Man, Super Mario Kart. Where do I begin? The Super Nintendo is loaded with awesome games; my memories with this system run long and deep. Super Mario Kart not only ranks as one of the very best, but it also gave me and my gaming buds countless epic memories. It was a brilliant idea — take Mario, his chums and throw them in a crazy, zany go-kart world. It was instant Nintendo magic. And the rest, as they say, is history. As clearly evident by the success the Mario Kart franchise would go on to enjoy, Nintendo caught lightning in a bottle.
THE NIGHT IT CAME BACK HOME
On April 9, 2006, I reacquired Super Mario Kart by trading my copy of Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (Limited Tin Edition). Only 40,000 were ever made. My girlfriend at the time bought it for me in 2004. Two years later, I turned it into Super Mario Kart, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time, Streets of Rage and Streets of Rage 2. The tin edition was going for roughly $25-$30 at the time. It goes to show you how great the retro gaming market was back in 2006. I made the deal with a nice guy off DigitPress. While I’m a big fan of the Halloween films, I couldn’t pass up on this golden opportunity to get four of my favorite childhood video games in one fell swoop.
THE NEW KINGS ON THE BLOCK
It was 24 years ago that my brother and I made the best trade of our gaming lives. Exchanging Death Duel for Super Mario Kart instantly made us kings of our neighborhood. All the kids living nearby came flocking to our place weekend after weekend, month after month. Being the only ones who owned the game, our quaint little home morphed into a madhouse as we had friends coming and going nonstop. Even now, whenever I close my eyes and listen closely, I can still hear the incessant chiming of my childhood doorbell. As a kid I would lay there in bed on lazy Sunday mornings trying to enjoy my peace and quiet. No such chance of that. By 8:45 every Sunday morning, like clockwork, Ben and our other friends were banging down our door. We were truly the new kings on the block.
FLASHBACK TO CHRISTMAS 1992
Christmas ’92 proved to be one for the record books. In addition to my mom buying me King of the Monsters, that same year our uncle bought us Death Duel. I remember the ad from EGM. It looked cool and all, but honestly, my brother and I were a bit disappointed. Of all the games on our wish list, Death Duel certainly wasn’t even in the top 20. We tried not to complain though as our mom always taught us to be grateful and that any gift was better than none at all. Still, Kevin and I went home that night talking about how awesome it would be if Death Duel magically transformed into Super Mario Kart instead (the game that topped our Christmas wish list). It was rare that my brother and I both wanted the same game — he was a “mainstream” guy while I was more fond of the obscure underdog titles. However, Super Mario Kart transcended all of that. It was just that kind of game.
And then, as we were talking, an epiphany struck us. We suddenly recalled the ad for Death Duel in EGM. We pulled out the latest EGM issue that we had bought weeks earlier and madly flipped through it in search of our great loophole. Ah, there it was. Not suggested for children under 14. I was only nine and my brother was 11. My brother wouldn’t be able to play Death Duel for another three years! And five for me! Not that we couldn’t break the rules but when the rules benefit you, why not follow them?
After showing the ad to our mom, just as we predicted she would, she promptly called our uncle to explain the situation and asked if he kept the receipt. Luckily, he did and since we hadn’t opened the game yet, it was ripe for a swap. So later that week my mom took me and Kevin to exchange Death Duel for Super Mario Kart. I remember thinking that it was the greatest trade in the history of mankind. I still laugh thinking about this Christmas memory. Who knew a silly ad could bring about such a dramatic turn of events?
Rather ironic that I originally acquired Super Mario Kart via trade, and then 14 years later reacquired it by trade. I’m hanging onto my copy this time for sure!
My brother and I played the crap out of Super Mario Kart that Christmas season and well into 1993. It was such an addicting game. My favorite character was Yoshi. My brother loved using Koopa. One of our friends, Ben, liked using Bowser or Donkey Kong Jr. Ben liked them most because they had the size to push others around. We were the only kids in the neighborhood who had Super Mario Kart, so our neighborhood friends were banging on our door like bloodthirsty zombies. I remember many Sunday mornings where the doorbell chime woke us up at 8:45! Kevin and I quickly became the kings of our block, all thanks to Super Mario Kart.
