It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost eight years since the last entry in the Mario Kart series. Mario Kart 8, the most recent foray into Nintendo’s zany racing universe, came out on the Wii U in 2014. An updated Switch version, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, was released in 2017, but it was an expansion of Mario Kart 8 rather than a fully new entry. It’s understandable that fans are chomping at the bit for a new entry, myself included.
Last week, games industry analyst Dr. Serkan Toto told Gamesindustry.biz that not only is Mario Kart 9 in active development, but it also includes “a new twist.” The series is no stranger to gimmicks — Mario Kart: Double Dash allowed two players to ride on the same kart, for example — but Toto’s announcement sent the community into overdrive regardless.
For the last several days, many have been dreaming up their perfect Mario Kart, complete with fresh courses, characters, and ideas. As someone who’s put more than 1500 hours into Mario Kart over the last decade, here’s everything I want to see in Mario Kart 9.
One of Mario Kart 8‘s biggest shake-ups was its inclusion of racing tracks themed around other Nintendo properties. For the first time, players could race through Hyrule from The Legend of Zelda, a town from Animal Crossing: New Leaf, and more — alongside the usual Marioverse-themed courses.
Though these tracks only made up a handful of the full roster, they made the game seem infinitely bigger in scope. Mario Kart 9 would do well to follow in 8‘s footsteps by expanding the roster of playable courses even more. Players could potentially race through a wooded route from Pokémon, a desolate planet from Metroid, or even one of the golf courses from Wii Sports for a real throwback.
Of course, these courses are meaningless if they don’t include myriad shortcuts, secret pathways, and other hidden routes. Nintendo has always been good about including these elements in Mario Kart, but it will be interesting to see what new shortcuts are available with the introduction of a new mechanic.
The big N also has the opportunity to bring back — and freshen up — some of the most popular tracks from series history. Mario Kart 8‘s retro courses were a bit boring; why not liven up Mario Kart 9 with the return of something famous, like Coconut Mall from Mario Kart Wii?
Speaking of new courses, why not include some new characters? Like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Mario Kart 8 beefed up its roster by including characters from across Nintendo’s many properties. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe added a few more characters on top of 8‘s list, including the Inklings from Splatoon and King Boo. While its roster wasn’t nearly as long as Ultimate‘s, it’s still a great sample of popular and well-known characters. There are a few questionable inclusions, though — was anyone really dying to play as the Koopalings?
For Mario Kart 9, Nintendo should clear out the junk and start with a fresh roster. The Mario clan should (obviously) remain, as should the Splatoon Inklings, Link, and Animal Crossing‘s Isabelle. For a little variety, Nintendo could add Zelda, Samus, Kirby, a Pokémon Trainer, or even Ness and Lucas from Earthbound. Imagine being able to race as Kirby through a new track based on the upcoming Kirby and The Forgotten Land! Nintendo owns a lot of valuable, well-known characters and IPs, and it makes total sense to use as many as possible to push a major new multiverse-style title like Mario Kart 9.
More kart customization options
Mario Kart 8 gave racers an unprecedented level of control over their karts. No longer were players confined to a variety of pre-made karts with varying stats. With 8, players could mix and match wheels, bodies, and gliders to adjust their kart’s stats exactly as they wanted to. These creations might have looked like abominations, but at least they had great acceleration!
With “more customization options,” I’m not suggesting that Mario Kart 9 should go the route of Forza Horizon 5 and let players tweak their karts at a miniscule level. Instead, I’d love to see more visual contrast between karts. Once players learned what the “meta” kart combination was in Mario Kart 8, they never played anything else, which made most races look like a sea of the same kart (I’m looking at you, Wiggler-body-and-roller-wheels karts).
Giving players more pre-made design options would visually diversify races. Nintendo could even get really wacky with the designs. Imagine an Animal Crossing kart that looks like a drivable house or a Metroid–themed kart that looks like a spaceship. The possibilities are endless!
The return of drift options and better control
I’m going to drill down into the nitty-gritty of Mario Kart‘s control with this one. Personally, I see Mario Kart Wii as the pinnacle of the series in terms of kart control. When you’re driving a kart in that game, you never feel like it’s out of control. Karts move predictably and reliably, and it’s easy to see exactly what a given kart will do in any situation.
Mario Kart Wii also gave players two different drift options depending on the kind of vehicle they used. Most karts used a wider drift that resulted in a longer speed boost, while most bikes used a tighter, quicker drift that allowed for more precision. Since Mario Kart 8 doesn’t include those bike mechanics, that more precise drift option was removed from the series. Mario Kart 8 also feels a lot looser, with less control overall on the path of your kart and very unforgiving off-road slowdowns that can wreck your ride if you’re not careful.
I realize that this is not what the vast majority of Mario Kart players are thinking while they play. However, one of the magical things about the series is that it’s just as fun when played as a highly competitive game as when it’s played as a fun party game, and these are the sorts of tweaks and adjustments that matter to hardcore racers.
If Mario Kart 9 brought back drift options and tightened the precision of its driving controls, both groups of players would benefit — especially those who find themselves sliding off cliff edges at inopportune moments. Better controls can only help the series as a whole, and I hope the experiment that was Mario Kart Wii‘s control scheme will return in later iterations.
Though Dr. Serkan Toto expects Nintendo to tease Mario Kart 9 this year — if not release it entirely — the company has been tight-lipped about any future series entries, as usual. It’s possible that the next Mario Kart might not even be on the Switch; instead, it could feature as a launch title for the big N’s next flagship console. Either way, there’s no way that the company isn’t thinking about making a sequel, given that Mario Kart 8 recently became the best-selling Mario Kart of all time. If Mario Kart 9 includes even a few of the things I’ve listed above, I’ll be a happy camper — I mean, happy racer.