A tribute to Battle Mode, with concern for its future


Super Mario Kart’s Battle Mode featured 3D multiplayer battle arenas, varied weapon types, precision movement, and x-axis aim a full year before Doom hit the PC scene. Even as a simple side mode, Mario Kart’s battles helped codify competitive 3D gaming as we know it.

But that historical garbage doesn’t define Mario Kart. Mario Kart is primal as hell; there’s the constant feeling that something’s about to come unglued, that all of a sudden the game will stop being fun by virtue of it ceasing to be fair. That unbridled craziness is what makes the series so damned fun — and unique — in the first place. And Battle Mode is Mario Kart at its most primal: four karts enter and one kart leaves in videogaming’s ultimate versus showdown.


I’ve been playing Super Mario Kart for years and years and I’m constantly surprised by it. I’m worried that my sharp cornering didn’t actually shake that red shell from my trail. I’m startled when an errant green shell comes out of seemingly nowhere, smacking my opponent in the face as we race toward each other for a final showdown. The action is so fast and furious that anything seems possible.

It’s a sign of good game design, not bad. These shells and peels and feathers all obey strict game logic, but the complexity of their interactions and the speed with which they’re carried out lends them a maverick unpredictability. Every action and reaction is a carefully calculated risk, still thrilling after all this time.

Super Mario Kart’s Battle Course 2 is by far my favorite in the series, but don’t let me convince you that later Battle Modes aren’t worth playing. They trade off a little bit of nuance and speed for simpler party-style fun, but the later games host four-players instead of two, and each has its own standout battle map.

Unfortunately, they also fall off after a certain point.


Look, I personally love Mario Kart Wii. I think it’s a fantastic game. Mario Kart Wii’s Battle Mode, however, truly sucks. Instead of feeling like an inspiration for first person shooters, it feels inspired by first person shooters. These battles are team-based, time-based, and kill-based, players respawning whenever they lose all three balloons. There’s no fear of elimination, so none of the second-to-second shooting carries any weight. What works for first person shooters just doesn’t work for Mario Kart.

So if I have one lingering doubt about Nintendo’s upcoming Mario Kart 8, it’s whether the development team can bring Battle Mode out of the rut it’s been in for the last six years. A recent video shows the series returning to its roots with elimination-style free-for-all battles, with defeated players racing around as ghosts. That’s a definite change for the better.

Curiously though, the video doesn’t take place in a battle arena, but the full-blown Moo Moo Meadows retro track. We’ll have to wait and see if the lack of dedicated battle arenas works for or against the gameplay.

With Mario Kart 8, Nintendo claims to have created the definitive Mario Kart experience. Let’s hope that extends to Battle Mode, too.



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2 Responses to “A tribute to Battle Mode, with concern for its future”

  1. Strawberry Says:

    I’m not really a big fan of battle mode. But I hope Mario Kart 8 is as fun as the other Mario Kart games! 😀

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