THE GO KART RACERS
There are a total of eight racers, but really four different types. They come in four pairs which vary in terms of strengths and weaknesses.
Mario takes a break from stomping goombas, but this is hardly R&R! He’s sort of a jack of all but master of none type. He doesn’t have the highest top speed and his acceleration is only average. However, he doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses. Also, due to his slightly bulky build, he’s able to hold his own a little bit even when bumped by the heavyweights Bowser or Donkey Kong Jr.
The man who lives in the shadow of Mario. I always liked Luigi because I enjoy cheering for underdogs and sidekicks. He basically has the same abilities as Mario but he lacks the size to adequately counter a Bowser bump.
The damsel in distress is out to get hers! She’s top of the line when it comes to acceleration, but only average when it comes to top speed. Look at those demon-possessed eyes. Yeah, I would advise against cracking any sort of “kitchen barefoot” jokes here.
Yoshi has always been my go-to kart driver. Come on, a dinosaur in a go-kart? You just can’t beat that. The beauty (Princess) and the beast (Yoshi) share the same qualities and both are especially ideal for Donut Plains and the battle mode. On the flip side, they rather stink when it comes to Vanilla Lake.
For the first time ever, you can control one of gaming’s most iconic villains. I remember this being a huge deal in my gaming circle back in late ’92. Using a special customized XXL go-kart, Bowser is as nasty as ever. Because of his enormous size, he’s slow to accelerate but once he gets going, there’s NO stopping that immense momentum… until you bump into a barrier, that is. That’s gonna suck. A lot. But as far as top speed is concerned, Bowser is king.
Donkey can shove the competition aside and is the only one who can truly withstand the impact of a Bowser bump. Both struggle with Donut Plains and the battle mode, but they excel at Koopa Beach.
Koopa was my brother’s favorite back in the day. He lacks in top speed but makes up for it when it comes to control. Koopa steers corners extremely well, which means you can stay on the gas pedal a little longer than most other racers when rounding corners.
Toad is similar to Koopa but rumor has it Toad has the slight edge in terms of acceleration (being just a hair better… again, just a rumor). Both of them are cornering champions though and perform well particularly on Choco Island. But look out for Bowser and Donkey Kong Jr.!
The mushroom is a classic, basic and useful card to have in your back pocket. When you’re at the beginning of a long straight path, or right before a jumping strip, press A to give yourself a short and sudden burst of speed. Remember using this to scream ¼ across the tracks of Ghost Valley 1, or Mario Circuit 2? It never gets old! ^_^
Ah, the green shell. The shell for real men. It shoots out straight, so that means you have to aim it with skill. Of course, some luck factors in as well, but the green shell is largely based on positioning, timing and skill. Misfire and it will ricochet off walls until it finds a victim. Don’t get in its way! Also, you can drop it behind you. It makes for a defensive tool if timed properly. Nice!
For less skill and a much higher rate of success, the homing red shell will quickly stir up words not quite appropriate for this site. Once in a blue moon you can avoid the red shell. For example, power sliding around a corner can free you of the red shell’s death grip. But the wise and discerning player will only fire the red shell when their target is right there for the taking. A banana peel or green shell can nullify it, however…
The banana peel isn’t the best offensive tool in the game, but it can be surprisingly effective when you’re neck and neck with the competition. You can also launch a banana peel about 10 yards ahead of you. While a fun sight, it’s rarely effective. Its best attribute isn’t its offensive capabilities, but rather its defensive potential. It has the ability to act as a defensive buffer to a red or green shell.
Although it doesn’t quite enjoy the glamour among Mario Kart fans as the vaunted lightning bolt does, the star has always been my personal favorite. It’s a combination of various powers: your speed is increased, you’re immune to track obstacles and enemy weapons, but best of all, anyone you touch instantly spins out. However, if you fall into water, lava, or off an edge, you’ll lose the power.
