A Victory Lap Years Later – Super Nintendo – Super Mario Kart – 1992

Super Mario Kart (U) [!]000Super Mario Kart
Super Nintendo
Nintendo
Genre: Racing
1992

There are a few genres in gaming that I don’t talk about a lot. I haven’t played many sports games since I was a kid. I’m not really into the ‘4X’ strategy games that some of my friends gush over. One type of game that I’ve regularly played, though, and haven’t brought up is the ‘racing’ genre.

Nearly all of the major franchises from the 1990s ended up with some kind of racing title. Sonic Drift, Crash Team Racing, and even Final Fantasy had Chocobo Racing. One of the forerunners of this trend, of course, was the Mario franchise. When Super Mario Kart came out on the Super Nintendo, its colorful and chaotic cover art promised some new adventures involving a variety of characters from the universe we had all come to know and love. Given the number of spinoff games the franchise would receive, one could argue that Super Mario Kart opened the gates for the dearth of games we would see later on like Mario Party and Mario (insert name of sport here).

Even as a kid getting this game, though, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Playing as Mario without jumping on enemies and trying to navigate perilous worlds to save something? It was such a strange concept to me back then. Now, it seems as natural as any other idea given how many games bear the Mario Kart moniker. With the amount of time and refinement the games have gotten over multiple consoles and years, heading back to the beginning worried me. It could easily have been an undertaking of frustration that could decimate my nostalgia for the game.

Needless to say, I popped it in recently and gave it a whirl. What’s the worst that could happen?

Plot

Super Mario Kart (U) [!]014

Toadstool knows this track so well since she spends six months a year here.

What do the denizens of the Mushroom Kingdom do in their downtime? Fix plumbing issues? Rule with a fair and just hand in between kidnappings? Plot nefarious schemes to carry out those kidnappings?

Why, they hit the Mario Go-Kart Park, of course!

Having organized a few races where everyone sets aside their differences and takes out their competitive nature on motorized karts, the Mario crew travels the world to race and battle each other to find out who reigns supreme on the track. Mario, Luigi, Princess Toadstool, Bowser, and a few other familiar faces are here to have a good time with a clash of shells and stars throughout four sets of races. Whoever has the most points at the end of five races receives a trophy and the title of expert driver of the Mushroom Kingdom.

Mechanics
Super Mario Kart has two modes of play that you can embark upon. In the tradition ‘racing’ manner, the Mario Kart Grand Prix mode allows you to pick a set of tracks to race around against seven other characters. To progress to the next track, you have to place fourth or higher, after which points are allotted relative to your finishing position. If you earn the most points in the first three sets of tracks- the Mushroom Cup, Fire Flower Cup, and Star Cup- the fourth set of tracks open called the Special Cup, acting as a “final boss” set of races.

Super Mario Kart (U) [!]040

When enemies frequently attack you while you’re in first, you’ll see them in your rear-view.

Some tricks do come in handy that expand on the basics of a racing game. Pushing the R Trigger on the controller will make your kart jump. This can be useful in the case of some environmental obstacles, but it can also be useful to power slide around corners, speeding up your vehicle’s cornering and offering a small boost once the slide is complete. There is also a feature in this flagship effort that involves collecting coins. The more coins you pick up during your laps, the higher your top speed becomes. Coins also act as a bit of a buffer between your character and other racers as when you run into them, you will spin out and be stalled for a moment before you can proceed. They can become vital to your success very quickly.

Throughout these races, characters can run over “question mark” tiles that will randomly grant them an item to use to their advantage against their competitors. Some of them are offensive like Koopa shells that can be thrown or bananas to be dropped behind the driver. Some can be considered defensive like the Super Star that keeps its user safe from harm for a set amount of time. Snagging these items becomes vital to pulling off a victory, as straight racing becomes tougher to excel over the CPU at on higher difficulties.

These items, however, bring us to the second mode the game has to offer. Battle Mode pits you and your friends against one another in an arena with three balloons attached to your karts. By racing around and utilizing the items you find strewn all over the area, you can attack your opponents, bursting balloons each time you land a hit. The last person with balloons intact is declared the winner. This mode is only available to human players, however, so without a multi-tap, it ends up being a lot of one-on-one clashes.

The Good, The Bad, And…

Super Mario Kart (U) [!]021

Just like the rest of the series, victory means the characters kick back and pop open some bubbly!

My biggest concern going back to Super Mario Kart was that my beautiful childhood memories would be dashed by poor controls or some other terrible mechanics that the sands of time had dulled to frustration. Color me impressed, though, that the controls and physics, for the most part, were responsive and just as enjoyable as the current day entries. The power slide that we’ve all come to know and rely on can be sensitive as I curled around a corner and directly into a wall or other obstacle. Everything else felt far more intuitive than I had originally imagined it would.

Where the game falters on a fundamental level is how cheap the CPU racers can be in attempting to keep the player challenged. On three separate occasions, I had items that were on target to hit the driver in front of me (one of them the homing Red Shell) to which the response was the driver leaping over it and driving as though nothing had happened. It seems like a small thing in general but there’s no use in honing skills and accuracy when your opponent can evade your efforts with abilities you don’t possess and nullify any achievement to be gained by doing so.

Presentation

Super Mario Kart (U) [!]070

It took twenty snapshots to get one that didn’t involve me off the track or being hauled back on.

Like the rest of the Mario games up to this point, Super Mario Kart is awash with vibrant colors and fun environments. There are some minor issues, especially with pixelation in use with the Mode 7 graphics the game uses. It adds a level of depth to the racing fun but it can be a little jarring to modern sensibilities. Still, given the artistic standards the series had, it’s no surprise that everything looks great overall.

The music ranges a bit from bland and unmemorable to distinct earworms you’ll catch yourself humming for days after. In particular, Koopa Beach and the infamous Rainbow Road tracks are some recurring favorites that followed me through the years and brought were just as pleasant this time around. Every sound effect resonates with classic Super Nintendo goodness, as well, from the ‘sproing’ of the Feather jump to the mildly jarring record scratch of your kart skidding out.

Conclusion
Time has been much kinder to the flagship entry of this prolific racing series than some may remember. Super Mario Kart is a fun diversion with a lot of replayability that can easily be played in small sittings here and there. Where the real challenges lie are in its 150cc mode, granting your opponents much more speed than usual, and the extra abilities that the CPU drivers get when you face off against them, creating an unfair advantage at key moments.

Still, the game is enjoyable and easy to recommend to any retro-enthusiast. If you’ve played this in the past, it will immediately feel like comfort food; your memory of speeding around with your favorite characters isn’t as far off as you may think. If you just happen to be a fan digging into the origins of the Mario Kart franchise, the level of adjustment necessary is so minuscule, you’ll be cruising the corners of Vanilla Lake and Ghost Valley like a pro in no time. Either way, if you enjoy the Mario series, Super Mario Kart will make you smile and curse a little, but it will always be a good time.

3 thoughts on “A Victory Lap Years Later – Super Nintendo – Super Mario Kart – 1992

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