I’ve been playing a lot of Mario Kart 7 on the 3DS recently, and while I think it’s a great game, the character choice is extremely frustrating.
Back in 1992, the original Super Mario Kart on the SNES featured eight characters. Of these, seven were male (Mario, Luigi, Bowser, Donkey Kong, Koopa, toad, and Yoshi) while only one was female (Peach). Almost two decades on, let’s see how far we’ve come.
Mario Kart 7 has either 16 or 17 characters in total, depending on how you’re counting. Of those, eight are available for selection initially, with the others needing to be unlocked through play. So let’s start with the initial eight. These are, it turns out, exactly the same characters as the SNES original. Absolutely no improvement on gender diversity there, then.
The unlockable characters do show signs of improvement. Here, we have five male characters (Metal Mario, Lakitu, Wiggler, Wario, and Shy Guy) and three female characters (Daisy, Rosalina, and Honey Queen).
The 17th character is the Mii, which I’m not including here since it’s something of an oddball, seeing as it is an out-of-universe character, and one which is player created. I don’t like to play as a Mii, because it feels jarring against the backdrop of all the Mario characters, but the option is there (after you unlock it).
[Note: For characters where the gender isn't immediately obvious, such as Koopa and Wiggler, I'm going off the gender given on Nintendo's official site.]
So, of a total of 16, we have 12 male characters, and 4 female ones. In the 19 years since 1992, we’ve managed to go from 1/8 inclusion, to 1/4 inclusion. It’s something, I suppose, but it’s not anything I’m going to get excited over.
It gets even worse when you look at it a little more closely, though. Of the four female characters, three of them are extremely similar. Peach, Daisy, and Rosalina are all princess archetypes with crowns and dresses, and offer little variety beyond a pallet swap, a different hairstyle, and a different voice actress.
Rosalina from Mario Kart 7. A woman with a crown in a teal dress, standing by a blue kart.
Daisy from Mario Kart 7. A woman with a crown in a yellow dress, standing by a yellow and orange kart.
Peach from Mario Kart 7. A woman with a crown in a pink dress, in a red and pink kart.
This is hardly a staggering array of diversity we’re being offered here. In fact, I’m tempted to combine all three of these characters together as variations on a theme. For the sake of fairness, I will also combine Mario, Luigi and Metal Mario, as well as Koopa and Lakitu. In total, this gives us 2 different “ways” to play a female character, and 9 different “ways” to play a male character. If you include the Mii, those numbers go up to 3 and 10 respectively.
Things get even worse when you consider that the character selection isn’t just a cosmetic choice. Instead, the characters fall into 5 different weight classes, with each different class having different strengths and weaknesses in speed, acceleration, handling, and so on. Of the 5 classes, only 3 (or 4 if you include the Mii) have female representatives. The two that are missing are the overall most balanced class (available if you include the Mii) and the class that’s best for beginners.
And if you’re only including the default characters and not the unlockable ones, we ladies only have one choice to match our one character. Needless to say, the men have all five choices available right from the beginning.
To me, the saddest part of all this is that Nintendo are meant to be a company that pride themselves on targeting a broader demographic than just 18-35 year old men. Nintendo games are meant to be the sort of games that anyone can play, regardless of age or gender. Come on, Nintendo, you can do better than this.