The game’s most infamous and adored power-up, the lightning bolt is both devious and dangerous. The fact that it’s so rare only increases its legend. Releasing the lightning bolt affects all seven competitors. Doing so shrinks them down which decreases their speed, but best of all, it allows you an opportunity to sadistically crush (literally) the competition. The lightning bolt is no doubt a game changer!
The coin is often viewed as the worst item of the lot, but it’s not useless. It’s definitely a no-brainer item though, since as soon as you get it, you should press ‘A’ to use it. It adds two coins to your count. Coins affect your overall top speed, with 10 being the max. So while it may not be as sexy as the other items, it’s handy when you have few or no coins.
Mr. Ghost is only available in Battle Mode, sadly. I wish it was available in the two player GP mode as well, but I guess one can’t have it all. The ghost not only snatches your friend’s current item but it also makes you “invisible.” Stealing your rival’s red shell or star in particular tends to lead to a curse word or two being uttered. And let’s face it, that’s probably half the fun of the battle mode
The feather allows you to make a great leap of faith. It’s particularly handy for Ghost Valley 1 and a few other tracks. Sure, you can jump with the L or R button but this turns you into the second coming of Michael Jordan. You can also use it to leap over an incoming shell (which is super satisfying) or a well-placed tricky banana peel. You can also use it to cut corners, too. Good stuff.
You get the items by passing a question mark tile. Let the randomness run its course or if you’re in a rush then press ‘A’ to stop it. It was (and still is) a fun gimmick that made Super Mario Kart extra awesome. The racing itself is fine, but the weapons add an extra dosage of strategy and fun.
This is by far the game’s easiest course, as well it should be. It eases you into the mechanics. There are no major tight corners. Instead, you get plenty of straight away paths. Not a lot of frills or thrills here, but that’s fine since there are 19 other tracks that are much more gimmicky. Mario Circuit 1 is plain but a memorable beginner’s track nevertheless.
To the casual observer, at a cursory glance, this track may appear to be a tranquil setting with a beautiful pond. However, experienced kart drivers know behind the serenity lies a deceivingly semi-tough course that can eat up unsuspecting novices. Some corners have loose dirt and debris strewn about. Ease up on the gas during these points or else pay the price.
Ah, Ghost Valley. The mushroom super jump bit, the feather trick and its unique elevated wooden track make this course unforgettable. Oddly enough, whoever built this course from long ago randomly inserted a jump bar in the middle. Remember the first time you used the mushroom right before the jump bar? Talk about a “holy shit” worthy moment indeed.
Bowser’s got some of the trickiest tracks around, but his first one is fairly straight forward. It has some memorable features that help make it stand out. Midway through there are three zipper bars for you to drive over, granting you a quick speed burst. It was always a rush to turn the corner tightly and hit one of those zipper marks right on the, er, mark. And watch out for those annoying Thwomps!
I’ve always enjoyed the Mario Circuits because they have sort of a ‘pure’ untainted kart track feel to them. At the same time, there are just enough tiny gimmicks here and there that keep things interesting. This one is most notable for its famous great big jump bump at the end. Sabotaging players here was wickedly fun. Try dropping a banana peel just to the right of the second marker on the left side for computer opponents. Yeah, you know what I’m talking about
A slippery dirt course way out in the desert, the infamous piranha plant calls Choco Island home. The terrain is dominated by bumpy surfaces and mud slicks so don’t get too pedal happy here. Be weary also of the mud bog that lies somewhere in the last quarter of the track — try using a mushroom here and see what happens!
While the first Ghost Valley track will always be the best one in my book, all of them are special in their own unique way. This one has a zipper for the final stretch of the course, with a small jumper off to the far right side… allowing you to take to the skies with a mushroom. I like how the small jumper is randomly placed there.
Try using the mushroom to skip the edge of the pond! This course is a perfect place to show off your great power sliding technique. Donut Plains 2 is littered with monty moles up the wazoo. They pop out of holes in the ground and even magically jump out of the grassy areas. If one latches on, you have to shake it off. I shake it off, I shake it off! But I keep cruising. Can’t stop, won’t stop moving. It’s like I got this music in my mind saying it’s gonna be alright. Er, sorry. [I don’t know this guy. Security! -Ed.]
