According to a quote from Mario Kart 64‘s director Hideki Konno (by way of Nintendo Life), that’s exactly what the team was planning.
“In fact, originally we had a ‘no item’ racing mode too,” said Konno. “It was our attempt to appeal to F-Zero fans, who feel that items are a distraction to the racing.”
“It allowed for serious races, where you’re trying to edge someone out for fractions of a second, with all the racers clumped close together in the final lap.”
I can already hear some fans cheering this particular design decision, but here’s why it didn’t make the cut: “As it turned out, however, almost everyone who demoed Mario Kart 64 chose not to play that mode, and we ultimately dropped it.”
So there you go. Mario Kart 64 could have had a No Item mode, setting a precedent for the rest of the series, but it didn’t pass the vibe check during testing. It’s interesting to hear Konno tell a story like this. Though plumbing Nintendo’s history for what-might-have-been is a favourite pastime for gaming historians, it’s somewhat rarer for Nintendo staff themselves to address such things.
It is, of course, always fun to speculate, and it raises an interesting question: If Mario Kart 64 had shipped with a No Item mode, would you have played it?
Tell us, dammit
I feel like every time I play multiplayer Mario Kart, no matter which edition, someone always complains about the way items upend the racing order. If only I didn’t get hit with a red shell, slip on a banana, or get caught in the blast radius of the hated blue shell, I could have won that race, they say.
Sometimes the item barrage leads to perfect, pure, champagne comedy, as Dunkey once illustrated. Sometimes it leads to people throwing down their controllers and swearing off the game for life.
Other Nintendo multiplayer games like Smash Bros have an item switch that gives players a great deal of control over in-game items. You can turn them off entirely if you like, ban certain items and leave others on, and even control how regularly they show up. Mario Kart, historically, contains nothing of the sort. If you want to race, you must accept that items are a part of the game. If Mario Kart can’t offer a pure racing mode, perhaps an item switch would be a good idea?
Nevertheless, I’m interested in the bizarre alternate universe version of Mario Kart the idea presents. Blow us up in the comments. Would you prefer a version of Mario Kart that let you focus on racing strategy and less on barging through the field with shells and mushies? Or do you think that would strip out too much of what makes Mario Kart … Mario Kart?