Super Mario Kart
  • Genre:
    • Racing
  • Platform:
    • SNES
  • Developer:
    • Nintendo
  • Publisher:
    • Nintendo
  • Released:
    • JP 08/27/1992
    • US 09/01/1992
    • UK 01/21/1993
Score: 85%

This review was published on 05/20/2013.

Super Mario Kart is a 2-D racing game released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Normally Mario is in side-scrolling platform games, but this time the Italian plumber decided to try his hand at kart racing. Super Mario Kart is the very first game in the very long and very successful Mario Kart series. That's right, folks; it all started with Super Mario Kart. It uses the Super Nintendo's unique Mode-7 capabilities to give the game a 3-D feel, something most 2-D racing games of the time were unable to do. Mode-7, in case you're unaware, was a highly hyped graphical technique on the SNES that was able to simulate a 3-D view by creating flat surfaces. It didn't look all that great, but it was a good fit for racing games, because it would allow you to see incoming turns up ahead. While Super Mario Kart wasn't the first game to do this, it was the one that set the trends for future kart racing games. You could say it was a trend setter. The Mode-7 stuff totally changed the racing game genre and Super Mario Kart helped make racing games mainstream. Super Mario Kart quickly became one of the world's most critically acclaimed kart racing game, boasting fun single player and multiplayer modes for the whole family. It may not be the best Mario Kart game in the franchise, but there's a reason why it was the start of something big for the big N. The big N is Nintendo, in case you were confused by that.

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Mario and his pals decide to forego the hardships of their typical adventures and have a friendly kart race together. Even Bowser puts aside his differences to join in on the fun. Racing in Super Mario Kart works the way you'd expect it to, for the most part. Holding down the B button will accelerate your kart and pressing the Y button will hit the brakes. You can try hitting the breaks for making tight turns, but it'll slow you down. If you are currently equipped with an item, you can tap the A button to activate it or throw it at your opponents. Pressing the X button or select will switch the mini-map at the bottom of the screen to a rear view, kind of like a rear view mirror. That's something that can come in quite in handy for some situations, though it's not essential. People often forget you can do that in Super Mario Kart. On top of all that, you can press either of the shoulder buttons to do a little hop. The hop comes in useful for making tight turns without decelerating or for avoiding certain hazards. Mastering the hop thing is essential to completing the game on the higher difficulty settings, so it's something that every player will need to learn if they hope to get good at the game. It's pretty easy to get a handle on most of the controls in Super Mario Kart, but the hop mechanic can take a lot of practice before mastery is reached.

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Races in Super Mario Kart are broken into 5 laps. For anyone who doesn't know much about racing, that means you circle around the course 5 times, passing the finish line each time. On the fifth and final pass, the places of each racer will be placed. Did that sentence make sense? If you're in the top 4, then you get to move onto the next race. However, if you anywhere below 4th place, you'll lose a life. Yep, Super Mario Kart has an arbitrary lives system. Losing all your lives gets you a Game Over, as it usually does, and that takes you out of the race altogether. The lives system really doesn't feel necessary in a game like this, but I suppose developers were still trying to figure out how to design these types of games. All races will have eight racers, for a grand total of eight places. In addition to all of that, each racer will earn a number of points after every race, depending on their place in the race. The higher a given racer's position, the more points they earn. At the end of the entire cup, the racer with the most points wins. Your job is to be that racer. The interesting thing about this system is that you don't necessarily have to get first place in every race to win the entire cup. It is more or less necessary, though, because the other racers will almost always be neck-in-neck with you in points, so you'll usually have to place first if you expect to stay in the lead. That might not be the case if you're lucky, but I wouldn't leave anything up to luck when playing Super Mario Kart. My main issue with this game is that 5 laps is 2 too many. The courses are short enough that having 5 laps isn't too big of a problem, but 5 still seems like too much.

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You have many characters to choose from in Super Mario Kart. The basic four from Super Mario Bros. 2 are all here; Mario, his brother Luigi, Princess Toadstool, and the not-so-loveable Toad. Yoshi the dinosaur returns from Super Mario World to take part in the kart racing, as well. Bowser is also a selectable character, and this is probably the first Mario game that allows you to play as the king of Koopas. Speaking of Koopas, a regular Koopa Troopa is also available as a playable character. The last character is Donkey Kong Jr. and he feels kind of out of place here. Each character has their own statistics, which aren't visible to the player, but is noticeable when playing the game. Light-weight characters like Toadstool and Toad have low top speeds but high acceleration, whereas heavy-weight characters like Bowser and Donkey Kong Jr. have low acceleration and high top speeds. Mario and Luigi are the balanced duo, having medium performance all around. Koopa Troopa seems to specialize in handling tight turns, which makes him the ideal pick for those courses with lots of twists and turns. In other words, picking characters is more than just going with your favorites; character selection actually has a significant impact on game play. It's a good idea to give all the characters a try until you find one that you're particularly good with. The neat thing is that each character's personality is sort of reflected in their play style. Super Mario Kart's selection of colorful characters of different performances is quite nice.

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What separates Super Mario Kart from other conventional racing games are the items. Throughout every course are flat boxes on the ground, and riding over these boxes will give you a random item. These items are consumable and as such, will vanish once you use them. At that point, you'll have to wait until you ride over another block to get another item. Items will either give you a temporary beneficial effect, or they'll hinder other racers in some manner. The items include things like mushrooms that give you a sudden boost of speed, green shells that can be fired at other races as harmful projectiles, red shells that home in on the nearest opposing racer, stars that give you temporary invincibility, and so on. There's a bit of strategy involved in when you decide to use the items, as there is a right time to use every item. The feather, for instance, can be used to jump over large gaps that normally can't be cleared with your normal hop. Something that's a little unfair is that the CPU racers don't abide by the same rules you do when it comes to items. Each computer controlled racer will always have access to a particular item, regardless of the circumstances. They can use these items at any time, and will often do so at crucial moments. For example, CPU Luigi almost always uses a star when he's right next to you, in hopes that he can smash you into pieces. Your only advantage against this is that you can easily predict what item every racer will have, but it's still pretty lame. The items in Super Mario Kart do spice up what otherwise would be dull races, so they're ultimately appreciated.

