Super Mario Kart (SNES) Review

When I saw six new DLC packs for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe I was really excited to play the new (to me, having never touched Mario Kart Tour) tracks and returning retro tracks so I thought about covering the old games those tracks come from, then realised that I’ve played (to death) six Mario Kart games not including 8 so my mind immediately made a marathon out of it, naturally! Each day a new “Mario Kart 8 Booster Pack” comes out I’ll throw up a review of a Mario Kart game, in order of release. Then I guess I’ll put up a review of 8 for completionists sake… Anyway! Super Mario Kart is one of those rare games that you can point at and say “This game innovated an entire genre” and to top it off it was great to play despite being the first of its kind. What it’s like to play now? Well…

Background:

It’s good to see a Lakitu has found a job that doesn’t involve throwing spikey creatures at people.

Super Mario Kart was released on August 27th 1992 in Japan with a US release a week later on September 1st and the UK getting it the month after that, quite a quick turn-around for a game back then! It was then ported to the Virtual Console for Wii, Wii U, 3DS and the equivalent app for the Switch, plus it was part of the game line-up for the SNES Mini console.

As mentioned this was the first “Kart Racer”, complete with weapons to attack your fellow racer with, weapons that are often duplicated in later mascot-led Kart Racers. The line up of racers was a simple selection of eight: Mario, Luigi, Peach, Yoshi, Toad, Bowser, a Koopa Troopa and Donkey Kong Jr. rather than DK himself, which is interesting. It was pre-Donkey Kong Country though, so I guess it made sense at the time. Tracks-wise we have courses based on Super Mario World locations (Donut Plains, Haunted House, Choco Island, and Bowser’s Castle) alongside a generic “Mario Circuit” set and some Ice and Beach levels, finishing with the first ever Rainbow Road course…

Gameplay:

I get it’s supposed to be chocolate, but man these tracks are unpleasant on the eyes…

At its heart the gameplay is a simple race: pick your character (each one has different stats with heavier characters slower to accelerate but have a better top speed, light characters the reverse, and a few characters in the middle) and race around the track for five laps and try and come first. Obviously there’s more to the gameplay, especially Power Sliding, which here is a lot trickier than it is in later games thanks to the 2D graphics, but basically your hold a shoulder button to spin the course around you as you turn a corner (I mean it’s supposed to be sliding really fast but the Mode-7 graphics make it feel like your turning the track with the shoulder buttons instead…) but do it too much and your spin-out. It’s … annoying after the smoothness of current games, but at the time it was cool. You can also hop which can give you a small boost if you turn while hopping as landing will propel you forward a bit. Again, tricky, but once you get the hang of it you can do some impressive lap times.

Throughout the tracks there are power-up squares on the ground that can give you a weapon to attack fellow racers with, that being the Banana Peel (stationary object placed on the track), Green Shell (thrown projectile), Red Shell (Homing throwing projectile), Mushroom (Speed Boost), Feather (Kart does a twisting jump that avoids incoming shells and can be used to take shortcuts), Lightning (shrinks all other Karts on the tracks and makes them slower) and the Star (Makes you invincible and able to spin opponents out by touching them). There is also the Boo, which makes you unable to be hit and steals an opponent’s weapon, but that’s exclusive to the Battle Mode, and each of the characters have a special item that only the CPU can use, including fireballs for Bowser, a stationary Yoshi Egg for Yoshi, and a poison mushroom for Peach and Toad. As mentioned the player can use the items to take specifically created shortcuts, or ones found by dedicated players that the developers didn’t intend.

Well… I know who’s about to win this confrontation!

There are three main modes in Super Mario Kart: GP, Time Trial and Battle Mode. In GP you (or you and a friend) compete in one of four cups in one of three difficulty/speed levels: 50cc, 100cc and 150cc. The fourth cup, Special Cup, in unlocked by completing the previous three in 100cc, and then 150cc mode in unlocked by completing all four cups on 100cc. SMK also has the rare thing of knocking you out of the cup entirely if you don’t at least place fourth in a race, which can be frustrating. Time Trials is exactly as it sounds, race around a track by yourself and try and beat the best time, and Battle Mode sees you and a fellow player fight it out in specially crafted arenas where you have a set of balloon attached to your karts that represent lives, each time you get hit by an item you lose a balloon, lose all your balloons and you lose the battle. It’s great fun, and still is to this day.

So for a 16-bit game there is a lot of replay value, especially if you have a friend / relative to play with.

Graphics and Sound:

Forgot to mention that some levels have enemies like Thwamps that get bigger as you approach them, which is a neat graphical feature.

The graphics are nice and chunky 16-bit sprites, bright and emotive, with some well-designed and equally bright (or foreboding in the case of the Haunted House or Bowser’s Castle) tracks.

The soundtrack is fantastic, extremely catchy and the soundeffects and small bits of voice work are memorable as well. A top-class SNES package!

Thoughts Then:

Trying one of the risky pond edge skips…

I remember playing this with my brother a lot, but it was mainly Battle Mode. I found the actual racing difficult, but then again I had a Mega Drive so I didn’t really play it enough by myself to get to grips with it. Loved the battle mode though, so I have fond memories of that. I did play it on sneaky emulator but beyond playing each cup I didn’t really stick with it because Double Dash!! on the Gamecube was out by that point… Still, can’t deny how great it was for the time period.

Thoughts Now:

Let’s try and end each of these reviews with a Rainbow Road picture, it just makes too much sense!

In 2022 it’s safe to say Super Mario Kart is a good example of the original not being the best, now the series has spawned so many sequels that have further refined the formula. That being said, while playing the original can be a frustrating experience, but it can also be fun due to pleasing graphics and soundtrack. Overall it’s fine, and more than deserves its place in history due to what it created, but it’s safe to say it’s not up to much more than a quick playthrough now…

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