By 1992, Mario was tired and needed a long vacation. He had conquered the world of video games with engaging, classic platformers that all have his name on them.
Super Mario Bros. had saved video games in thousands of people's eyes; Super Mario Bros. 2 was strange, yet classic nonetheless; Super Mario Bros. 3 became the biggest selling video game in history, and as many would argue, the best game ever up to this point. Finally, Super Mario World showed the world that the Super Nintendo would be here to stay for awhile.
But Mario wasn't completely satisfied with all of this. He needed a change of scenery and direction. He talked to several of his comrades and even a couple of long-time enemies and they all agreed with him. So here we are with Super Mario Kart, a game that not only provided a nice break from the platforming world for The Mario Company, but one that also created a new genre - cart racing.
Eight of your favorite Nintendo icons are here feeling the need for speed! Mario and Luigi are average as can be in terms of their top speed, acceleration, and how well they hold their ground when bumped by another racer. Yoshi and Peach (or Princess or Toadstool) are just plain good; Toad and Koopa Troopa are known for their speed and great handling, but they define weak; Bowser and Donkey Kong Jr. are two famous fatasses, and they're famous in Super Mario Kart too - for being so slow it seems painful for them to move and for playing hardcore bumper carts with opponents.
Super Mario Kart will show you that life is a highway, but first you have four play modes to choose from. Mario Kart GP is where you'll butt heads with the computer players. Things start off easy in the 50cc ranking and the Mushroom Cup. The tracks are at their easiest and the computer racers are at their slowest. You compete, trying to come in first place, with your ultimate goal being to get the gold. Do well enough and you can open up a few new tracks. And you can always take a break from racing computer opponents and go solo in Time Trial on any of the available tracks to see just how fast you can complete a race. Or, go to Match Race and race a friend on any of the tracks to gain (or lose) bragging rights! But you know this. It sounds like the everyday racing game you've come to know, right?
What makes Super Mario Kart so great is how different it was from every other racing title of its time. Three things really made it stand out to me from the very first time I played it.
For one, the tracks are exceptionally designed and engaging. Take advantage of summertime and venture to Koopa Beach, a track that's half land half water. Nothing exceptional here, but in 1992, it was neat to get your feet wet in a racer. If summer's not your thing, transport to the cold of winter at Vanilla Lake. This lake is almost entirely frozen and it should be easy to chalk up a #1 finish with all those box-shaped ice crystals that have a knack for slowing down bad drivers and computer players, but stay out of the shriveling water in the middle!
The Bowser Castle levels are some of my favorites. The ground is composed of dirty gray blocks surrounded by flowing blood red lava pools. There are also several sharp turns (some as tight as 90º), legions of small ramps to hop you over openings in the floor, and small black critters that slide back and forth energetically as an obstacle. The cream of the crop is Rainbow Road. The ground on which you ride on is so colorful it's hard to see the coins; big, electric blockheads sit in the middle of the road and rise up and pound the ground, and they'll smash you if you dare to invade their space. The biggest enemy of all is the track itself, with its narrow straightaways and naked sides. Just blinking once can cause you to fall off the edge. But you won't blink, because the action is surprisingly gripping. There's so much variety in Super Mario Kart's tracks that it never feels like there are only 20 of them. And I didn't even mention the Ghost Valley tracks or any of the regular road tracks, such as Mario Circuit!
What stood out the most about Super Mario Kart was definitely the different kinds of weapons and how they're used. You can shoot red turtle shells that act like a homing missile after they're shot, mushrooms for a speed boost, feathers for jumping about 15 feet into the air, banana peels for laying on the track or throwing forward, and more, such as lightning, which magically shrinks all other racers.
Just picture this: You're using your favorite driver (mine's Yoshi) and you're in second place on the last lap, nearing the finish line. Mario is so far ahead in first place you can barely see him. You notice you have a red shell. You shoot it and it rolls ahead quickly, moving side to side as it homes in on Mario. It hits him right before he crosses the finish line. Chuckling as you watch him spin around in dizzying circles in a standstill, you pass him and win the race. I guess Mario doesn't always win! There are thousands of ways these weapons can be used; you'll be finding new ways to use them even a year after you buy the game. For instance, if you're lucky enough to get a feather, save it until you reach that shortcut in Ghost Valley 1! Instead of just laying down banana peels wherever, strategically place them in a bunch, blocking the road, or in other openings that you know the computers (or your comrade) pass through. You can't always get a red shell. Sometimes a green one is the best you can do. Knowing that they go exactly where you shoot them and that your friend is behind you, you shoot it forward, bouncing it off the wall as you turn right. BANG! A screech of tires is heard. You got them!
