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Super Mario Kart

Year released: 1992
Company: Nintendo
Genre: Sports (Racing)

During the summer of 1992, the Super NES seemed to hit a lull in sales. When one looks back at the games released during that period - Magic Sword, Out of this World, and who can forget Wings 2: Aces High - this can hardly be viewed as a surprise. In the tail end of the season, Nintendo realized a trump card needed to be played, and quick. The result? Another in a long line of titles that uses the cast of the Super Mario Bros. series as cameos in a game that would otherwise be tossed by the wayside as being another racing game.

The funny thing is this - many gamers argue that the Mario vehicle (if you'll excuse the pun) serves no higher purpose than marketing power and a kind of "guilt by association" motivation for playing it - hey, it has Mario and Luigi on the cover, so it must be a good game, right? Still, we tend to forget that wherever Mario goes, he brings his mushrooms, question blocks, and turtle shells along with him. To make a long story short1, the imbuing of Super Mario Kart with the concepts of the previous Mario games actually enhances the game's quality, and in more ways than one.

For one thing, the presentation conveys the familiar atmosphere of the Mario series: that of a colorful, cartoonish environment where even the villains are invited to have fun. The graphics and music reflect that quite well: The tracks are drawn as if to promote surrealism, with its vividly colored walls and humorous driver animation. The use of Mode 7 rotation allows for the first-person driving perspective to be pulled off effectively and fluidly. The music isn't quite as good, I'm afraid - with the exception of a couple good tunes (namely Koopa Beach and Rainbow Road), the majority of the soundtrack is pretty generic. Still, they communicate the same relaxed, happy-go-lucky feeling that the graphics do.

Although for the most part the play control works out fairly well, there is one feature that is lacking in the repertoire: some way to put the Karts in reverse. Especially in the Battle Mode, players will quickly yearn for this element when they're pinned against a wall and have to use that (otherwise worthless) hop move to twist themselves back into place as they watch their rival snatch the lead from them or - even worse - come up from behind with a dreaded Red Shell for the kill. Still, this is relatively manageable, and the diversity of the drivers allows for everyone to have their own driving needs fulfilled.

The large combination of tracks and difficulty levels make for an easily adaptable learning curve. The presence of Time Trial tracks also allow for infinite practice. However, once you hit the 100cc Special Cup, the drivers get a little bit too antsy for my taste. And anyone who dares venture into the 150cc level is begging for a spanking.2 Not that it's impossible - I myself can get a gold in the Flower Cup - but the challenge it presents and the frustration you'll feel far outweigh the incentive. Besides, the ending is the same for the 150cc level as it is for 100cc.

That's why I think the most enjoyable way to play SMK to stick with the easy stuff - the 50cc Mushroom Cup, the Time Trials, etc. - when you're by yourself. Anything much higher than that really isn't worth the increase in blood pressure. Of course, I do suggest that you play through at least once just to experience the whole thing, but there's no shame or cowardice in sticking around the lower levels, seeing just how many drivers you can lap in a race. The Battle Mode is a terrific 2-player game, a great way to vent out any grievances you've been harboring against your friend in a non-threatening way.3

It's not the best game out there, but Super Mario Kart certainly does hold its own. If anything, it was the best game to come out that season.

1 - Considering how my opening was two paragraphs long, I think this might fall under the heading of "too little, too late".

2 - All right, get your mind out of the gutter.

3 - In the wake of the Colorado shooting, I feel now is the time to search out methods of having fun where the violence is surreal at best, so kids don't do this again 10 years from now.

Overall Ratings:

Play Control:
Technical Score: 12
Plot: Exempt
Challenge: (Hard)
Thrill: (Frustrating)
Aesthetic Score: 15
Overall Score: 75%

You are now listening to the Koopa Beach track music to Super Mario Kart.