Super Mario Kart Review

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When I think of kart racing games, Mario Kart is the first to come to mind and that’s because the franchise is huge. If I was to simply say “Mario Kart”, I think most people would know what I’m talking about. It started out as and is technically still a spin-off series of the Mario franchise, Nintendo’s immensely popular series of platformers. When it comes to racing games, Nintendo has given us several options over the years but I think Mario Kart’s accessibility and it’s connection to one of the most popular video game franchises in the world has catapulted it to being one of the most popular series of racing games and it all started in 1992. Developed and published by Nintendo, Super Mario Kart was released for the Super Nintendo in September, 1992. For this review, we played the game on the Analog Super NT.

Super Mario Kart is a kart racing game set in the Mario universe and supports up to two players. To be more specific, it’s heavily based on Super Mario Word. Super Mario Kart features eight playable drivers split up into different weight classes which determines how they handle on the courses. You can accelerate, brake, hop, and drift. It is possible to spin out by oversteering for too long so it’s safer to drift around sharp turns. If you want more of a challenge, you can enter a cheat to shrink your driver. You’ll move slower and can be squashed by opponents. The screen is always split in two. In single player, the top portion always displays your driver and the bottom can display an overhead view of the course or what’s happening behind you. In two player, the bottom portion displays the second player’s driver.

Super Mario Kart includes several game modes – Grand Prix, Time Trial, Match Race, and Battle. Match Race and Battle are two player modes. In Match Race, both players race each other without any AI opponents. In Battle, the objective is to pop the other player’s balloons. Grand Prix can be played solo or with a buddy and is the real meat of the game. You race for cups across three engine classes. Time Trial is all about setting record times and this mode is exclusive to single player.

The three engine classes are 50cc, 100cc, and 150cc and they can also be seen as the difficulty. The higher the engine class, the faster the karts move and the more challenging the gameplay. The Grand Prix features four cups, each consisting of five courses. You are awarded points at the end of each race and the amount depends on your finishing position. The driver with the most points at the end of a cup wins. 50cc only includes three cups and you can unlock the fourth in the other engine classes. There is a life system in place. If you finish a race in fifth or lower, you rank out and can either quit or retry at the cost of a life. If you lose all your lives before finishing a cup, you’ll have to restart the entire cup.

We would consider Super Mario Kart to be a combat racing game. There’s more to it than simply driving around a course as fast as you can. You can acquire items that can be used against your opponents and collect coins scattered around the courses to increase your top speed. Your top speed will stop increasing after ten coins but you can still collect more. You lose coins for getting hit, bumping into opponents, and falling off the course.

The items is what makes Super Mario Kart stand out. Scattered around each course are Question Mark Boxes, otherwise known as Item Boxes, and driving over them will grant you an item. Several items can be launched forwards or dropped behind your kart. Shells will cause opponents to spin out. When launched forward, Green Shells move in straight line and will bounce off barriers. Red Shells will home in on the opponent in front of you but will break if they hit a barrier. They also don’t follow the course so it’s wise to launch them when the opponent in front of you is in view. Banana Peels can be launched or dropped onto the course and will cause any driver that drives over them to spin out. The Feather allows you to jump higher than your standard hop, allowing you to jump over obstacles and items. Mushrooms grant you a boost, Stars grant you invincibility and a speed boost for a limited time, and the Coin adds two coins to your coin total. The rarest item in the game is the Lightning Bolt and it’s also one of the most helpful. It will temporarily shrink all opponents, slowing them down. Exclusive to the Match Race and Battle Mode is the Ghost which will temporarily make you transparent and steal the other player’s item.

Super Mario Kart features a rival system. The driver or character you choose will determine the order of AI opponents. Their order can be altered if they get hit with items or you knock them off the course. However, this would need to happen right before finishing the final lap because you will notice that if an AI opponent is knocked down a position, they will move extremely quickly to catch up to where they should be in the order. Each character has a primary rival which means that AI rival will always be vying with the player for first place. It’s not too difficult to win races in 50cc and 100cc and if you drive well enough, it is possible to lap opponents which is very easy to do in 50cc. Memorizing the course layouts and mastery of the mechanics is crucial for winning races in 150cc because mistakes can drop you several positions.

