TGOJ Retro Review – Super Mario Kart

by Josh

Mario in a non-platforming game...unheard of.

With the upcoming release of Mario Kart 7 on the 3DS, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on another great classic of the annals of gaming…Super Mario Kart. This trend of reviewing “good” current and retro games will not last forever here on Three Guys One Joystick, so enjoy the kind words found in this article about Super Mario Kart.

Super Mario Kart is one of those games that makes me feel old. Released 18 years ago, I still have fond memories of that game as if it was just yesterday that I hooked up the Super NES to kick Mike’s ass in the 150cc Mario Kart GP (maybe I would pick the Mushroom Cup to give him a false sense of comfort that these first 5 tracks at the 150cc level would often present). I don’t want to bore you with all the memories this game invokes, but like every good Nintendo game from our youth, it reminds me of some great times.

The graphics blew my mind at that was 3D! Well, sorta.

If you don’t know the Mario Kart formula, I’ll lay it out in brief for you. In Super Mario Kart, and every subsequent game in the series, the player is given an option to select from one of the many different Mario characters. There are 8 characters in the first game consisting of Mario, Luigi, Peach, Bowser, Koopa Troopa, Toad, Donkey Kong Jr., and Yoshi. Each character has minor differences in control, speed and acceleration. Before you jump into a race, you must choose from Mario Kart GP, Time Trial, Match Race or Battle Mode.  All modes but Time Trial can be played head to head in split screen mode. There are 20 unique tracks to unlock (5 tracks in each of 4 circuits or ‘cups’), all playable on 3 different difficulties along with 4 unique Battle Mode tracks that presented a maze for you and one human opponent to navigate while trying to destroy each other in a Mario Kart deathmatch.  The difficulty levels (50cc, 100cc, or 150cc) affect AI difficulty and game speed. That’s basically it; if you want to know more because my explanation wasn’t good enough…read this.

Battle Mode was such a surprisingly fun and addictive game mode that my brother and I wasted many hours (nay, DAYS!) playing.

It was always a battle to be the first to an item block and then unleash hell on your opponents.

One of the more memorable aspects of this game, back in 1992 mind you, was the graphics. Although some would say this game hasn’t aged well, it was fucking mind blowing at the time! The race karts and characters were represented by colorful and detailed sprites while the track was displayed utilizing the Super NES’s Mode 7 capabilities (much like how F-Zero used Mode 7). Mode 7 gave this game a pseudo 3D effect that was very difficult for a 13 year old to wrap his brain around (my math doesn’t suck since I got this game a few months after its release the following year). I remember walking by the Super NES kiosks at Toys R Us at the time of its release and playing the demo for as long as I could before my parents dragged me out of the store. I would get home and continue to think about how insane it was to see Mario on this 3D plane…with thwomps falling down from the sky in Koopa’s Castle…being able to shoot a koopa shell at an opponent who was ahead of me down a straight away represented by a sprite that was nothing more than a speck…holy shit this 3D crap was awesome!

The tracks always presented new challenges with familiar themes from all Mario games.

Graphics aside, this game also played well. So well that even my dad was hooked on it. Never before had I seen my dad ASK us to play a video game together as a family before we owned Super Mario Kart (well, maybe one time before that with Pac Man on the Atari 2600). The controls were tight on this game. You had your basic gas and brake buttons (but no one uses the brake button in a Mario Kart game) and the control pad steered your kart. There were two additional buttons that would set this apart from other racers. One was the hop button which would allow you to hop into a power slide that allowed you to take corners without losing speed or hop could be used to quick turn as your character would turn quicker in the air as you hopped. The other control was a ‘use item’ button. Use an item? When I realized you could pick up items that were familiar to the Mario world of games…I blew a nugget. You pick up items, such as koopa shells or an invincibility star, and then you press your ‘use item’ button and unleash havoc! It was a concept that was completely new to me and would set a standard in all arcade shoot-em-up type racers there after. All these items you could collect, if used correctly, would give you an edge over your opponents. What was great about this is if you could master using these items, and be smart about it as well (yes, there was even a bit of strategy involved in the gameplay), you could be a complete douche of a racer but utilize your items to make an impressive comeback on lap 5 of any race.

Rainbow Road was a rail-less track in the sky reserved for only the most hardcore of Super Mario Kart players.

My love for this game is evident, and I don’t need to say anything else except “play this game”.  The game is great, and still stands out above all the more current Mario Kart games because of its nostalgic effect and also because it was the game responsible for creating a sub-genre of arcade racing games. We don’t have a rating system at Three Guys One Joystick except for “it sucks ass” or “this game is great”, but I’ll give Mario Kart a perfect 10 out of 10 just because I can. So go check this game out, and then jump into the more recent Mario Kart titles.  Super Mario Kart is available on the Wii’s Virtual Console.

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