The standardization of using the internet for competitive games has introduced the concept of “metagame.” This means that there are more efficient ways to play a video game, making certain strategies redundant or even bad. This is evident in games such as League of Legends, Tekken, and even Mario Kart.
Despite having our favorite character, car, and wheels in Mario Kart, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the best combination for winning. The reality is different when analyzed through a more demanding lens. An interesting question arose: which is the best Mario Kart character? Henry Hinnefeld, a data scientist from the University of Chicago and a long-time Mario Kart fan, delved into this question to find a definitive answer.
Hinnefeld established that not all characters in Mario Kart are the same; they can be grouped into different categories based on their weight. He focused on determining two key characteristics: acceleration and maximum speed. According to his research, there are seven character categories ranging from Baby Mario to Wario, based on increasing weight. While there are other characteristics such as traction and handling, Hinnefeld’s study primarily concentrated on acceleration and top speed.
When customizing the vehicle and wheels, there are added variables that contribute to the overall performance, including weight, top speed, acceleration, handling, and traction. This complex interplay of factors made the analysis challenging.
To solve this dilemma, Hinnefeld turned to the work of Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian sociologist born in the 19th century, who introduced the concept of the Pareto frontier, a measure of efficiency that applies to situations where multiple resources compete for a final result.
Using a computer program, Hinnefeld analyzed a staggering 149,760 combinations of Mario Kart character, car, and wheels. He found that only 294 combinations yielded unique final values. Among these, about 15 combinations drew the Pareto frontier, indicating that only 5.1% of the combinations were numerically optimal.
Hinnefeld’s study unveiled several concrete conclusions. He found that heavier characters are more versatile in 11 of the 15 limit configurations. Additionally, Metal Mario is the only group without a representative in the limit configurations, and the lightest car is part of most of the worst configurations.
Ultimately, Hinnefeld’s research shed light on the fact that context plays a critical role in choosing the best combination for each circuit and playing style. The Mario Kart metagame is complex, and as Hinnefeld’s study demonstrates, understanding the nuances of this game can lead to better performance.