This place can be a little confusing at first. Luckily, Bowser’s kind enough to place some arrows to guide you along. You can choose different routes to take. Alright, the routes are basic, but having a choice is still nice. If you have a feather, you can pull off a really awesome trick but it requires absolute precision. It’s not as easy as the jump in Ghost Valley 1…
There are a dozen square question mark blocks waiting for you just after the start / finish line, which may allow players to get an early advantage right out of the box. There is a serious hairpin turn in the middle of the track, and just for the hell of it there’s a nifty turbo plate in the final straight away leading up to the goal.
The good news: there aren’t any tight turns. The bad news: the sand surface isn’t the best for traction. Your kart has just enough buoyancy that it can travel safely across the water… except for the deeper, darker blue parts. Touch that and you’ll be swimming with the fish! [HAR HAR HAR -Ed.]
Strange, suddenly I’m craving Coco Puffs. Choco Island 2 has a much bigger patch of chocolate goo waiting for you in the middle than the first Choco Island. There’s also a very narrow road which is the perfect place to drop a green shell or banana peel. Avoid the heavy dirt off-road sections — they slow drivers down to a crawl.
Brrrr! It’s a good thing the engine of your go-kart is so hot because you’re going to need that warmth as you race around this slick frozen lake! It’s probably the shortest track in the whole game. Vanilla Lake 1 is filled with annoying ice blocks that really impede your progress if you can’t skirt around them successfully.
Bowser’s castle tracks just keep getting fancier and fancier. This one gives you three different lanes to pick from. The inside and outside lanes have a turbo tile to zip you past the competition. But the middle path has two question mark tiles. It does require, however, a well-timed leap to acquire…
MARIO CIRCUIT 4
This is a fairly long track that’s packed with corners of all sizes and shapes. It’s also home to many pesky pipes looking to block your path. Nothing beats the thrill of successfully blowing past them on your way to the finish line. On the flip side, nothing’s worse than being clipped by a centimeter, slowing you down to finish in second place (or worse). D’oh!
Graced by two rickety old bridges, literally. One of them is missing some wooden planks and the second bridge is really FUBAR… requiring you to leap safely across. It’s so narrow too that you’re likely to get bumped if another racer is nearby. You can knock others into the pond, but keep in mind that it goes both ways! And to top it all off, the bloody monty moles are back.
It’s time for another bash at the beach! This beach is loaded with some serious greenery that will slow down anyone who drives on it. As it was with Koopa Beach 1, watch out for the dark blue patches of water. They’ll drown you faster than you can say “CRIKEY! FLOPPING CHEEP CHEEP!”
The trickiest of the three Ghost Valley tracks, this one is filled to the brim with gaping holes. Carefully navigate your way through or you’ll pay a dear price. Just like the two previous Ghost Valley tracks, the feather can prove to be a difference maker here.
A very slippery course that’s more lake than land. Advanced players know how to jump around the edges of the lake to shave a precious second or two off their time. To complicate matters, this track is filled with ice barriers that can bring you to a complete and fatal stop. Winter Wonderland this ain’t!
It would only be appropriate for the final course to be the toughest. Rainbow Road, in that context, certainly doesn’t disappoint. There’s no room for error with narrow paths galore and some very difficult to avoid Thwomps. Oh yeah, those plain Thwomps from Bowser’s castle tracks? Yeah, they’re now enhanced with an electrical force field. One touch and it’s Spin Out City. Rainbow Road separates the boys from the men.
BATTLE ZONES OF DEATH
Select from four battle zones in the 2-player battle mode. The first course is basic and pretty much wide open, while the second one has more nooks and crannies for players to take cover. The third one, surprise surprise, is the slipperiest of the four. The fourth, as you can see above, is the nuttiest.
The battle mode is real simple. Each player has three balloons strapped to their go-kart. The first to pop all three balloons of the other player wins. This led to some serious cutthroat battles. The Ghost icon was a bitch! Great memories…
We also had a blast with the Time Trial mode. Getting the best time meant bragging rights. It was a gloat worthy accomplishment any time you beat out your brother, friend or even your own records. Not only could you be recognized for the best total time but the game also took account of best single lap time. Nothing was better than breaking both the single lap and total time record simultaneously.
