Kart racers. Few games have trashed friendships, created rivalries, and led to as many rage quits as the quirky racing games, and I’d be hard pressed to imagine any doing so in quite the same manner in the future. And while they might have led to an unprecedented amount of broken controllers and gnashing teeth, there’s still something to be said of how addicting, well-designed, and fun they are. So much, in fact, that I’m willing to argue that the genre itself is one that will stick around for a long, long time.
But what is it that makes the kart racer so immortal? Why do we love to jump into those cartoony, off-beat games?
I think the answer lies buried deep within my (and many other’s) childhood. Being that the Nintendo 64 was one of the first game consoles my family owned, I had exposure to kart racers early on, pouring hours and hours into games like Diddy Kong Racing and Crash Team Racing on my friend’s PS One.
One of the most inherently impressive features about a great kart racer is its ability to be shamelessly fun. It’s quirky, it’s goofy, and it’s completely unrealistic, allowing the player to jump into a world so far removed from typical video game fare that it almost feels like a breath of fresh air upon execution.
Whereas other racing games rely on realism and photorealistic qualities to appeal to its fans, kart racers instead borrow ideas of being over-the-top and a devilishly fun time to be had while racing your friends and screwing them over using a variety of different strategies and abilities given to you by any one of the games in the genre. Admit it; when you were a kid (and it may even happen now), there were times you had to hold back inevitable fits of rage when your friend nailed you with a shell in Mario Kart, and you and I both know you’ve hissed expletives in frustration when slipping on an oil slick or banana peel.
But for all of its elements that put you on the verge of going postal, there’s something to be said for how satisfying it is to return the favor of attacks or power-ups when racing against your friends. Just like you’ve clenched your fists and felt like snapping a controller in half before, we both know you’ve also sat with a smug grin on your face as you speed past your spun-out friend after stopping them with a direct hit.
While the racing and power ups are the most important part, it’s really the level and track design of a good kart racer that can make or break the experience as a whole. Kart racers are known for having fun, challenging tracks full of obstacles, power ups, alternate routes, and a great aesthetic that makes the game feel unique and allows it to play with many different themes, palates, and designs. Add to that the ability many games have to either customize your kart or drive different vehicle types, and there’s a high level of replayability in a kart racer the likes of which few other genres ever see.
But really, the most important and impressive reasons to love kart racers is for how fun they are. That’s really it; they’re pure, unmitigated fun with the intention of being fun. They’re not out to redefine a genre, and they’re not meant to tell a deep and touching narrative. Instead, they’re supposed to be a frantic and fun experience for all ages that leaves you both satisfied and entertained for hours upon hours.