Mario Kart: Super Circuit is the third installment in the combat racing series Mario Kart and was released on the Game Boy Advance. This review will be assuming you’re familiar with the series in general or have taken the time to read my Super Mario Kart review for reference. The general concept of playing is about the same as Super Mario Kart, as are most of the mechanics. Here you have a few modes of play to pick from including grand prix, time trial, and quick run. Time trial has you racing on a track of your choosing, equipped with only a mushroom for the entire race. You don’t race other racers but rather try to get your best time on each track. Quick run gives you the ability to select any track and race on it against a full set of computer players. Once again, the 50cc, 100cc, and 150cc engine classes are available for difficulty setting. I believe there are multiplayer capabilities, however I lacked others to play with and the proper cables to try out this mode so I cannot comment on it other than mention how that is rather prohibitive, especially these days.
Grand prix is obviously the main event of any Mario Kart game, serving as the real meat and potatoes of the gameplay. You can select from four different cups, each containing four tracks each that you must complete in order. Placing too low will get you disqualified and you’ll be offered a limited number of continues to retry the lost race. Placing high enough will allow you to move on to the next race. Complete all four in a high enough place to win and earn a trophy based on your overall place, which is determined by score. The higher you place, the more points you get. You are also ranked on your performance as well consisting of letters an all the way up to stars. Completing the four cups will unlock a fifth cup of races. After completing all of the cups in an engine class with a gold trophy, you can go back and try to earn a total of 100 coins in each in order to unlock a bonus cup full of four Super Mario Kart tracks for a grand total of 40 tracks throughout the game.
The coins make a return here and function much in the same way as they did in Super Mario Kart, however they seem a bit more plentiful. Also the game has technical improvements over the SNES counterpart, taking advantage of voice clips of the characters as well as the spritework from Mario Kart 64. All of the Super Circuit tracks are done in three laps while the Super Mario Kart tracks are five. The items you can use during the races include red and green koopa shells which are either singular or in threes, single banana peels, single mushrooms, stars, lightning bolts, blue shells, and boos. These all have effects you are most likely familiar with, though getting hit in this game has you losing coins in the process. You also don’t seem to have a max coin count, so you can potentially get up to 55 in each track to keep incrementally increasing the top speed of your kart. It’s also possible to unlock Waluigi as a racer, along with some new title screens, however I’m not entirely clear on the criteria as I’m admittedly not skilled enough to get them. I believe this requires gold trophies in all cups on all difficulties as well as top ranks in each as well. Also, it seems the tailwind boosts are not present in this game, as far as I could find. That’s about it. Pretty standard stuff.
Now I think this game should get a little praise for being the first handheld Mario Kart. That’s pretty neat and rather ambitious… even if I don’t think holds much water now. There are some aspects that I think still do. I like the simplified kart stats when selecting characters that give you an idea what they race like without overwhelming you. The overall control of the game, as well as the presentation, feels like a fixed version of Super Mario Kart. The visuals don’t have the same stretching and skewing that made distance and hitboxes to confusing, and it feels overall less slippery to control. The inclusion of all those Super Mario Kart tracks is very impressive, even if they are missing a few bells and whistles. The extra detail and voice acting is a nice touch and it’s cool to get what feels more or less like a direct sequel to Super Mario Kart. Plus, the ranking system, time trials, and unlockables will keep many busy trying to perfect their playing. So there’s a lot to like here.
However, I found things to dislike as well. I already mentioned the barrier to entry on the multiplayer. The ranking system is left unexplained to the point where I don’t entirely understand what it takes to get a better rank most of the time. The unlockable Super Mario Kart tracks are great, but the fact that you have to finish with a gold trophy in all of the cups first, then go back and redo all of the races again getting 100 coins is just asking a bit much. That’s already 20 races twice, times three different engine classes for a total of, at minimum, 120 races to unlock them all. It’s pretty difficult when you consider that you can potentially lose too many coins per race and make success impossible. You can’t get all the coins at the same time you get the trophy either. It HAS to be afterwards. And it seems rough that some of the coins are very hard to get to while nearly every mistake will have you losing coins permanently. If you hit a stage hazard, fall off the track, get hit by an item, slip out, or even so much as run into another racer you’ll lose coins. This adds up fast and is hard to recover from. The controls could stand some more tweaking still to help with that. And once you DO unlock the bonus tracks, they aren’t going to be as tough as they were to get so they serve as more of a reward than an extended rise in the challenge. The AI seems typically annoying for the series with 50cc being too easy and 150cc being unfair. The visual enhancements are nice, but some of the extra detail on such a small screen can be hard to appreciate or even decipher in some cases. Not to mention that if you’re on the standard GBA it’s pretty dim and difficult to see. So it certainly isn’t without its flaws.
All that being said, I wouldn’t say Mario Kart: Super Circuit is a lost cause. It’s just hard to recommend. There are better Mario Kart games out there. Even for handheld ones you have Mario Kart DS, Mario Kart 7, Super Mario Kart on the New Nintendo 3DS, and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on the Switch. Once the Switch gets its virtual console service in place I’m sure you can get others on there too. But, if you have a Game Boy Advance or a Nintendo DS, you’re a fan of Super Mario Kart, or you’re just a fan of Mario Kart in general and would like to see this stage in the evolution of the series then it’s worth a look. However, I’d suggest trying to get it for 10 bucks or less. Not sure much it’d run you depending on where you get it, but that would be my recommendation. Maybe 15 at most if you’re REALLY interested. It’s interesting, but I just don’t know that you’ll be coming back to it as much as the other installments in the series. What’s so super about this circuit anyway?