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Super Mario Kart – SNES

Super Mario Kart – SNES

Super Mario Kart - SNESPlatform:  Super Nintendo

Release Date (NA):  September 1st, 1992

Developer:  Nintendo

Publisher:  Nintendo

Genre:  Racing

Nerd Rating:  6 out of 10

It’s hard to believe that Mario Kart has been around for over 20 years now, and in that time, it’s become one of Nintendo’s most popular series.  Although a Mario spin-off visually and thematically, it has taken on quite a life of its own beyond its parent series, so much so that “Mario” and “Mario Kart” are like apples and oranges.  It all started right here with Super Mario Kart, a game that was initially conceived without the inclusion of Mario and friends (and enemies).  Mario Kart 64 may be the more talked about of the 2, but Super Mario Kart is often held in equally high regard.  I hate to be the guy that slams a classic, but if I’m being honest, this first installment just doesn’t do that much form me.

Super Mario Kart - SNES

This would be one of the last major appearances of Donkey Kong Jr.

Now before the insults and incredulous comments start rolling in, I’d like to point out that I actually like old games.  I grew up on this sort of stuff.  I don’t have ridiculous expectations for a 16-bit game.  I have an appropriate grasp on what games “were,” and what games “are.”  There just isn’t nearly as much “wow” packed into this game as others would suggest.  It’s fun and enjoyable to an extent, but it feels more like a sketch of the sequels that would follow and not necessarily a masterwork for the SNES.

Super Mario Kart - SNES

Grassland courses…

Super Mario Kart essentially invents the “kart racing” subgenre of racing by including simplified driving mechanics and adding a degree of “casual combat” to the mix.  On this level, it succeeds quite well.  The tracks are cartoony but not outlandish, the driving mechanics are simple but not insulting, and the system of powerups is relatively easy to understand.  One notable achievement is the differences that exist between each of the 8 drivers.  Ok, to be honest I’d be hard pressed to nail down the differences between all 8, though some of them are quite noticeable in terms of handling, acceleration, and overall speed.  Combat, powerups, and on-course elements are basic but functional, though I’m not convinced that Super Mario Kart achieved the balance that later installments would.

There’s nothing really wrong with the game…I suppose I just don’t feel like all the laudable components add up to anything all that special, except for perhaps the controls.  The controls are impressive for such an old racing game; it may just be a “kart racer” but there’s an appreciable level of precision when it comes to D-pad movements such as hugging long turns or using the “hop/jump” feature to segue into slides.

Super Mario Kart - SNES

…beach courses…

However, the available items don’t have nearly the impact that they would in later games.  This actually might not be so much of a bad thing, but as it happens, the items don’t have much of an impact at all.  First of all they’re spaced too few and far between.  Even if you can send another player into a spin using a shell or banana peel, it’s not likely to make a difference in the grand scheme of the race unless it occurs just a few feet short of the finish line.  Worse still, some are barely even useful.  The mushroom “boost” provides very little of an edge over the opponents since there are almost no straightaways and the boost typically sends you careening into a wall.  Red Shells, an indispensable piece of modern Mario Kart equipment, are all too often halted by walls or boundaries, or just fall off an edge before getting anywhere near the other player.

The “built-in” obstacles on some courses are also problematic.  The Thwomps, which appear on several courses, are especially hard to predict and avoid.  They’re most dangerous in their “up” position since this means they’re likely to fall at any moment; the problem is that it’s difficult to tell when they’re “up.”  There’s no indicator (like a shadow) to facilitate the prediction of these crushing blows.  The Thwomps themselves are also really small (I guess it’s supposed to be some kind of depth perception thing), and it’s tough to tell if you’re about to avoid one or slam into it.  The Monty Moles present another set of problems.  They grab onto the racer, drain them of coins, hinder speed, and it’s damn near impossible to get them to let go.

Super Mario Kart - SNES

…castle courses…

Technically Super Mario Kart sports 20 different tracks, though some are less distinguishable than others.  I suppose this is an acceptable limitation considering the technology, but that still doesn’t quite stop the repetitive feeling of racing through yet another Donut Plains or Mario Circuit.  The tracks aren’t as fun or as engaging as they would later become, containing mostly flat sections with lots of curves to negotiate.  Some are more fun than others, though I wouldn’t call any of them particularly memorable aside from Rainbow Road.

Super Mario Kart - SNES

…and finally Rainbow Road…which plays out pretty much like a Boo House course.

The graphics are touted as being among the best on the Super NES with the vaunted “Mode 7” usage.  I’m on the fence here – I’m sure the effect of having the course come into view from a distance was an impressive feat at the time, but it just ain’t much to look at these days.  The rapid scaling of the track ahead can actually be distracting and it doesn’t really provide a clear enough picture to prepare for whatever may lie ahead.  It’s tough to give an objective assessment of the graphics, mostly because of the lack of artwork in Super Mario Kart.  Besides the character sprites, most of what we’re treated to are the repetitive constituents of each course.  There’s not a lot of scenery to take in, and I’d put several other Mode 7 SNES titles above Super Mario Kart, including Super Mario World, Chrono Trigger, Secret of Evermore, and Super Castlevania IVjust to name a few.

Is this an unflattering take on Super Mario Kart?  Yeah, I guess it is.  I’ve tried to see past my initial thoughts as to how this could be “the top console game ever” (Guinness), “one of the greatest games of all time” (GameSpot), “14th best game” (Edge), or “13th best Nintendo game” (Official Nintendo Magazine), but the magic just is not clicking with me.  It’s not a bad game, and the concepts laid forth have certainly had a lasting influence, but it’s also fraught with issues that can’t be totally ignored.  I try as hard as I can to put myself back in ’92…potential for greatness?  Maybe…  Greatness achieved?  No, not really, not just yet.

Reviewed by The Cubist

Written by The Cubist

The Cubist

Co-founder, Head Author, & Site Technician

Find out what these ratings mean and how I rate video games.

I collect as much video gaming paraphernalia as I can get my hands on, especially when it comes to hardware. With over 40 systems including oldies like the ColecoVision and Intellivision, obscurities like the CD-i and 3DO, and the latest and greatest including the Wii U, PS4, Xbox One, 3DS, and PS Vita, I get easily overwhelmed. Most of the time you can find me firmly nestled sometime between 1985 and 1995 when it comes to my games of choice, but I’m also having a great time seeing what the 8th generation has to offer.

Currently in love with: Mortal Kombat

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One Comment

  1. Don’t forget the original F-Zero, a game that also used the mode-7 graphics, but was far superior visually, including diverse and detailed backgrounds, track borders, awesome obstacles, massive jumps, and more. So much unrealized potential


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