The rise and fall of the mine cart level

The legacy of Kong

Truly, Donkey Kong Country’s mine carting changed everything. So influential was it that games that didn’t even have a place for mine carting started to include mine cart rides, and all traditionally rail-friendly titles had to exponentially up their game. A quintessential example of this more hardcore “Nu-mining” movement is in level two of Treasure’s Gunstar Heroes.

A darker, grittier, and overall more “in-yo-face-bitches” mine carting experience (hey, it was the ‘90s), it not only turned mine carts into controllable, lightning fast combat vehicles, it took proper man's carting to its logical, gravity-defying conclusion by allowing the player to jump between rails on both the ground and the ceiling. And ride down the sides of vertical shafts. And this was 14 years before the 'pioneering'. Are you now beginning to see how mine carts are responsible for all that is good in gaming?

And yes, we said 14 years before Super Mario Galaxy. Gunstar Heroes came out in 1993, proving that Donkey Kong Country’s influence was so powerful it could even travel back through time.


As far as previously cartless games joining the mine carty party, no coup was greater for the carting movement than enticing Final Fantasy into its midst with 1995’s Final Fantasy VI. You thought the announcement of Final Fantasy XIII on the Xbox 360 was a big deal? You should have been a carter back in ’95. Okay, so the cart might not have been controllable, but Final Fantasy being Final Fantasy, this was epic carting.

Not only did it include a freakin’ boss fight, it also used the SNES’ famed Mode 7 technology to create a rare example of first-person carting (FPC). Fun fact: So groundbreaking was this innovation that Valve spent the following three years trying to turn FPC into a full-length game named Cart-Life. Not even Valve could pull this off though, as, according to Gabe Newell, “Mine carts are just too awesome to process for that long”. The remnants of the project can be seen during the tram ride at the beginning of Half-Life and in the latter sections of Half-Life 2’s “We Don’t Go To Ravenholm”.

Not even the long-time stalwarts of 2D platforming could help but be affected by the influence of mine carting during the ‘90s. Even Sonic demanded a steel-wheeled speed boost in the Master System version of Sonic the Hedgehog 2. The normally sedate Dizzy indulged in some kinetic rail riding in his console debut. And then in 1996, the circle in many ways became truly complete, as the mighty Mario joined the carting fraternity in Super Mario RPG.

Donkey Kong Country’s influence was now ultimate. Shigeru Miyamoto himself had produced a game which utilised long-standing Nintendo characters, rendered as 3D modelled sprites, riding mine carts. The Rare/Nintendo balance of power had shifted, and things would never be the same again. Some even infer, in hushed whispers, that this rivalry over the all-important matter of mine carting may have sowed the seeds for the two companies’ eventual split eight years later.


  • Dredgon - September 3, 2010 3:54 p.m.

    Resident Evil 4 did it great, but 5 was an all around disappointment to the franchise (even though it wasn't a terrible game), and Gears of War only had "The Train's at home on the rails!"
  • OnyxOblivion - April 8, 2010 11:59 a.m.

    Gunstar Heroes praise...I can die happy.
  • kellir - December 4, 2009 10:33 p.m.

    I also loved the lucky luck mine cart levels back in the old days ^^
  • Nigelo - November 7, 2009 3:07 a.m.

    Ah, all you young 'uns! If you want real original Monkey-Cart action, Toki (on the amiga) was definite 'leap-of-faith' platforming, with the scariest mine-cart section ever as it was the last level with no save games and insta-death(tm). :)
  • AuthorityFigure - November 7, 2009 2:35 a.m.

    Nice article. Very thorough and quite bizarre.
  • crumbdunky - November 6, 2009 8:55 a.m.

