Super Mario Kart
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?
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.