Super Mario Kart is a Mario-themed combat racing game by Nintendo for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. It is the first in the series of Mario Kart games so I should go over the basics, but before I do that I’d like to address a few things quickly. I played this on the Wii U virtual console. I was not skilled enough to unlock 150cc or the Special Cup races but I DID play the tracks in time trial mode. I had no one else to play with so I’ll unfortunately be unable to cover the multiplayer at all. I also think it’s important to understand that I didn’t grow up with this game like many who are about to read this. Keep all of that in mind when considering this review’s information and opinions. Now that we’re all buckled up, let’s hit the road! See? I can pretend like I’m clever.
Super Mario Kart is a racing game. The main grand prix mode is where you’ll likely start. Pick your difficulty, which starts with only the choices of 50cc or 100cc. The higher the engine class, the faster everyone will move through the tracks. Higher engine classes also mean your enemies will be more aggressive. You then select your racer from a small variety of Mario characters. You have Mario, Luigi, Peach, Toad, Bowser, Donkey Kong Jr., Koopa Troops, and Yoshi. Each one performs a little differently and has their own victory music when you win a race. Next you pick a cup. There’s Mushroom Cup, Flower Cup, and Star Cup at first with an unlockable Star Cup for beating all the cups in 100cc with a gold trophy. Each cup consists of 5 tracks played in a row. Each race is 5 laps long. Depending on your place you get different amounts of points for each. First place in a race is 9 points. Second place is 6 points. Third is 3 points. Fourth is 1. Anything less than that awards no points at all and will force you to retry or give up. If you run out of lives and rank out, you’ll have to start all the way over from the first race.
The main racing mechanics are rather basic. You have an acceleration button, a brake button, and even a button that allows you to perform hops when pressed and drifts when held during a turn. Along the way you try to stay on the track, avoid obstacles, and can pick up coins that will increase your top speed. Then there are the combat mechanics. There are item boxes along the paths that will give you a randomly generated item. The odds what item it will be depend on your current place in the race. There’s a mushroom that will give you a temporary speed boost. The star will give you a lesser speed boost but also temporarily makes you invincible as well. Banana peels can be placed behind you or tossed forward and make racers spin out on contact. Green shells can be placed behind you in a similar fashion but shot forward and will bounce off of walls until hitting a racer or destructible obstacle. Red shells can’t be placed behind you but when shot forward will seek out the closest player in front of you. The feather gives you a one-time super jump that can hop over obstacles, racers, and even leap across shortcuts. The lightning bolt temporarily shrinks all other racers which slows them down and makes them susceptible to being squished when hit. The ghost powerup makes the player temporarily untouchable and has a chance to steal another racer’s currently held item. There’s also a coin item which will simply give the racer a few extra coins when used. Beyond these, there are a few items that only certain AI units can create. Yoshi eggs and fireballs will cause a racer to spin out on contact and poison mushrooms will cause a racer to shrink on contact. Getting hit usually results in losing some coins as well, though getting enough coins in a race can grant a 1up. Also, heavier racers or ones using boosts can knock coins out of other racers with a good collision. It’s racing. It’s fighting. It’s Mario. It’s Super Mario Kart!
There’s a time trial mode which lets you race on any track without opposition or items simply to try and get the best time and/or lap time. These records will be recorded as well. I can’t speak much for the multiplayer modes aside from what they are. Grand prix can be done with two players much to the same effect as single player except that only one of the two racers much place above fifth in order to progress. Match race is the same type of thing as grand prix but strictly for two players head to head, no computer opponents, and a few added obstacles. Battle mode places the two racers in arena style levels where the object is to grab items and hit the opponents in order to pop their balloons. Each one has three balloons and the last man standing wins. That’s pretty much all there is in this package.
I do think this game has some decent, humble beginnings for the series. The music is kind of catchy and it’s all very colorful. The use of Mario characters, items, and locations makes it feel like more of a Mario racing game than just some racing game with a Mario skin. The coin mechanic adds some more weight to the already interesting combat system as they both severely change up how you win a race. You need to learn the track, learn how to handle your kart, and understand the items to really do well in this game. The amount of tracks is pretty nice and the battle mode is such a fun addition to really show off the combat aspects of the game. Oh, and this is before all that blue shell business that can sometimes plague later installments. So the balance feels pretty good in terms of items and rubber banding.
The thing is, I have a lot of issues with this game. I’m not the biggest fan of the SNES aesthetic in general, but the visuals of this game are more than an issue of personal taste. The pseudo 3D perspective was very impressive for the time, but it’s not the early 90’s anymore. The awkward stretching and skewing of the visuals to make it appear closer or further in terms of a representation of 3D space make it very hard to judge distances and spatial relation. What I mean is that it’s often hard to tell if I’m going to hit or miss something until I actually do. Sometimes I feel like I’m lined up perfectly only to have myself or my item go seemingly right through the target with no effect. Other times I feel like I’m a good distance away from an obstacle yet it still manages to slip right under me like a magnet anyway. It was something that never really worked itself out the more I played. The handling of the karts did get better as I went along, but even that is still slippery at best. You just kind of have to learn how to best slip and slide your way to staying on the track. I swear the turning is the worst offender because within a fraction of a second you can underturn or overturn and it will completely change your positioning far more than it feels like it ever should. Maybe this is just me being bad at the game, which I am, but the thing is that it never felt like it was MY fault that I fucked up. It felt like the game just decided to work differently when I was doing damn near the exact same thing. It also lacks some creativity with the levels. The tracks are all different but they are largely just big flat horizons and multiple tracks use the same assets and recycled names with merely changing a number to help differentiate. I also am still miffed that they not only lock 150cc difficulty from you at the start, but they also don’t even allow you to play the Special Cup courses from the get-go nor in 50cc AT ALL. It just feels like an artificial barring to the less skilled players rather than a reward for the ones with more skills. I think that I should also bring up that the lack of the blue shell is tarnished by the fact that enemies will just randomly get items for no reason. They don’t take item boxes since those don’t respawn. Same for the coins. Only players seem to be able to interact with these. BUT the computer opponents can infinitely just spawn items out of nowhere. I got three Yoshi eggs in a row lobbed up at me in a stretch where there were no item boxes. Not only that, but the fact that some computers get to use items that you as the player can’t ever get it just completely unfair and annoying. So let’s not praise this game’s balancing and fairness too prematurely.
Let’s face it, Super Mario Kart was never perfect and hasn’t aged well. Mario Kart: Super Circuit on the Game Boy Advance fixes the visual and control issues AND has all of these tracks included as bonus unlockables in ADDITION to all of its own courses. I feel later installments have also done much better, so it’s hard to recommend this one. If you want to give it a peek then try to get it on Wii, Wii U, or New Nintendo 3DS for under 10 bucks. If you want the real deal then I could only recommend that to big SNES fans or big Mario Kart fans. And even then I’d only say go 15 bucks at most, though I somehow doubt you’ll get it that cheap. It’s not a must-own or a must-try in my book. It’s more of an interesting historical piece for the franchise. I’m glad I played as much as I did to give it an honest shot, but I can’t see myself picking it up much ever again outside of someone else requesting to play. If you’re just a general game fan looking for a Mario Kart to get you into the series, please don’t start here. Do yourself a favor and stick with one of the later installments. You’ll be happy you did.