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A burning question a lot of people will have when they first play Super Mario Kart is, "What do those blasted coins do?" Collecting gold coins is actually very important, although it may not seem like it at first. Your top speed gradually increases as you collect coins. That means the more coins you have, the faster your top speed will be. Your top speed maxes out at 10 coins, though you can continue collecting coins past 10. The purpose behind having more than 10 coins is that you sometimes lose coins, so it's a good idea to stockpile on as many coins as possible. You lose coins if you get hit by an item, fall down a pit, crash into other races, and basically anything that consists of harm coming your way. Because of that, it's not only imperative that you collect coins, but also imperative that you avoid any and all hazardous situations. Coins can mean the difference between victory and defeat, making them the single most important thing in winning races. The speed increases they grant may not be noticeable if you aren't paying close attention, but trust me, you'll notice it on the game's harder races. Every coin counts when you're on the hardest cup on the highest difficulty setting. The coin mechanic is something that's absent in most of the future Mario Kart games, but it adds a nice amount of depth to the racing in Super Mario Kart.

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There are three cups in Super Mario Kart, with a fourth one that can be unlocked if you're really good at the game. In order of easiest to hardest, the cups are as follows: the Mushroom Cup, Flower Cup, Star Cup, and Special Cup. The Special Cup can only be unlocked if you get first place in the first three cups on a higher difficulty than normal. A time trial mode is also available if you want to go it alone and see how fast you can complete any individual track. The various cups all have different courses of varying difficulties. How challenging a given course is tends to depend on what gimmicks can be encountered on it. In addition to looking different, each course has its own gimmick to contend with. You've got standard fare courses with paved roads, some more exotic stuff like courses with slippery ice, and then some really dangerous, lava filled ones like Bowser's Castle. I'm not sure if Bowser should be allowed to ride on his own course. Wouldn't that count as home field advantage? I think my personal favorite of the courses are the beach ones. There's just something serene about racing around a beach in a kart. And yes, this game is where the infamous Rainbow Road originated from. Rainbow Road is the final course on the final cup of the game, and as such, is the hardest course of the game. It's a course entirely without rails, so you can fall off anywhere and everywhere. You could say it's off the rails. All the courses in the game have the flat Mode-7 look, but they look nice beyond that. Super Mario Kart has lots of courses with a nice sprinkle of variety.

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Super Mario Kart has three difficulty modes to choose from, all of them representing different engine sizes; 50cc, 100cc, and 150cc. In case you're not up on your car terminology, the "cc" stands for cubic centimeters. The bigger engine sizes mean faster karts, but the AI of the other racers also get a lot better on the higher modes. I'm not sure why bigger engine sizes would equate to that. Maybe the engine is the computer's CPU? Either way, the game gets substantially harder on the higher difficulty settings. I never would have guessed. The increased kart speed makes it easier to accidentally ram into walls and to spin out of control, so the increase in speed isn't exactly a good thing. I should note that it's not only your kart that gets an increase in speed, but also the kart of every other racer. Things get a lot more frantic as a result of this. The game has a bad case of rubber band AI, so the higher difficulty modes can be infuriating. No matter how many times you blast Luigi with red shells, he always seems to get right back on his feet. Don't even get me started on Rainbow Road on 150cc. If you're looking for a challenge, then look no further than Super Mario Kart's 150cc setting.

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If you have a friend, then you're in luck, because Super Mario Kart has a couple of multiplayer modes available. The first one is your standard versus mode Grand Prix, which consists of you and a buddy going up against each other in a standard cup race with other computer controlled racers. This is a pretty fun mode that almost feels like co-op, because not only are you going up against each other, but you're also going up against other racers. The second mode is more or less the same thing, but it's a one-on-one race between you and another human being on any course of your choosing. It's kind of like a time trial, except you get to challenge a friend. The last mode is one that became popular in all future Mario Kart iterations. What I'm talking about is the battle mode. This mode of battle foregoes racing entirely and instead opts to go for a one-on-one fight to the death. Each player is given three balloons, which symbolizes the player's health, and the objective is to use items to hit the opposing player until he or she is out of balloons. The last one standing wins. This mode has the potential to be really fun. Unfortunately, due to the way items work in Super Mario Kart, the battle mode isn't as good as in the future games. Players will usually end up in stalemates that last for centuries, because neither one will be able to damage the other. It's really easy to avoid items, and the item boxes only resupply themselves once they've all been used, so a single match can take forever. For this reason, the two-player racing matches are actually the better deal, since those won't last an eternity. Super Mario Kart's multiplayer is flawed, but it can still be fun from time to time.

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Super Mario Kart is a pretty big deal when it comes to racing games. It practically birthed the mascot kart racer genre, spawning tons of imitators across many generations and platforms. The frantic races provide a lot of entertainment and challenge. Super Mario Kart's multiplayer modes might not have the kick that the newer games have, but its single player mode is much more balanced. Super Mario Kart is often touted as the best in the Mario Kart franchise. That could be nostalgia talking, but it's still an excellent racing game regardless.

Word Count: 2,549

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