Have you ever dreamed about a game you just spent many hours playing? That is what happened to me as I revisited this game for the first time in many years. Super Mario Kart is one of those games that ceases to be a toy and becomes an experience. The joys of playing the game with family and friends offered us one of our earliest looks at what competitive multiplayer action on the SNES could be like. The best part is that it still holds up as one of the best and most balanced in the series almost 20 years later.
Super Mario Kart begins in perfect Mario fashion. After all the unpleasantness on Dinosaur Island during the events of Super Mario World, everyone just wants to unwind. And what better way to do so than with a kart racing tournament? All your favorite heroes and villains are present, each with their own top speed, acceleration, handling, and turning. This means that no two racers handle alike, so you must experiment to figure out which racers are your favorites (I vote for Koopa Troopa!).
Once you decide upon your chosen racer, it’s off to discover what sets this game apart from its competitors. Simply put this is an extremely well done racing game, with the flair of the Mario universe thrown in for good measure. Dinosaur Island is used to great effect here, with some of the coolest course designs you are likely to see anywhere. There are Ghost House courses where you can take a shortcut if you know where to jump. There’s a course where Monty Moles pop out of the ground and obstruct your view if they happen to hit you. Then there is Rainbow Road, the final course, which has NO RAILINGS!! Each and every track seems to have its own creative theme, and no two tracks feel the same. Backgrounds scroll as you round each track, showing off the Mode 7 effects very well. These are some of the best courses in racing, and it is a testament to their designs that they have been remade over and over again.
On the gameplay side, Super Mario Kart is just as solid. You race around the track, collecting power-up blocks and coins during the 5 lap races. Both blocks and coins are important for different reasons. You need to collect coins in order to increase your top speed, and these are scattered along the track in various places. I love this aspect of the game, as it adds some strategy to how you drive, instead of just being a speed-fest.
As for the power-ups, you use those to gain an advantage in the race. These are completely random and range from the infamous red shell, which acts as a homing missile of sorts, to a feather that allows you to jump high and take shortcuts. My favorite; the lightning bolt that shrinks other racers, making them race at a snails pace and letting you squash them flat if you run over them. 🙂 The best part about it is that these power-ups seem to be divvied out based on your position in the race. That means that if you are in first, it’s nothing but mushrooms and green shells for you, but if you are behind, look to be given lightning bolts and red shells to help even the odds! This helps to create the most balanced experience of the entire series!
So what does all of this mean? It means that this is a racing game with much more depth than is typical. Every time you collide with an opponent, race off course, or get hit with an obstacle or attack, you lose coins. You also lose speed! So you must collect coins while at the same time depriving your rivals of theirs. This is what makes this game such a timeless classic. You just do not see racers with this much thought too often.
Super Mario Kart is also blessed with modes galore! There are so many ways to play this game! The first of which is the basic one-on-one racing mode, where you face off against a friend. Then there is the Mario Kart Grand Prix, which is the ‘Story Mode.’ These are a series of four cups that you and a friend can race through. Each cup contains five tracks each, with the racer scoring the best average winning the trophy at the end. It is interesting to note that there are also three difficulty levels to choose from, which affects the overall A.I of the computer-controlled racers. Racers become much more aggressive on the medium difficulty, and then add special attacks unique to each racer on the hardest mode. Think of it as each racer having a power-up that they can use at will. It really ratchets up the challenge, and makes the replay all the more interesting.
Time Attack Mode is also a compelling way to play. Because you are alone, it is a great way to practice the game’s 20 tracks, as it even lets you race against the ghost of your best time! Best of all, it can add yet another competitive mode to the game, allowing you and a friend to take turns trying to best each other’s time!
Finally, I cannot talk about this game without mentioning the Battle Mode. This has got to be one of THE most addictive experiences in all of 16-bit gaming! You and a friend race around four maze-like arenas, collecting power-ups and attempting to pop the others balloons that surround your opponent’s kart. The first one to three wins! This allows you to really play with some of the more under used power-ups, as some things like the ghost or the green shell are not that useful in racing, but suddenly become viable in the Battle Mode. Just give it a try, and see if it does not start to rival Street Fighter 2 as a multiplayer time sink! If I have any complaints at all, It would be that there are just not enough arenas to play around in!
At the end of the day, this is the game in this series that keeps calling me back. That is not to say that the other games are bad-they are not. In fact, this is Nintendo’s most consistent franchise in my opinion. It is just that the original contains so much more strategy not present in the sequels. The coin collecting and power-ups just add so much more balance.
I like to think of Super Mario Kart as being an extension of Super Mario Brothers. All of the level design and secrets you expect are present, there is no empty space in the tracks, and there is always choices to make and things to do. In short, this game is a perfect conversion of the things that make the 2D platformers so timeless. Whether you’re speeding through Rainbow Road or playing Mario Kart Balloon Stomp with friends and family, this is one racer that is sure to impress!
5 Out Of 5 Stars
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