Racing games aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, as gamers usually expect realism and serious competition. Super Mario Kart took already established and loved characters and put them in a family-friendly racing game. The result was the beginning of a huge series of games that saw children and adults alike competing for hours in heated but fun and entertaining tournaments. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Super Mario Kart!
SMK is a kart racing game developed and published by Nintendo. It was released in North America and Japan in 1992, and Europe in 1993 on the SNES. It was later released on the Wii Virtual Console in 2009, and the Wii U Virtual Console in 2013. For this review, I played the version found on the SNES Mini.
This is a racing game with a difference. You can choose from eight classic Mario characters including Mario, Luigi, Toad, Donkey Kong Jr, Bowser, Princess Peach, Yoshi and Koopa Troopa. Each character has different characteristics, e.g., Top speed, acceleration and handling. You then race on a number of tracks based on Super Mario World (Donut Plains, Ghost House and Bowser’s Castle etc.). Throughout the race you can pick up various weapons and power-ups such as turtle shells, banana skins and super stars to assist you.
SMK has two, one-player modes. The first is Mario Kart GP which is divided into two kart speeds: 50cc and 100cc. You can also unlock a 150cc mode when you win all the trophies from 100cc mode. Each kart speed has three trophies to attain: The Mushroom Cup, The Flower Cup and the Star Cup. The more challenging 100cc option also adds The Special cup which contains tougher race tracks. Each cup consists of five, five-lap races. Depending on where you finish in the races will depend on how many points you accrue. The racer with the highest amount of points at the end of the cup competition will determine who wins the trophy. If a racer finishes between 5th to 8th then the player will lose a life and will have to race that track again. You can gain extra lives by finishing in the same position three races in a row.
The second one-player mode is the Time Trial Mode. It’s pretty self-explanatory, you simply race each track and try to gain the fastest time possible.
Although one-player mode is fun and challenging, this game really comes into its own in two-player mode. Hours of swearing at your best mate and calling them “cheating bastards” as I recall from my youth when I’d lose.
In two-player mode, you and a friend can compete in Mario Kart GP, Match Race and Battle Mode. In two-player mode, the same rules apply for Mario Kart GP as in one-player mode, but you compete simultaneously via split-screen. In Match Race you can pick and choose which tracks you wish to compete on for a single race without other CPU racers.
Battle mode is also head to head and sees each racer begin with three balloons spinning around their kart. You have a choice of four arenas in which you can pick up weapons and power-ups and attack your opponent. The first player that has all their balloons popped, loses. All of these features give the game loads of replay value.
Wikipedia claims that in an interview with Super Mario Kart creator Shigeru Miyamoto, that SMK was originally developed as an experiment to see if they could create a game capable of displaying the same game on the same screen simultaneously. Whilst I have heard this before, sadly, I haven’t been able to verify this quote, as Wikipedia’s links are broken. If this is true, then this experiment was fortuitous for Nintendo because it culminated in the creation of one of the most popular sub-series of games ever created, with the initial instalment selling over 8 million copies.
If you would like to learn more about the origins of Super Mario Kart, I can recommened listening to episode 17 of season 2 of The Life and Times of Video Games podcast.
How Does It Handle?
What can I say? This game is great! The gameplay is easy to learn. A nice little touch, to stop you dominating the grid all the time, is that if you are in first place, you will get less effective power-ups and weapons. The further back in the pack your are, the better your weapons and power-ups.
The graphics are bright and colourful. Each character is unique and easily identifiable. The tracks are designed in Mode 7 which lends itself very well to these types of games (although nowadays looks a bit low-res).
The music sounds perfect for the game. The title music has a fun Caribbean beat to it.
I had a blast revisiting this game, and it was as fun as I remembered. My blood was pumping as I scraped wins, and dodged banana skins. My favourite character to play with is Yoshi. I tried other players too (I really dislike playing with Bowser and Donkey Kong Jr) and found that I also like playing with Mario and Koopa Troopa.
Did I Complete The Game?
Although I completed 50cc mode, as of yet I cannot seem to win the Star Cup in 100cc mode.
What The Critics Said:
Electronic Gaming Monthly: “This is the best driving game to come along for some time. Mario Kart may look like an F-Zero clone on the surface, but there are many interesting upgrades ranging from power-ups to special combat battle modes using a split-screen layout. Replay options and plenty of tracks add to the appeal of this super game. Overall 8.5/10”.
Gamerpro: “Here’s one that’s a winner. Super Mario Kart makes wheel-spinning, bumper-grinding, motor racing actually cute! The little guys definitely have a lot of drive. Overall 4.75/5”.
Electronic Games: “Super Mario Kart has a fast-paced feelwith plenty of in-depth play. While the gameplay isn’t totally revolutionary, the action does deviate from what we’ve been exposed to in the past to make this new driving adventure something worthwhile to add to the collection, whether you’re a fan of driving titles, or Mario. Overall 93%”.
Superplay: Matt Bielby – “Quite simply the best racing game yet on the Super Nintendo, and one of the funniest, most playable ones on any system. The balloon-bursting option is a delight! Guaranteed to be one of the most played carts in the Superplay office for the rest of the year. Overall 93%”.
Superplay: Jonathon Davies – “Everything we could have hoped for, and more. It’s completely impossible to fault. In fact, this is the sort of thing the Super Nintendo is all about – sheer perfection (ahem). (Make sure you find yourself a decent opponent, though). Overall 93%“.
“A simple concept but a fantastically fun game, especially in two-player mode, that will keep you coming back for more. Tons of replay value, with countless evenings with friends and family is what this game is all about.”
What are your memories of Super Mario Kart? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.
 (14th April 2010). ‘IGN’s Top 100 Games of All Time – Super Mario Kart’. http://www.top1ign.100.com. https://web.archive.org/web/20120414133232/http://top100.ign.com/2007/ign_top_game_23.html Accessed 24th February 2020).
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