Everything comes together in Battle Mode. You may have noticed that I barely scraped the surfaces of Mario Kart GP, Time Trial, and Match Race. I love those modes and still play them often, but I have two reasons for pretty much skipping over them. The most obvious is that Super Mario Kart reviews are a dime a dozen on the internet. Moreso, however, it's because I've probably spent about 75% of my playing time on Battle Mode, and it's (mainly) what makes Super Mario Kart my favorite multiplayer game of all time.
Battle Mode has four courses. One is pretty wide open, with only a square barrier around the edges and a small sand pit in the middle. Another one is a lot like this one except that it has no sandbox and a lot more barriers to make for harder shots. Third we have a water course that features H2O inside the barriers. If you have a feather and you fear taking a hit or just feel like looking your friend in the eye and saying ''na na na boo boo you can't hit me,'' jump on in! Finally, there's a frozen track where human-sized ice cubes are abound and the ground is slippier than any banana peel.
It's just you and a friend and you both have three balloons that signify three hits until you are da loser! Playing in Battle Mode is as simple as riding over question mark blocks until you get the right weapon (a star or red shell!!), and then hunting down your opponent. It may not sound like much, and I don't know how to put it into words (IM me or talk to me in person and I could talk your head off Super Mario Kart style though), but Battle Mode is one of the best and most addicting video game experiences to be had, if not the best ever. I can't even begin to count how many times I've stayed up all day and/or night playing battle with my friends and siblings. Even with the fact you can't get lightning and that you can only play two-player (With two or more people, let the winner keep the controller and make the loser pass it on to somebody else! That's what me and my brothers always do.), Battle Mode is addicting enough to play anytime of the year, rain or shine, good times or bad, all night long. To be honest, if it wasn't for having to sleep and work, I'll bet I could play this game a week straight or more.
The visuals don't do anything but make the whole experience even better. Super Mario Kart was famous for being one of the first games to use mode 7 graphics. You can tell this is no modern game by the lack of trillions of polygons, but the environments are still a sight to see. It's neat seeing the distant backgrounds scroll at different speeds when you're taking a turn. And, like you'd expect, the backgrounds, along with the characters and tracks, are crisply detailed, colorful, and they have that cutesy but charming Mario taste to them. This may not be related to graphics, but one thing that I've always been impressed by are the two views you can use when playing by yourself in Mario Kart GP. You can opt to use a rearview mirror view in which you see everything behind you or, even cooler, a relevant overhead map of your current track and all eight of the racers. You can look at this view and easily tell who's in what place and, when you hear someone spin out but don't know who it is, look at the map and you'll see them whirring around. That's just too neat.
A blind person could tell by listening to the sounds, and especially the music, that this is a Mario game. Just listen to Koopa Beach's soothing beach beat and tune, the serious tone of Mario Circuit's music that gets you in the mood to kick human, turtle, monkey, and dinosaur butt, or the catchy little track of the title screen that I could just sit and listen to for hours. One thing I particularly like about the music is how each racer has his/her very own theme after winning a gold trophy in Mario Kart GP. The sounds and music are basically as they should be: relevant, great, and memorable. So are the controls and challenge. Depending on who you're using and the track you're driving, you may slip around a good bit when turning, but this can be gotten used to quickly by either jumping and leaning into the turn or simply letting off the gas for a split second as you turn. The computer racers are extremely competitive and certainly won't let you have the easy win if it's in their grasp, but they're not impossible. There are four different cups and three skill levels in Mario Kart GP. The tracks and the computers get progressively more difficult, which is just right. One of my all time favorite accomplishments was getting the gold trophy in 150cc Special Cup Race. With time and practice, you can do it too!
One word (or review) can't possibly describe the greatness of Super Mario Kart. Classic. Revolutionary. Fun. Thrilling. Unbelievable. Awesome. Spectacular. The only words one could attempt to tag onto Super Mario Kart to fully describe it are good ones - any bad words that are mentioned in the same breadth with the game would be libel or slander, because there's nothing majorly bad you can say about this, one of the very best games that have ever been made or ever will be made. It ranks as my second favorite video game of all time. Only Super Metroid surpasses this greatness. But sometimes I catch myself wanting to say that Super Mario Kart is my all time favorite. Experience it for yourself with non-biased eyes. It may be over a decade old, but that doesn't matter. Dictionary writers should put ''See Super Mario Kart'' beside the word timeless.