When it comes to influential video games, there aren’t many that can match Super Mario Kart. This 1992 SNES classic not only created the kart-racing subgenre, it also helped shape multiplayer and party games from that point forward. Mario had appeared in games other than platformers before Super Mario Kart, but it is the game that made Mario spinoffs a ‘thing.’ Suffice to say it had an impact.
Despite its influence, the sheer fun and replay value that Super Mario Kart brought to the table is what has helped it endure. Its sequels may have added to the formula, but the original Super Mario Kart remains an impressive game even today on the Wii U.
Being the first entry in the long-standing series, Super Mario Kart represents Mario Kart in its purest form. It lacks the bells and whistles of subsequent entries, but in many ways it’s just as fun.
Players can take control of one of eight classic Mario characters: Mario and Luigi are well-balanced, the Princess and Yoshi have high acceleration, Toad and Koopa Troopa have better maneuverability, and Bowser and Donkey Kong Jr. have the highest max speed.
The tracks in Super Mario Kart are considerably shorter than later entries (they are downright bite-size by today’s standards), but they are smartly designed. Items like banana peels and Koopa shells made their debut here, but they are much more limited than in subsequent games. It’s the tracks themselves that provide the real challenge, as they host a variety of obstacles that will test players’ racing skills.
Super Mario Kart is still fun to play, though the gameplay isn’t quite so smooth as its modern descendants. Sharp turns will often lead to spinouts, and steering in general feels less fluid than today’s Mario Kart. But when considering this was the pioneer of the genre, it’s a pleasant surprise that it still works as well as it does.
The game made use of the SNES’ “Mode 7” graphics, meaning that scaling and rotation were used on the game’s environments to give a more immersive, three-dimensional effect. It still works for the most part, and it’s pretty impressive how Nintendo used such simple effects to create such a precise racer. Though some of the rotation may prove a little dizzying for the uninitiated.
Super Mario Kart features four different modes: Grand Prix sees one or two players take on a host of computer-controlled characters in a series of races. Time Trial is one-player only, where racers try to beat their best times without the use of items. Vs. Mode is a one-on-one race between two players. Finally, Battle Mode remains one of the game’s highlight, where two players face each other in an arena and must use items to pop each others balloons. The player who pops all of his opponents balloons wins.
Although these game modes are simple, they provide a strong sense of fun and remain addictive, making Super Mario Kart an easy game to return to. One downside is that, even when playing in single player mode, you are still playing within a split screen. Due to the game’s emphasis on multiplayer and technical limitations of the time, Nintendo had to leave the split screen present throughout. It may have had its reasons, but the limited screen space can become a bit of a distraction.
Super Mario Kart, although no longer the best entry in the series, remains a very fun and engaging title that is worthy of a revisit on the Wii U. It was a brilliantly realized concept that revolutionized multiplayer games and turned the Super Mario series into a more versatile franchise. Some of the technical issues are showing their age, but the experience is still a blast.