Super Mario Kart: Genesis

The Mario Kart series is one that has had great success and I consider myself something of a connoisseur. Who could’ve guessed that what was essentially a spin-off of Nintendo’s flagship series could become incredibly popular in it’s own right? Shigeru Miyamoto is known to have at least a small amount of magic powers and maybe he foresaw the success of a lighthearted, family friendly racer in his crystal ball. The same crystal ball that keeps telling him to ‘release a new Metroid’ every time Nintendo’s latest console is flagging. The original Mario Kart was a huge success and led to a series which has a rumoured eighth iteration coming up for the Wii U. The series has evolved to have a large roster of characters and tracks, Mario Kart Wii even started having different vehicles. However the first game is far simpler, having only SNES hardware to work with, less buttons and absolutely no motion controls at all. Despite this, the game plays well. There are several game mechanics which didn’t make it to later iterations but nevertheless, once you get the hang of it, Super Mario Kart it is still some laid back fun.

Perhaps the first thing that should be talked about, is the strange graphical properties of the game. I’ll try and explain this the best I can but I’m not sure how well I can articulate it. Basically, the game is not really 3D. Everything is actually rendered in a 2D sort of way. What is actually happening is that there are multiple 2D planes being rendered simultaneously. The sprites for the racers in their karts are perpendicular to the track, which is also 2D but not sharing any axises with the kart sprites. At the same time as this the background, which is essentially a skybox, is on the same axises as the kart sprites but operates as separate entity. This is only something that becomes obvious when trying to turn round corners. Again, this is something that might be hard to explain and understand so bare with me. When you turn a corner on Super Mario Kart I’m not entirely sure what happens but I am reasonably sure the kart sprite stays static and the track and the skybox rotate. The background rotates in such a way that, if you suffer from motion sickness, you may find reasonably nauseating. That’s the best I can really do but feel free to come round and play some if you want to better understand what I’m talking about. On top of this, the item boxes and coins that are on the track are both flat on the track. You may find this slightly odd if you played the later games, but it works fine and is understandable given the hardware limitations. The game is 21 years old, so some graphical imperfections can surely be forgiven. If they can’t, I recommend you play some iOS games. They may be shit, but at least they look pretty.  Apart from the occasionally oddities that I just mentioned, the game looks fine. It’s some 16 bit SNES classic stuff, it’s not as good looking as Super Mario World and can be a bit cluttered at times but it’s perfectly acceptable.

Gameplay wise, it’s Mario Kart. You have played a Mario Kart game. If not, why not? Your younger siblings probably have, maybe even your parents? Your Grandma got a Wii? Why not buy her Mario Kart 7 for a birthday or Christmas any have some fun with her? You go round corners at varying degrees of accuracy and curse the existence of the various colours of shells that exist within the game. Thankfully, the hated winged blue shells are not in Super Mario Kart. This is very good for me, as the very sight of them makes me come out in hives. Nothing is more frustrating then being knocked out of first place by the guy in fifth place and then getting overtaken by twice by people who weren’t even involved in the whole ‘blue shell’ business. A couple of nuances that didn’t make the cut to late games exist here however. One of which is coins. There are coins littered about the track and you can pick them up. I’m not sure if having more coins maybe make you go faster in the style of Crash Team Racing, but you definitely lose coins when you get hit by a heavier weighted kart and if you get bumped by a kart when you have no coins you spin around in a hand chewingly frustrating manner. It’s not as annoying as the delayed banana spin in Mario Kart 64 (which may be an individual problem with my game) but it’s still very irritating. As far as other mechanics are concerned, I don’t think you get a boost from drifting but it may be that I’m shit.

Content wise, there aren’t that many tracks really and the weapons are reasonably limited. However, there are only 16 bits in this game so you can’t expect too much complexity. The track count is perhaps the most disappointing as I am reasonably confident that in a Grand Prix you play each track twice, the second time in reverse. There are also only 8 characters, which pales in comparison to the rosters of later games, but you can still play as the core favourites. You can’t play as Shy Guy, but honestly who cares? Really, you have to remember that this game is older than I am and, for the time, was very impressive.

Super Mario Kart then is a game that you can have fun with. One of my favourite things to do with Mario Kart is to play it with a friend and then laugh at how unfair it can be whilst still boasting mercilessly at every victory. On the SNES you can only play with 1 other person as opposed to the potential 4 player fun of the N64, Gamecube and Wii and it doesn’t quite have the ‘let’s-laugh-at-the-game-potential’ of Mario Kart 64 but it has it’s share of  moments. Fun can still be had with this game but it takes some time to get used to and is pretty damn hard at times. I would recommend mainly for a nostalgic trip back in time and if you are looking to try out the Mario Kart series for the first time I would point you towards Mario Kart: Double Dash for the Gamecube, which has the best easy-to -learn-but-still-hella-fun gameplay.  Super Mario Kart isn’t bad, but it’s a bit odd and can feel a bit dated at times. Overall, play if you want to. But you aren’t missing out on too much if you never touch it.

Also, award yourself some points if you noticed (perhaps with some amusement) that the title of this piece has the word Genesis in, the North American name of the Super Nintendo’s competitor. Of course Sega does what Nintendon’t, by this I mean of course fade gradually into obscurity.

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  1. I maintain that Super Mario Kart has better graphics than Mario Kart 64, I can’t stand that blurry mix of 3D tracks and 2D sprites. Overall I’d say that Super Mario Kart and Mario Kart Wii are my favorites.

    The Super Mario Kart tracks are definitely their own entities though, not mirrored/backwards versions of previous tracks. They have the same visual styles but they’re totally different layouts.

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    • Yeah the visuals of MK64 has the problem of a lot of the early 3D stuff, it just doesn’t age well>

      As for the tracks, you are right. The themes/background of some of them are so similar that it’s sometimes very hard to tell them apart. This maybe because I’m used to the gimmicky aspects of the later games where each track has it’s own distinct theme and style.

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