By Rhys Wood
Opinion: Nintendo’s superlative kart racer needs to return with a bang
Mario Kart 9 is apparently in active development, and as we’d expect from the series, the new game will supposedly bring with it a unique twist to help shake things up.
Even though it's only a rumor, news that Mario Kart 9 is in development is a pretty safe bet. After all, it’s been almost five years since the launch of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and eight since the game’s original Wii U release. And with a total of roughly 47 million copies sold (between both Switch and Wii U versions of Mario Kart 8), a ninth entry in the series is surely a case of “when,” and not one of “if.”
Yet as long overdue as Mario Kart 9 may be, it’s not a game I think we’ll be seeing anytime soon. Not in 2022 at the very least. In fact, I’m not entirely confident that it’ll be released on the Nintendo Switch at all and I honestly hope that it isn’t, as I think Mario Kart 9 can only truly shine brightest on brand new Nintendo hardware.
Standing out from the crowd
As much as I can’t wait to hear Charles Martinet scream “Mario Kart…9!!!” such an event would be so much more glorious on a brand new Nintendo console. Whether that be in the form of the Switch 2 or otherwise, Mario Kart 9 has the best chances of standing out on a platform of its own.
After all, the original Switch model is getting a bit long in the tooth. March 3, 2022 will mark five years of the console being on sale, so it’s relatively safe to imagine the hardware guys at the big N are already cooking up the Switch’s successor.
Mario Kart 9 would ultimately be served better on new hardware, then. And if you look back at the history of Mario Kart releases, it checks out. Since the SNES, exactly one Mario Kart title has launched on almost every major Nintendo console and handheld, excluding the Game Boy Color and (shudders) the Virtual Boy.
Sure, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is an enhanced port, but it’s the only Mario Kart game on Switch (not including the Nintendo Switch Online retro offerings) regardless. Plus, it came with new modes, characters, and outsold its Wii U counterpart by a considerable margin. All the more reason, then, for Mario Kart 9 to stand out on its own, on an entirely separate console.
Which brings me onto the aforementioned “unique twist” that Mario Kart 9 is allegedly bringing to the track. It's a safe bet that Mario Kart 9 will indeed bring something new to the table, as have most games in the series before it.
What’s more, it’s important to note that each gameplay shakeup a new Mario Kart brings is often hard to imagine being pulled off on the previous generation of consoles, for the most part. You’d never get Double Dash’s duo karts on N64 with its limitations. Similarly, it’s difficult imagining Mario Kart 8’s track-bending anti-gravity on the much less powerful Wii.
If we follow that trend to its logical conclusion, we can surmise that Mario Kart 9’s “twist” could very well be something unachievable on the Wii U, or even the Switch. But what exactly could that be? Perhaps we can look to Nintendo’s competitors for clues.
Solid State Supremacy
Both the PS5 and Xbox Series X/S are fantastic consoles, loaded with incredible tech, some that Nintendo might be looking to implement into its next-gen hardware. Take these consoles’ lightning-fast SSDs which drastically cut down load times to mere seconds. Now, Nintendo games are usually fairly quick to load, thanks to masterful optimization. But there’s more to those SSDs than just fast load times.
Take on PS5. It’s not the most incredible game in the PS5’s library, but it does demonstrate an astonishing gameplay feature: the ability to hop through rifts into entirely new levels on the fly. No load times or stuttering to break the immersion.
Now imagine a similar setup for Mario Kart 9. One second you’re happily pootling through a Toad-themed amusement park, the very next you’re hurtling through space around Rosalina’s cosmic observatory. My point is that Mario Kart 9’s unique twist could allow us to race on two, maybe three entirely separate tracks all in a single race. This track selection could be entirely random, or even mix in retro tracks with the new ones.
This is all just idle speculation, of course. After all, while Nintendo excels with certain innovations - like the Wii’s motion controls - it has traditionally been slow to adopt things like HD visuals and better online infrastructure, just to name a couple. As such, while Nintendo routinely impresses with its first-party lineups, there’s always something else missing that you just wish was there. And in this case, it’s far from a guarantee that Nintendo’s next console will implement tech like SSDs, let alone 4K resolution, even.
Rumble in the DK Jungle
Failing (or perhaps in addition to) this, I’d love to see Nintendo take another crack at its HD Rumble tech. The company made a big deal out of the haptic feedback tech before the Switch’s launch, and rightly so, as it could transform the Joy-Con controllers into something that felt remarkably tangible. Launch title 1-2-Switch comes to mind here, which put HD Rumble atop its otherwise mediocre offerings.
And thanks to the PS5’s Dualsense controller, we know that haptic feedback can greatly benefit player immersion. Haptic feedback lets you feel the clattering of sword against shield in Demon’s Souls. The pattering of a rainstorm in Astro’s Playroom. The charging of your alt-fire in Returnal.
On paper, it sounds like a gimmick, but haptic feedback on PS5 has proven time and again to be an extremely welcome feature, and something I’d love to see Nintendo have more confidence in. The feeling of your kart’s tyres against the gravel, getting smacked in the backside by a red shell or being rocked by a Bob-Omb explosion, HD Rumble can only serve to benefit a game like Mario Kart 9.
Perhaps what’s most interesting about the Mario Kart series is that it can act as a barometer for the state of Nintendo in the moment. Super Mario Kart and Mario Kart 64 were fairly rough around the edges, but both represent a transition into the 3D space - the former with pseudo-3D Mode 7 tech, and the latter with early polygonal graphics.
The series beyond this flourished with copious experimentation. Double Dash, for example, switched things up with a two-characters-per-kart setup. Mario Kart DS, meanwhile, was Nintendo’s first foray into handheld online gaming. Wii introduced bikes which have been a mainstay ever since. Finally, Mario Kart 7 added paragliding and underwater sections while Mario Kart 8 quite literally turned gameplay on its head with anti-gravity tracks.
The point is that almost every Mario Kart game brings something new to the table. But not just in terms of gameplay, as most titles in the series also end up being some of the best looking games on their respective platforms. I’m still awestruck by just how incredible Mario Kart 8 Deluxe’s art direction and visual fidelity is - and that’s a five year old port of an eight year old game.
Mario Kart 9, then, is likely to go above and beyond in the visuals department should it launch on new Nintendo hardware. We’ve since seen how superb the series can look in 4K, thanks to emulation efforts with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. However, that’s upscaled from 1080p, and we’ve yet to see a Mario Kart title made from the ground up with 4K resolution in mind. That’s something that Mario Kart 9 can hopefully deliver if it swerves the Switch in favor of Nintendo’s next-gen hardware.
That’s plenty of speculation for now, then. Ultimately, Mario Kart 9 is quite likely going to look and play nothing like we’re currently imagining. Well, besides the basics of driving karts on extravagant courses with a kooky cast of plumbers, princesses and reptiles. I am looking forward to whatever a new Mario Kart has in store, though, and can only hope it lives up to the supremely high quality of its immediate predecessor.
- New Mario Kart 8 Deluxe DLC is a golden opportunity
Sign up to get breaking news, reviews, opinion, analysis and more, plus the hottest tech deals!
Rhys is Hardware Writer for TechRadar Gaming, and while relatively fresh to the role, he's been writing in a professional capacity for years. A Media, Writing and Production graduate, Rhys has prior experience creating written content for app developers, IT firms, toy sellers and the main TechRadar site. His true passions, though, lie in video games, TV, audio and home entertainment. When Rhys isn't on the clock, you'll usually find him logged into Final Fantasy 14, Halo Infinite or Sea of Thieves.