Ah, the performance chart from the game’s manual. The SNES had some great instruction manuals, bursting with both color and useful information. Kind of sad to think about how today’s kids will never fully grasp the simple joy of studying a game’s manual in the backseat of their car going home from the video rental store. Life today is better in a lot of ways, but I can think of a few things technology simply cannot supplant.
1: 9 points
2: 6 points
3: 3 points
4: 1 point
I’ve always felt that this scoring system worked really well. Take a look:
Classy, elegant and yet simple. Gotta love it. The music that plays here is awesome and to this day remains stuck in my head.
Nothing is more exhilarating than a photo finish race. Check out how crazy close Donkey Kong Jr. came to my Yoshi — 1’17″52 vs. 1’17″53!
I love the set-up screen here. Super Mario Kart just oozes with class and brilliance. You start out by earning the Gold Cup on all three races of the 50cc class. Then do the same in 100cc. Doing so unlocks Special Cup. Earn the Gold Cup there and you’ll unlock 150cc. 150cc is no joke!
MUSHROOM CUP OVERVIEW
Few things satisfy like using a mushroom to burst past your top rival during that finish line finale.
Power sliding around a tight corner to zoom past the competition is simply the best. And if you have the star, using it right after power sliding around a corner really puts you ahead of the pack!
I liken the green shell to that of a bow and arrow. When aimed properly and used effectively, it proves to be both fatal and satisfying. While the red shell is a more effective weapon, the green shell is the one that allows players to show off their mad skills and ability to project accurately. Here I am setting up poor unsuspecting Koopa in my line of fire. Let’s see what happens to ol’ turtle face…
Release the sucker at just the right time and BAM! They spin out in a frenzy dropping coins every which way as you speed on ahead. Was there anything better than this? Even a mere child can use the red shell successfully. But the green shell now, ah ha. That, my friends, is entirely another matter. The green shell is for true Mario Kart masters
SEND IN THE CLONES
Surprisingly not, there came an inevitable flow of Mario Kart clones on the Super Nintendo. Shockingly however, most of them came out in Japan only. The most blatant clone is SD F-1 Grand Prix. Think Super Mario Kart meets the animatronic rejects of Chuck E. Cheese’s. As far as clones go though, this one is quite good. It has slightly better visuals than Super Mario Kart (October 1995 vs. September 1992). However, to no one’s surprise, it doesn’t play as well. The same can be said for all the other clones below. They’re all very competent and fun in their own right, but they’re NAGASMK (not as good as Super Mario Kart). SD F-1 Grand Prix is my favorite of the clones.
Definitely the least blatant clone of the lot, Battle Cross is what you might get if you threw Super Bomberman and Super Mario Kart into a blender. Who didn’t dream of that crossover at some point during the early-mid ’90s? Battle Cross is a single screen racer featuring six drivers and various weapon power-ups strewn across its nine wacky tracks. It does suffer slightly however from “It sounds better than what it actually is” syndrome. It’s pretty good but ends up feeling a bit “lightweight.” Still, it allows up to five human players and when approached with the proper mindset it can be a rather fun affair. Just temper those expectations going in.
Battle Racers took Bandai’s famous Kamen Rider-related characters and dumped them into a Mario Kart-esque game. I love the gorgeous sunset effect as seen above. It’s a very solid racing game but as stated before, it’s simply NAGASMK. Still, it’s worthy enough to warrant a look.
Finally, we come to the lone American clone in this lot. Street Racer features a four player split-screen mode. That alone makes it something to write home about. Well worth adding to your SNES collection, Street Racer has got its own bizarre personality and world. Give it a shot.
HONEY I SHRUNK THE KARTS!
