The Evolution of Driving Games on Nintendo Consoles

Guest post by Katie Green

With a huge following around the world and stellar sales of its latest console, Nintendo is a powerful force in the video game industry. While some might say they are best known for platformers and RPGs, they also have hosted a number of boundary-pushing driving games on their hardware over the years.

Here’s a look at some of the racing titles that have defined Nintendo’s flagship home consoles over the past decades and what made them so great.

Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)

The NES was the first Nintendo home console released outside of Japan (in 1985), and is considered a huge success with over 61.9 million units sold in the United States. The NES went down in history as the best selling console of its generation.

In terms of driving games, there were names such as Rad Racer (1987), R.C. Pro-Am, and Micro Machines (1991).

Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES)

The Super Nintendo (released in 1991) is the improved version of Nintendo’s first console with a more futuristic design and re-designed controllers. Overall, the SNES wasn’t as successful as the NES, but it opened the road towards the European market.

Also, the SNES is the one to introduce us to Super Mario Kart and other amazing games that made history! Other names the world will most likely remember in the driving category are F-Zero and Top Gear (1992).

Nintendo 64

With all of that 64-bit processing power at its disposal, this console provided the perfect platform for 3D gaming to come of age. And the N64 driving game that every 90s kid will remember with fondness is Mario Kart 64.

From the iconic stages to the funky power-ups, this game helped to make kart racing a genre all of its own. Lots of imitators, including South Park Rally and Diddy Kong Racing, have attempted to take its crown, but failed.

Also worthy of note is San Francisco Rush 2049, which emerged towards the end of the N64’s life cycle and brought with it a more aerobatic racing experience. While it might have been lost to the mists of time, the influence of this title can still be seen in modern racing games like Madalin Stunt Cars.


The legacy of Mario Kart continued with Nintendo’s first disc-based console to hit the mainstream market. Mario Kart: Double Dash landed in 2003 and revived many of the things that fans loved about its earlier incarnations, while also adding dual characters to each vehicle to keep things fresh.

On the more mature end of the racing spectrum, the GameCube also got its own port of Need for Speed: Underground. This title kick-started a franchise and fed on the popularity of the Fast & Furious movies, as well as the street racing subculture that inspired them.


As is often the case, the best racing game on the Wii was one that Nintendo developed in-house to take full advantage of its console’s capabilities. Mario Kart Wii, with its plastic steering wheel peripheral and wrist-waggling tricks, was a natural progression for the franchise that helped it appeal to a wider audience.

Purists who didn’t want to rely on the Wii Remote’s sometimes temperamental accelerometers to guide their kart to victory could still pop in a GameCube controller and get a more precise experience, so this title offered the best of both worlds. It also broke the mould by providing online play for the first time in the series, allowing players to test their mettle against a global group of competitors, not just their friends and family. Mariokart Wii to many was and still is the best in the franchise! There are a team of hackers who have actually kept the game alive by creating their own servers to host online games on as well as add over 200 new tracks by cheating and modding the game! This is one of the most ambitious mods on a console to date. Not even RDR2 cheats can compete with how fun the infamous Mkwii cheats are!

A worthy alternative to Mario Kart Wii came in the form of Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing, released in 2010 to surprising critical acclaim. Its cast of popular characters from a number of non-Nintendo franchises helped it to stand out, while its tight controls and varied tracks kept things interesting.

Wii U

Once again the big daddy of racing games on the Wii U was a Mario Kart title, in this case the eight outing for the series. It was also the first to see Mario Kart make the leap into the era of true high definition graphics. Single player racing and multiplayer action remained intact, while a series of gravity-defying tracks mixed things up once again to give fans a new perspective on the racing.

Another change that came about with Mario Kart 8 was the integration of amiibo-based functionality, allowing players to unlock extra in-game characters and content with action figures sold at additional cost. How you feel about this evolution will depend on how willing you are to make extra purchases to expand a game for which you have already paid full price.

Nintendo Switch

The Wii U was Nintendo’s least popular home console to date, so a number of games which appeared on it have since been remastered and re-released on the better-selling Switch.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is just such a game, representing the pinnacle of the series so far thanks to its pixel-perfect graphics, rock solid frame rate, and vast array of tracks and playable characters. It was a hit with fans, while the overhauled Battle Mode put to rest criticisms that had dogged the original version since its release in 2014.

What are some of your favorite racing games on Nintendo consoles? Let us know in the comments!