Time Warp Thursday: RETRO REVIEW: Super Mario Kart

Time Warp Thursday: RETRO REVIEW: Super Mario Kart

Rollin' Mode 7 style.

In just one more day, we will have the newest instalment of Nintendo’s grand racing game – Mario Kart 8 for the Wii U. There is already so much hype and excitement going around that people all over the globe are already zooming to their nearest store to pre-order the next big Wii U title. While I am just as eager to play Mario Kart 8, I wanted to take a quick pit stop before I get my hands on the upcoming title by taking a look back at the original Super Mario Kart for the Super Nintendo, seeing how the game has held up, and how the franchise has grown to be as we know it today. So, everyone! Start your engines and let me drive you through this week’s edition of Time Warp Thursday with Super Mario Kart!

Where it all started.

Where it all started.

In Super Mario Kart, you can choose between eight different characters, all with their special abilities and racing styles, making them all unique. While Mario and Luigi are medium-weight racers, you also have Bowser and Donkey Kong Jr. as heavyweights – their attributes (like speed and acceleration) differ from the other tier classes. Although many racers offer special traits to their racing styles, there are some unbalancing issues. Anyone who knows about these issues go straight for Toad or Koopa – they have the best handling overall, making them a prime choice for those sharp turns. I don’t know how many times I lost just because I wanted to be Yoshi as a kid, and I never understood why I would always get beaten by everyone else. So if you’re playing competitively, make sure to choose the characters that can help you win races rather than your favourites – I made that mistake too many times as a kid, and it proved costly.

The main event for Super Mario Kart is the Grand Prix, where you and many other famous Nintendo characters race in many tracks and circuits to win the Grand Prix trophies. In this mode, you can vary the speed of the racers you will be facing off against from 50cc (easy mode) to 150cc (the hardest difficulty). While in 50cc, most of the races will feel like a cruise; the harder 150cc is no laughing matter. You can be winning a race, far ahead of the group, only to get bombarded with what all the other racers have in their arsenal to bring you all the way back to the bottom of the pack. So really make sure you have a game plan as well as a Banana Peel to help get rid of the Red Shell threats.

Forever alone.

Forever alone.

Each circuit has five unique tracks to go along with it. Most of them are very comparable in style and looks, but many small variations were made to make every track a little different from one another. The variety between each track really keeps you on your toes – all the new hazards that come with the tracks ensure that you’ll need a new strategy and planning to tackle them. Split-second decisions become a crucial element in each race; mistakes (especially between similar-looking tracks) can mean the difference between being the Grand Prix winner or restarting races all over again.

Another single-player mode called Time Trial was introduced in the game. In this mode, you can try to beat your times in each race until you are satisfied with the results. It’s nothing too special, but a fun feature for sure. Its great to see the improvement you can achieve just by playing Time Trial matches by yourself; back in the day, this was the way we prepared to best our friends in a Kart Match. I spent a whole lot of time playing this last week as a warm-up for Mario Kart 8; anybody who is planning on playing against friends soon should do it too.

Battle Mode on SNES is still a blast.

Battle Mode on SNES is still a blast.

In addition to the single-player experience, you and a friend can also enjoy the game together with the Two Player Modes offered in the game. One of the modes is the Match Race, where you and a friend can go head-to-head on any of the tracks offered from the game and see who can cross the finish line first. This mode also includes all the same hazards you’ll find in the single player Grand Prix, so having a strategy before every race is as crucial whether you’re playing alone or against your best pals.

The final featured mode is the one most people will remember from Super Mario Kart: it’s Battle Mode, where you and a friend can lash out at each other in a boxed-in arena with your karts and try to knock each other out with the many items found in the game. The racers also have three balloons, or “lives” – the first player to knock out the other’s balloons is the victor. This brought a whole new way to take on your friends. In traditional racing games, you would only have the standard Race Mode and nothing else, whereas in Super Mario Kart, they really tried to bring something more unique to the table. The arenas were as well designed as the tracks themselves, making this much more than a cookie-cutter experience.

The game doesn't look that great anymore though.

The game doesn’t look that great anymore though.

