. The question of whether Nintendo will attempt to pull off the critical third dimension again remains to be seen. Mario Kart on the Super Nintendo was a distinctly flat game, with no tumbling and only the occasional jump. There were no hills, ramps, overhead shortcuts or anything of the kind. Mario Kart 64 was critically acclaimed, but one thing people had difficulty with was the consistent use of multi-tiered levels, particularly in multiplayer. Battle mode will return, but purists will be hoping for something more akin to the battle mode seen in the recent Mario Kart Super Circuit GameBoy Advance racer. Fighting on multiple levels adds something that was completely superfluous to the point, and arguably ruined the experience, with only a couple of the Mario Kart 64 battle mode maps making a serious impression as a result.
Whether Nintendo opt for the Mario Kart 64 approach or stick to the values that made the original such a success is impossible to predict. Since the release of MK64 Nintendo have really pushed the gameplay angle, electing to create games like the new GameCube Zelda adventure in a way that many gamers couldn't even begin to accept. Gaming 24:7 may still be a pipe dream, but Mario Kart for the GameCube will be one of the games that decides its fate, and that of the console itself.