Super Mario Kart
Ah the Super Nintendo… Home to so many of my all time favorite games such as Final Fantasy II and III, Secret of Mana, Super Mario World and F-Zero. But, there has always been one game that I think of when reminiscing about the good ‘ole SNES: Super Mario Kart. Though on the outside appearing to be a kiddie go-kart racing game, Mario Kart has some of the deepest, most addictive gameplay to be found on the SNES console. You’d never think that taking classic Nintendo characters such as Donkey Kong, Mario, Bowser and Toad, placing them into high-speed karts and racing them through various Nintendo-themed environments would be result in hundreds of hours of gameplay enjoyment, but it does.
Without a doubt, Mario Kart’s biggest asset is its extremely tight and balanced gameplay. Every character has his/her own unique handling characteristics, so it’s quite easy to find someone who fits your own personal racing style. Some characters, like Bowser, have a high top speed but accelerate very slowly. Others, like Yoshi, have lower top speeds but can accelerate extremely quickly. Also, each racer handles differently when off road and reacts differently when bumped into by other racers (based on the character’s weight). The most important characteristic of each racer is the way he/she handles around the numerous corners in the game. I found quickly that Bowser fit my style of racing perfectly, because I enjoy blazing through the tracks at high speeds and knocking the other racers out of my path.
The character balance in Mario Kart is superb because, despite the wide variance in character abilities, no one driver has an edge over another. I remember thinking that because Bowser’s top speed was the highest, and the fact that I had him nearly mastered, I could beat anyone and everyone who dared challenge me. Then I played my friend whose driver of choice was Koopa (low top speed, quick cornering). We ended up playing all night in the game’s split screen versus mode and finished with nearly identical win/loss records. Despite the huge variation in each of our preferred drivers’ abilities, neither of us could get any kind of win streak going. After that night I had a great amount of respect for the huge amount tuning and tweaking that the developers at Nintendo must have done to keep the game so balanced.
As I mentioned above, the game has a maddeningly addictive Versus mode (which, sadly, only allows two players to go at it via split screen). On top of this you can also play cooperatively in the game’s Grand Prix races and try to win a circuit against six other computer-controlled drivers. Another multiplayer mode is Battle, in which you and a friend try to pop the three balloons attached to each others’ kart. This may sound pretty mundane, but trust me — you will lose massive amounts of free time playing this mode with your friends. Oh, and you will learn to fear the words, ”Hey, So-and-so has a red shell!”
You will definitely have to master the advanced techniques in the game if you want to stand a chance against skilled players or the computer on the 150cc circuit. You have to learn how to “hop” into turns, power slide around corners and “hop” out of the turns to stop from flying off the track. Other techniques such as skipping across deep water and jumping just as you strike an object to avoid loss of speed are essential to your success at becoming a pro Super Mario Kart racer. After a hefty amount of play time, these maneuvers become like second nature and you’ll be blowing past your inexperienced friends like they didn’t exist.
In my opinion Super Mario Kart is the best example of Mode-7 on the Super Nintendo. No matter how many sprites are on screen at once the action stays smooth as butter. All the textures in the game are believable and help flesh-out the environments. The backgrounds are also well drawn and colorful and vary nicely depending on the track. Little touches like moles that leap out of holes in the ground and boos that float by are all examples of the time and energy that was put into the game. The characters themselves are simply sprites that are drawn at multiple angles, but they all look fabulous (minus some pixilation). All in all, the visuals do the SNES proud and I can’t think of very many games that with better presentation on the system.
As is the case in most Nintendo games, the audio presentation is just as excellent as the visuals. All the various exclamations made by the drivers, such as Bowser’s roar, Mario’s “Yahoo!” and Yoshi’s, umm, Yoshi noise, are extremely crisp and infuse each character with plenty of personality. By listening to the exclamations made by the drivers, you can actually tell who just ran over your banana peel even though they are completely off screen. The music includes some remixed Nintendo stuff, but much of it is original work and suits the game very well. Each track and driver even has an individual song that adds even more personality to the game (I can still hear Bowser’s victory song echoing in my head, even though I haven’t heard it in months). Also, I dig how the music speeds up during the last lap of each race. My hands always got just a little sweatier during these frantic last laps, and I partly contribute that to the change in music speed.
Super Mario Kart is one of the few games that I can still go back and play because the gameplay is just so good. The dated graphics often turn me off when playing old school titles, but it’s different with Mario Kart. It’s hard to call this game a reason to go buy a used SNES because you could just go buy the GameBoy Advance version, which has all the classic tracks plus many new ones. But, if you don’t like playing on the small GBA screen or just don’t have the handheld, then I highly recommend grabbing a used SNES and checking out Super Mario Kart. It is one of the most entertaining games to ever be released and one of my all-time favorites.
Ten out of ten