Console: Super NES Company: Nintendo of America Release Date: October 1992 Genre: Racing Number of Players: 1 or 2 Save Feature? Yes
When I first bought my Super NES, I carefully and painstakingly put together a short list of games that I wanted to own. As you can probably imagine, Super Mario Kart was near the top of my list. Although the game's graphics and cheerful tunes are charming in their own right, it's the timeless gameplay that allows this game to stand the test of time so well. When it comes to old-school fun with a friend, Super Mario Kart is money in the bank!
Overview: Since so many people are already familiar with this great game, I will try to be simple and to the point. Simply put, Super Mario Kart was the game that ignited the "go-kart" craze that continues to thrive even today. Future hits such as Crash Team Racing and Crash Nitro Kart (for the PSOne and PS2 consoles respectively) along with the plethora of Super Mario Kart sequels that span a wide variety of consoles can thank this game for their very existence.
Regarding the gameplay itself, Super Mario Kart contains elements of traditional racing games along with a multitude of unique features which make the game so darn appealing! For one thing, each track contains a plethora of question blocks which provide a wide assortment of special items/abilities for your character to use/obtain. Although many earlier racing games also enabled you to use ultra-cool weapons (R.C. Pro-Am for one), I felt that Super Mario Kart was the first racing game to really incorporate this feature in a way that made the game so much fun to play time and time again. Simply putting the pedal to the metal is only half the battle in SMK. You'll have to use items like turtle shells (green ones shoot forward or can be laid to trip up pesky tailgators...red ones act like heat-seeking missiles!), mushrooms (give your cart a quick burst of speed...highly underrated these items are), and feathers (allow you to jump over annoying obstacles) like a master unless you want to wind up on the scrap heap. As you can imagine, the "special item" feature makes SMK a very fun game to play (or even to simply watch!).
Another feature that differentiates SMK from your average racer is the ability to "power slide." With practice, you can learn to slide around corners like a pro instead of simply turning (and losing speed in the process). This feature really makes the game a lot of fun! Although some characters like Koopa Troopa don't really need to power slide (he corners very well), some of the big lugs like DK Jr. are incredible at power sliding. I'll talk about power sliding a little more in the "Play Control" section.
One important aspect of any racing game is the various tracks themselves. Thankfully, the tracks throughout Super Mario Kart have just enough variety to keep your interest for a long period of time. Granted, there are a lot of repeats (tracks that are similiar in structure with a few minor additions) but overall, I was pleased with the variety of tracks. They each have a distinct "feel." Ghost Valley is very slick, Vanilla Ice (no pun intended to you 80s vets) is extremely slick, and traction is thick as a knife in Bowser's Castle. You also have the Mario Circuits and Donut Plains (some of these tracks require exceptional power sliding to survive!)
Graphics: Back in 1992, everyone was raving about the Mode 7 capabilities of the Super NES. It was just so cool back in the day to see the screen rotate so smoothly! :) Although primitive by today's standards, the graphics in Super Mario Kart were very impressive when the game was first released. That being said, it should be noted that the graphics weren't perfect either. Some of the background effects seem to be, for lack of a better term, "fuzzy." The good thing is that this doesn't distract from the gameplay in any way. The outstanding character animation more than makes up for this. I really enjoyed the various celebrations and animations during turning and passing obstacles (your character actually looks behind his/her kart). It's exactly what you would expect in a Mario game.
Music: The music in Super Mario Kart is pretty typical for a Mario game. Most of the music has a friendly feel (e.g. Donut Plains) and even the tracks that try to sound eerie and serious (e.g. Ghost Valley and Bowser's Castle) seem funny for some reason. Personally, I've always liked the peaceful Koopa Beach theme and the finality of the Rainbow Road tune. Although there are some excellent tunes in SMK, nothing really strikes you as being truly outstanding or jaw-dropping. Still, the music provides a very nice backdrop to the fast and furious gameplay and, compared to even the newest racing games on the market, it truly does hold its own.
Even the sound effects deserve high marks. The engine sounds are good although not quite as good as F-Zero (which was incredible in this aspect). However, the sound of hitting someone with a shell or of someone slipping on a banana peel is simply hilarious! I always laugh when I hear that sound...unless I'm the one tripping up! It's funny how "Marioesque" this game is even though it's a racing game.
Play Control: Super Mario Kart's brightest spot just might be its stellar play control. It's just one of those games that anyone can pick up and get good at right away! True mastery takes months or even years, however. You can't really appreciate the play control until you learn how to power slide. Since each character varies in acceleration, turning ability, and top speed, some karts are harder to use as well. If you select someone with low acceleration and below average turning abilities like DK Jr. or Bowser before trying Toad or Mario, you'll probably hate the play control at first. It also takes time to learn how to use your special items effectively (Believe it or not, I didn't know that you could actually lay green turtle shells for years!) With time and experience, however, you'll probably come to love the controls just as much as I have.
Challenge: When I first played Super Mario Kart, I wasn't sure how it would score in this category. After all, aren't all Mario games supposed to be somewhat on the easy side? After playing this game on the 100cc and 150cc levels, I have reached my decision. This game can be very, very difficult!! Even downright scary...especially on the Special Cup tracks. You have to be nearly perfect in those races to simply place in the Top 3! However, that doesn't necessarily mean that the game is too hard. It just means that you have to perform extremely well if you want that gold trophy shaped like Mario's head! However, it should be noted that since there are three challenge levels available in SMK, every gamer should be able to find his/her niche in terms of the right difficulty level.
Storyline: It is very difficult to critique the story of Super Mario Kart because there really is none! Since that is the case, I will not give SMK a rating in this category. However, it should be noted that eight characters from video game fame have suddenly had an interest in go-kart racing. Mario and Luigi were the first to catch racing fever. Bowser couldn't resist the opportunity to actually beat Mario at something while Donkey Kong Jr. grew tired of his single-screen adventures (and appears in a video game for the first time in years). Yoshi and Koopa Troopa simply want to show the world that they are not simply Mario and Bowser's lackeys (or perhaps they just want to race with their friends), and Princess Toadstool can't resist a chance to finally be in the limelight. Needless to say, bringing together all of these popular video game stars could have some very interesting results indeed.
Funfactor: Like almost every other Mario game, Super Mario Kart is a blast to play! With so many different tracks, special items, and secret shortcuts, SMK simply screams fun. Typical of racing games, SMK is at its best in the two player mode. The added "human" factor really makes the game interesting. The Battle Mode is a blast as well! With four different tracks and question blocks galore, you can have a great time busting up your friends (then making up afterwards of course). We're talking about virtually unlimited replay value here! Although F-Zero might have better graphics and music than Super Mario Kart, SMK has more variety and the 2 player mode that F-Zero should have had. In the end, SMK has to be my favorite racing game of any kind for the Super NES and that's saying something!
Negatives: While the graphics in Super Mario Kart are nice and clear for the most part, they do tend to get "fuzzy" at times. Also, it would have been nice to see just a teensy-weensy more variety in the racing tracks themselves (4 Mario Circuits seemed one or two too many.) However, it must be noted that these "negatives" are very minimal and have absolutely no effect on the gameplay.
Ratings: Graphics: 4.2 Music: 4.1 Play Control: 4.8 Challenge: 4.5 Storyline: N/A Funfactor: 5.0* Overall Score: 22.6 out of 25.0 (4.52 average) Overall Rating: Golden Classic!!
Back to Super NES SpecialLast Updated: June 2, 2006