The rule was simple. If you were “IT” you could pick any driver. The other person had to select Bowser (or Donkey). Why? They were the slowest to accelerate. The goal? Tag big ol’ Bowser (or Donkey). We found Vanilla Lake 2 to be most conducive for this makeshift mini-game. I can’t tell you how many hours we wasted on this. It was so cool because we felt like we had discovered an extra ‘secret mode’ to the game, which only increased its already excellent longevity. When shrunk, the small courses suddenly loom large, and what healthy child doesn’t love a spot or two of tag? It only added to the game’s brilliance and was a testament to just how stellar the game was. GP and Battle Mode are great and everything… but for sheer laughs and kicks, try out this miniature game of tag! It was classic childhood innocence sprinkled with that impeccable Nintendo magic that made it a winning combination
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
Super Mario Kart was considered a universal smash hit. While today many are divided on where they stand — some feel it has stood the test of time while others think it hasn’t aged too well and that later renditions have rendered the original a bit obsolete — back in 1992 practically everyone was blown away. Along with Capcom’s Street Fighter II, Super Mario Kart was THE two player game to have on the Super Nintendo. Those two showcase titles were responsible for moving Super Nintendo systems by the truckload back in 1992. EGM gave Super Mario Kart ratings of 9, 9, 8 and 8. GameFan rated it 97, 96, 95 and 90%. Super Play scored it 93%. In EGM’s Top 100 Games list printed in issue #100 (November 1997), Super Mario Kart ranked in at a lofty #15. Their “Most Challenging Moment” blurb made me smile because I completely agree with them. It was a heated argument back in the late ’90s on which was better: Super Mario Kart or Mario Kart 64. I do love me some four player Mario Kart 64 but come on, the tracks on the original game was simply superior. It’s a debate that continues to stir passionate opinions to this very day…
Nintendo Power Magazine published their Top 100 Nintendo games list in issue #100 (September 1997). By the way, I found it cool (and such a wild coincidence) how EGM and Nintendo Power Magazine reached 100 issues at almost the same time. Nintendo Power ranked Super Mario Kart #32 while Mario Kart 64 placed #4. They hit the nail on the head with their very first sentence. I owned both Mario Kart games growing up, and while I really enjoyed Mario Kart 64 as well, Super Mario Kart was my favorite.
Super Play Magazine published their own Top 100 SNES Games list back in April 1996. Super Play ranked Super Mario Kart as the third best SNES game ever created.
Retro Gamer Magazine printed a special article on the SNES back in issue #23 (March 2006), highlighting ten “perfect” SNES games. Super Mario Kart topped that list at #1. Speaking of lists, I’ve been working on my very own SNES list the past 10 plus years.Whenever I get around to publishing it, you’ll see I also have Super Mario Kart ranked fairly high
A “DY-NO-MITE!” COMMERCIAL
It’s crazy to believe it’s been nearly 25 years since Super Mario Kart raced its way into our hearts. Time flies. It’s almost been 25 years since my brother and I pulled off the greatest gaming trade in the history of mankind (well, at least of our lives). This was the kind of game that brought all your neighborhood friends over like ants to sugar. Hell, even that one guy you barely knew! Whether it was the intense battle mode, the heart-pounding GP race, or even the brilliant makeshift tag mode we created out of a simple code, Super Mario Kart provided so many rich memories for me and my friends. It features great graphics (although it had to be seen in 1992 to truly be appreciated), excellent sound and unforgettable music, and finely tuned gameplay that only the Big N could perfect. The racing just feels right, and the creativity of the weapons and tracks only added to the game’s zaniness and appeal. Nintendo delivered another legendary gem and proved there was indeed life for Mario and friends outside of the platforming genre.
I still play Super Mario Kart to this day. It’s one of my “go to” games whenever I feel like I might be heading into a gaming slump. It’s like that tried-and-true classic on the menu that you always order when you want to be reminded of how good food can taste. Super Mario Kart always reminds me of why I love gaming in the first place. It’s got an outlandish universe filled with classic characters, practical weapons and power-ups to use that never gets old, and memorable courses that are still as fun to race on now as they were then. Almost a quarter century later, Super Mario Kart still finishes in first place in my book in many categories. And it remains one of the finest Super Nintendo games ever created.
Regardless of later renditions and what else may come in the future, Super Mario Kart will forever be a true testament to how GREAT video games can be. It’s the best racing game on the SNES and one of the best Super Nintendo games ever. Thank you, Shigeru Miyamoto!