In the age of the Wild West for gaming, companies would throw any idea to the wall to see if it would stick in the gamers mind. There were many successes like portable gaming from the GameBoy, GameGear, and Lynx, but even more failures like the infamous Philips CDI and their blasphemous “Nintendo” games. None was weirder than Nintendo’s attempt at making a racing title that would appeal to everyone. Their experiment was the wildly popular Super Mario Kart, which burst onto the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1992 in North America.
This game was one of two major racing titles released on the SNES, alongside F-Zero, a racing game so different from Super Mario Kart in nearly every aspect from the graphics to F-Zero only being a single player racing game. F-Zero was successful, but there is a reason that you don’t see any more F-Zero titles being released nowadays. Super Mario Kart blew them out of the water.
For those who don’t know, Super Mario Kart is a racing game where the player can take control of one of eight classic Mario characters. Players race around a track for five laps and whoever crosses the finish line first gets nine points added to their score and moves on to the next race. The racers who come in second, third and fourth get 6, 3 and one point respectively and they move on to the next race as well. The rest get zero points. If a player places in the bottom four they do not move on to the next race, so there is an incentive for the player to do the best they can during every race.
I personally never played Super Mario Kart before I got my hands on a SNES classic, where I was exposed to the trailblazer for the first time. Needless to say, I was not impressed with the game at all. The graphics were crude and I quickly got a headache after two laps in the first race of the Mushroom Cup. The controls were slippery and the control scheme deviated from the controls I was accustomed to, making me do some impromptu button mashing to see what worked and what didn’t. I turned off the game in favor of trying one of the other twenty games on the SNES Classic’s library, but I have come back a few times to give the game a real shot.
Though my gripes about the game still stand, there is a lot to admire about it. First is the art style and overall presentation when you first turn on the game is welcoming and definitely screams child friendly, with Mario and pals driving by at the bottom of the screen with gentle green hills and a yellow sky in the background with childlike drawings of the sun and a control command seemingly written out in crayon. Players then select what mode they want to play, what difficulty, and what cup they want to race in. The little jingle plays, a lakitu counts you down, and the racers are off.
While the gameplay is slippery, it’s nothing that I couldn’t adapt to. The acceleration is the B button, which I found very odd, having being used to the A button being used as acceleration. L and R still drift, and the A button releases items that you collect by running over item tiles, as opposed to the floating item boxes of future installments. The controls are definitely more advanced than other racing games at the time, but they are simple enough for everyone to understand.
The tracks are short, sweet and simple. Most of them do not cross over each other and are modified versions of a circle peppered with various obstacles like pipes and thwomps. There are five laps per race in this first installment as if the programmers knew that the courses were too short to warrant a 3 lap race like the future Mario Karts will have. The tracks do get boring after the first few go-arounds, and they are somewhat unoriginal as opposed to the tracks in F-Zero, which increase in difficulty as the player progresses through the game. The items are classic Mario Kart fare, with green shells, red shells, banana peels, and stars. Once again the item line-up is bare bones, but it is passable and spices up the game when it comes to multi-player madness.
Super Mario Kart is definitely a fun time once you get past the wonky controls, but it does the bare minimum to make it an experience worthwhile to revisit if you already have played the game. If you have not already played the game, it’s definitely worth a few races of play through and admires the game that started it all, but not much else.