One of the best features in Super Mario Kart was the split between the actual race that would be featured on the top of the TV screen and a map that also shows you the position of the other racers at the bottom; this quickly became one of the bases for many new racing games to come. While having the map to show where the other racers were, you could also look back from your kart and see for yourself (if you were brave enough) on how far away the competition was. For the pros who knew which turn and trap was laid out, this was a welcome feature; those who weren’t as gifted racers would not dare to look away from the oncoming hazards of the race track. The consequences of a fall into an unseen pit or slip on a banana peel while looking back caused many a shattered dream and angry pushes on the reset button.

The graphics are spot-on in comparison to other racing games on the SNES. While the game had great graphics for its time, it’s hard to look at it now and really enjoy it again. Playing the game now was exceptionally hard for me – the colour palettes were all over the place, with the very bright colours making it difficult to focus on what was going on. It seems like an odd complaint, but many older games suffer from the same problem. The limited pixels and palates made it hard for developers to bring balance in the colours without making it dulled out or having it as colours that complement one another, so they made it brighter to make it seem like the graphics were popping out. It worked back then (20 years ago!), but to go back and play a game like Super Mario Kart, I would need breaks in between each race. Don’t even get me started on Rainbow Road – toward the end of the track, my eyes would be twirling in dizziness. I won’t take away your title of old-school gamer if you agree with me, but I might call you a dirty hipster if you are so stubborn that you play this game over the newer instalments.

Many of these levels were re-created in newer games.

Many of these levels were re-created in newer games.

While the graphics may have lost its touch over the years, the soundtrack still stands out rather well. From each track’s unique music theme to the sounds your kart makes on sharp turns, everything sounded as it should. Something that makes the sounds really pop out are the tire screeches on the ground whenever you spin on a sharp turn. Those 16-bit sounds really caused the experience to become a cohesive whole with each course and circuit.

On a side note: has anybody ever noticed that the model of the Lakitu is the exact same from the one in Super Mario World? I never really noticed it until now, but their resemblance is identical.

Bowser's Castle has never been so fun.

Bowser’s Castle has never been so fun.

At the time of the early 90s, most racing games were treated like traditional ones, where you just had to beat the other cars to the finish line. The premise behind Super Mario Kart is just that, but on steroids. With various items, different tracks, and battle modes, the list goes on of all the different aspects that makes Mario Kart what it is: fun. Fun for everybody! While most racing games of its time were arcade games and tried to bring a car simulator and boast of its more realistic graphics, the Mario Kart franchise has always been about the enjoyment of competition – and I didn’t have to bring my parents to an arcade and burn through every quarter they had to get that fulfilment. The fantastic experience that was Super Mario Kart was playable from the comfort of my own living room.

The Mario Kart franchise has become one of the most successful franchises Nintendo ever created. With many sequels on various platforms, the Mario Kart legacy still grows to this date, with the newest installment being right around the Benz. It also saw its popularity grow over time, with mass sales of every copy of every new game passing the million mark. Sales have recently skyrocketed, with Mario Kart Wii selling a ridiculous amount – close to 40 million worldwide. Its funny to think that many older people will say the Mario franchise is aimed at kids, but as soon as a new Mario Kart game comes out, its all for glory and people young and old go crazy trying to pass the finish line first. It just goes to show that nobody is too old for Mario Kart. From the start of the green light to the checkered flag at the end, everyone wants to play the grand racing games that are Mario Kart.

While Super Mario Kart may not have aged so well after 20 years, the game still lives up to its hype. Back in the days of the Super Nintendo, this was the pinnacle of racing games. By bringing many unfounded ideas not seen in traditional racing games, it used its creativity with familiar characters to bring a unique experience for its time. Despite its history, after such a long time, it has become more of a collectors item rather than a “get the neighborhood kids over and play” type of game. Now its up to the newer generations of Mario Kart to build off of what Super Mario Kart brought before it and keep the legacy of Nintendo’s most famed franchise on the right track.

This retro review is based on Super Mario Kart for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. The game was originally released on September 1st, 1992.

The Verdict

Gameplay: 7.0

Not the tightest or most refined gameplay but still a blast.

Presentation: 7.0

Looks ok but may induce headaches after a while.

Value: 9.5

Still a gem.

Overall Score

*Overall score is not an average.