When Nintendo releases a new Mario Kart game exclusively for coin-op play and yet nobody can seem to find it, maybe there's some truth to the notion that arcades are by and large dead these days... If arcade owners aren't shelling out for what looks like a sure-fire crowd pleaser, can there be any hope left for the business model? Or is this new Kart even worth hunting down? I stumbled across a dual cabinet at Disneyland's Tomorrowland "Starcade" and decided to find out for myself.
Developed by Namco, Mario Kart Arcade GP is a bit of a change of pace for Nintendo's genre-leading kart franchise. First of all, it's a themed sit-down unit like F-Zero AX, which means it's the first kart racer you control with a real steering wheel, gas and brake pedals. The seat even features force feedback so that you can feel every red shell (or eighty-one other weapons) that hits you, and simulates the rumble of the kart's shocks as you roll over bumpy terrain like a wooden plank bridge.
Drivers include the usual roster of Mario characters (Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Donkey Kong, Yoshi, Bowser, Toad), with a few high-profile additions from the Namco family: Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, and Blinky, the red ghost. Though each driver has different ratings in acceleration, weight, and top speed, as far as I could tell my choice didn't affect kart handling or weapon variety. They all handled pretty much the same. Another cool novelty is the cabinet's built-in camera that snaps your headshot before each race. This is used for your driver icon, and superimposed accessories like a yellow beanie and mustache helped me achieve a respectably Wario-esque look. Rather than replace the face on your in-game character, your icon sits in the lower-left corner and is seen above your kart by opponents.
So about those eighty-one weapons: during my session, I only got to see a fraction of the vast selection since the game limits you to a paltry three per course. That is, at the outset of a race, three are chosen randomly, and when you drive through a wall of item markers, you'll pick up one of those three. New additions include a metal basin you can bean opponents with (resembles a bed pan—who came up with this?), the "square tire" which turns a competitor's tires to cinderblocks, impairing their speed and steering (and giving you a veritable seat feedback butt massage), and a tornado that will cause the guy ahead of you to spin out of control.