There’s a couple of things to know about the AI in Super Mario Kart. One; AI opponents can only use specific items and two; they cheat. Each AI driver can only use a specific item and some are exclusive to the AI meaning the player cannot acquire them. Bowser can launch and drop fireballs, Yoshi can launch and drop Eggs, and Toad and the Princess can launch and drop Poison Mushrooms that will shrink any driver that drives into them. AI opponents will not acquire coins or items from item boxes. They can use items frequently, however many times they want, and seemingly for however long they want. For example, Mario and Luigi will often conveniently activate their invincibility when you get close to them or when they’re about to get hit by an item and this can last for a while.

The higher the engine class, the more noticeable the AI issues become. In 150cc, they can be relentless with bullshit. One thing that becomes very annoying is the sniping. The AI will snipe you which means they’ll launch items directly in front of your kart. They will sometimes launch their item multiple times, in succession, one after another. More often than not, they will jump over items on the course that came from other AI opponents and this isn’t the typical hop, either. They jump as if they’re using the Feather. Furthermore, we’ve seen them drive through obstacles like pipes and Thwomps. Needless to say, races can be frustrating and often feel cheap and unfair.

Most of the courses are based on locations from Super Mario World like Donut Plains and Choco Island just to name a couple. The different locations have their own terrain which will affect how your kart handles and you’ll want to keep an eye out for shortcuts that can help you get ahead and bumps or jumps that launch you into the air. Driving off-road and bumping into barriers will slow you down and there will be hazards and obstacles to avoid. You can fall into water in several courses and lava in the Bowser’s Castle courses. You can get squashed by Thwomps and Gophers can attach themselves to your driver and slow you down. Super Mario Kart does feature a good variety of courses and they do get more challenging as you progress through the cups. The Mushroom Cup courses are rather easy to navigate but the Special Cup courses will put your driving skills to the test.

One notable aspect of Super Mario Kart is that it utilizes the Super Nintendo’s Mode 7 technology to basically give you the illusion that your driving through three-dimensional environments and this was impressive for its time. It’s not the first game to utilize it but it does utilize it well. The presentation is colorful, the sprite work is good, and some assets are clearly taken directly from Super Mario World. The backgrounds, obstacles, and terrain are what make each location feel unique. The music is upbeat, catchy, and memorable and each location has it’s own theme. On the technical side, the game ran smooth most of the time but we did notice the frame rate dip here and there in two player. We did not encounter any major bugs or issues.

The Super Nintendo was the first console I ever owned and I was big into Mario as a kid. I’m still a fan to this day. I didn’t get new games for it very often so I was always excited when I got to play something new, especially if it was a Mario-related game. I never owned Super Mario Kart growing up but I had a friend who did and he left his copy at my house once and it wasn’t until that night that I realized it was still in the system. So I played it and later that night, while I was still playing, him and his dad came over to get it and that was a little awkward. I am aware this story makes me look like a bit of a dick but in my defense, I was like seven or eight years old and I had every intention of giving it back. Regardless, I enjoyed every moment of it. It was one of the first racing games I ever played and it was more than just a racing game. For one thing, it’s based on Super Mario World, one of my favorite games of all time, and the idea of using items against opponents was so cool to me as a kid. The items is one of the core elements that makes this series stand out. I even loved the Battle mode. It’s a racing game and vehicular combat game all-in-one. Playing it now, it has definitely aged in many respects but we do think it holds up rather well. It’s accessible, challenging, and can be a lot of fun. It can also be cheap and unfair and as you may or may not know, that’s not uncommon for this series.

There are better Mario Kart games out there but we would recommend Super Mario Kart. If you’re used to the more modern titles, you’ll undoubtedly notice a lack of content and some missing mechanics but it’s easy to pick up and play and it can be enjoyed solo or with a buddy. If you have any interest in seeing how one of the most popular video game racing franchises got started, then definitely check out Super Mario Kart.

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