    Oddly enough, and possibly in a quite unfitting manner, I felt the needcart" myself last year while watching my little lad playing around on Club Penguin on Miniclip. The shame I went through just for that cart game! Created my own little penguin and everything just to race through those mines, tilting and jumping my cart over the obcs and round the corners! The joy! And there I was thinking I was a lone carting crusader willig to shun COD4, KZ2 and GEars just to hit myself up with that mine shaft action! I was really just expressing my rightful desire, a wish that resides in all true gamers! Thanks GR and thanks Mr Houghton! You changed it from a dark, bitter secret into something I can proudly bellow from the rooftops! Viva la carts! That pink penguin is no longer a thing tha shames me.
  • w40kfanatic - November 3, 2009 9:47 p.m.

    aaah, the minecart. we meet again, old friend. you cant really hate minecart levels (until you fail, like, 20 times) also, unsure wether or not this counts as a 'real' minecart level, but what about in gears 1 where your underground and your in the wierd cart thing fighting off boomers.
  • TheWebSwinger - November 3, 2009 8:53 p.m.

    every sentence of this article drips with sarcasm and dry wit. i love this site.
  • SimOniS - November 4, 2009 12:36 p.m.

    Fail, Rail Chase (Arcade) not mentioned ?
  • Ban - November 4, 2009 4:52 a.m.

    @CH3BURASHKA ain't that the truth
  • soullesspanda - November 4, 2009 2:59 a.m.

    Ugh this brings back awful memories of me playing that mine cart minigame from a few of the mario party games. I damn near broke my thumb playing those things. Oh and I dont know why but i hated a level in super paper mario for the wii that had mine carts in it.
  • melch - November 3, 2009 12:29 p.m.

    Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom was my first taste of mine cart action.....whip the thuggies indy !!!!
  • GameManiac - November 3, 2009 4:25 a.m.

    What about the one in Mario & Luigi: Superstars Saga? I know for a fact that there was a mine cart bit in that game. (*Sniff*) Im gonna miss those mine cart levels.
  • axis56 - November 3, 2009 3:44 a.m.

    good article. but you could have mentioned DKC 2 for further devoloping the minecart level into a pseudo-rollercoaster level with the haunted house cart levels. heres hoping with the recent announcement of a theme-park in bioshock 2 they revive the level with a bang, shooting splicers from a mistopian rollercoaster cart. a man can dream.....
  • revrock - November 3, 2009 12:19 a.m.

    Oddworld Stranger's Wrath had a great mine cart section!
  • Picnic1 - November 2, 2009 11:32 p.m.

    'Essentially a playable metaphor for the arguments of those cynical journos of old, it was like shooting our way through a barren womb. The final barb was in the way that it even set us up for a return to Resi 4’s finest moment by actually allowing us to climb into a cart at the entrance to said mine, before revealing its run to be pointlessly short and uneventful, ending before the mine proper even began. Truly the most poignant in-game requiem for video game mine cart riding imaginable, Ueda’s standpoint on the genre was made with inarguable clarity. But did he have to be so cruel?' This is great writing! To talk in all earnestness about mine cart levels is a fine blend of poignant, detailed, truthfulness and subtle, dry, comedy gold. I read that platform games used to account for about 25%-33% of all games (especially easy to believe in the 16 bit days) and now account for about a tenth of that. The likes of the Uncharted series, with its Inddiana Jones/Romancing the stone ways may keep the mine cart level alive for it will surely always be there waiting to surface.
  • CH3BURASHKA - November 2, 2009 11:10 p.m.

    Donkey Kong Country - The best goddamn game on the planet.
  • Spybreak8 - November 2, 2009 10:02 p.m.

    I enjoyed the little mine kart sequence in Shadow Complex. I also enjoyed em in Gears of War 1 or 2 I can't remember (I think it was the original).
  • sly123321 - November 2, 2009 10:02 p.m.

    What about all of the mine cart levels in "Crash bandicoot: the wrath of cortex".. those were some of the best.
  • sly123321 - November 2, 2009 9:59 p.m.

    What about all of the mine levels in "Sly"

Showing 1-20 of 35 comments

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