After a bit of a wait, here is my latest retro review. Unfortunately I don’t do this full time and real life has a way of wasting my precious time, but tonight I thought I’d take a minute to review the classic racing game for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System: Super Mario Kart.
Released in the early years of the SNES, Super Mario Kart took Nintendo’s trademark characters and threw them into a hectic, addictive game that spawned many a sequel, and the odd rip off (Street Racer anyone?). The game was a great success; in fact most of the features you see in Mario Kart Wii come directly from the original game.
I can’t think of another franchise that has transcended genres as well as the Mario series (other than Typing of The Dead, the baffling yet ingenius House of The Dead spin-off that used zombies to aid your touch-typing skills). Platformers (the Super Mario Bros series), puzzlers (Dr Mario), art (Mario Paint), sport (Mario Golf, Mario Strikers Charged Football etc) and now racing. I’m just waiting for the day someone puts an AK-47 in his white-gloved hand and makes a first-person shooter set in the Mushroom Kingdom.
But I digress! Usually when I sit down to write a review I’ll play the game for a while to get the feel for it, and some screenshots. Tonight I’ve been playing this game for ages. Once you get used to the sensitivity of the controls (cornering is not as easy as it looks, especially when trying to avoid a banana skin or dinosaur egg) the game becomes great fun. Unlike in more recent incarnations, the characters aren’t so evenly matched here. For example, Bowser and Donkey Kong are heavy and slow, but they will win any shoving match with the other characters. The smaller characters are faster but will get pushed out of the way when they collide with bigger characters. I prefer this to the likes of Mario Kart Wii, where Toad could just as easily bash Donkey Kong out of the way.
The graphics in this game are charming to say the least. This was one of the first games to use Nintendo’s hyped up Mode 7 graphics, making it kind of 3D in places, but not quite. This is a good thing though, because in those days full-on 3D meant blocky polygons (eg. Starfox). Super Mario Kart retains the well animated graphics we had come to expect from Nintendo, as well as the cute, soppy celebratory animations when a race is won. And it still looks strangely impressive when the camera pans around your character at the start of each race…
The tracks are based mainly on levels from that other SNES classic, Super Mario World. Most of the levels from the original Super Mario Kart have been recreated in subsequent games, which either shows how good they were to start with, or how uninventive Nintendo have been in recent years… I’ll let you decide!
There are four cups to complete, each with five tracks. There are also 3 engine sizes to choose from, which caters for gamers of all abilities. As with most racing games, Super Mario Kart is best enjoyed with friends, and two-player mode is where the real fun is to be had. Tossing a red shell at a computer-controlled driver is all well and good, but smashing your mate off the course is way more satisfying!
This game can be picked up fairly cheaply on eBay these days, and since it isn’t available on Virtual Console yet, that is about the only way you can play it! Personally I think it’s well worth the purchase, if you’re into fun racing games or are a Nintendo/Mario completist.