When news first emerged that Nintendo was to make a racing game using their most well-known characters it was met with some skepticism. Could there really be a decent game hidden in there or was it just a gimmick, a cheap marketing ploy, had Nintendo run out of creativity? The ideas on the table and limitations within the technology of the time were such that conceptually we couldn’t imagine what was coming or how capable this Mode 7 technology would be in bringing this concept to reality. F-Zero may have laid the foundations but the final result would be the definitive home console racing experience of the early 1990’s.
The year is 1992 and to this point the vast amount of games releases relating to the racing genre was of a similar nature, racing F1 or sports cars from point A to point B passing checkpoints while focusing on a real racing feel. Super Mario Kart went against the trend bringing in bold colourful cartoon like graphics and a range of weapons with the characters driving (you guessed it) karts. You would be hard pressed to find a karting game in this era (if you know of any, let us know) and the thought process was difficult to imagine, but with Sigero Myamoto behind the helm it had to good, he was simply a genius of the of the game development arena.
Thankfully any fears or preconceptions were brushed aside from the first moment you picked up the controller. From the opening signature tune to starting the first race, the presentation was sublime and after a few minutes play it was clear this wasn’t just a Mario cash in. Super Mario Kart handled like a dream; every surface gave the player relevant feedback, every character with their own distinctive qualities. From Princess with fast acceleration to the solid middle of the road Mario and Luigi, through to the slow starters but fast finishers Donkey Kong and Bowzer but the stars would always be Kooper Trooper and Toad.
The balance in the car selection was inspired, the track selection too carried over into a range of Super Mario Worlds, from standard race tracks to sunny beaches, Bowzers castle to snow and ice. All of this culminating in the Rainbow Road, a colourful and testing circuit requiring perfect racing lines, fantastic to look at, tough to master.
The difficulty curve was well implemented though the game becomes very challenging indeed, especially on the highest setting over the hardest tracks but it never seemed impossible, despite the sometimes horribly unfair AI it would be weapon selection that would often decide the outcome of any given race.
Weapons were another novel feature and again both inspire and excite with their creative design and execution. These would range from standard speedups to the direct fire green shells to the heat-seeking red shells, with the lightning bold affecting the entire field turning all of the cars into miniatures which could then be driven over and flattened, all very satisfying, especially in 2 player mode, good job! And always great fun, knowing when and where to use these weapons would be critical especially in the split screen mode.
Indeed so much fun would be had that this encouraged the inclusion of the now legendary Battle Mode! This mode would see 2 players come head to head in a range of arenas; each player would begin with 3 balloons rotating around their kart, every time they are hit a balloon would be removed. Weapons could be accrued by driving over the standard weapon points scattered around each arena. So with the stage set, players aiming for a boost start to get the nearest weapon pad and hope for the best. An early shot from a red shell would always come in handy but tactics were constantly key.
Learning the arenas and the colour coding of each section would be vital, as would knowing the appropriate course action depending on whatever weapon your rival had. Reds shells were the perfect example, if one was fired you would need to hop as quickly as you could, the hopping motion would disable the lock-on and the shell would most likely hit the wall. Or if the course of the shell could be easily driven into a wall you could strategically place your vehicle? Different situations require fast thinking and those with a complete understanding could win time and time again. This mode would be nothing short of spectacular, novel, creative and with never-ending longevity, it would dominate many of my gaming years.
From a conception that seemingly brought pieces of a jigsaw that would never fit together to a masterpiece of design, Mario Kart was to become an all-time classic that would redefine a genre, in effect creating its own genre and a title that would remain a timeless inspiration to this day.
From a conception that seemingly brought pieces of a jigsaw that would never fit together to a masterpiece of design, Super Mario Kart was to become an all time classic that would redefine a genre, in effect creating its own genre and a title that would remain a timeless inspiration to this day.