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Mario Kart Month: An Outsider's View Of Super Mario Kart

Posted by Kerry Brunskill

Kerry sees if the 16-bit classic is still in pole position

Mario Kart 8’s release is now just a few weeks away and everyone here at Nintendo Life is so excited about the game that they can’t sit still without applying superglue to their chairs first.

Well everyone except me; I honestly haven’t been anywhere near a Mario Kart game for at least five years and its been even longer since I sat down and played one properly. But regardless of my complete ambivalence it remains a much lauded series in the eyes of basically everyone else so I thought it would be a good idea to take another look at the original Super Mario Kart and see if that can reignite my interest in the one kart-racing series to rule them all.

My first impressions after booting up the game responsible for every mascot-based kart racer since 1992 aren't good – the title screen and the menus have a distinctly low budget feel with lots of plain text stuck in even plainer black boxes and what little spritework there is being almost entirely recycled from the main game. Of course Mario games have never been incredibly flashy affairs but even good old Super Mario Bros. managed to have a few little extra bells and whistles dotted around, so I don't know what Super Mario Kart’s excuse is.

The original Super Mario Bros. also didn't need seven button presses in six menus across three screens to get going either; never mind the fact that the game asks you twice to confirm things you've just told it to do! If that sounds like nit-picking let’s take a minute to look at the other big contender for player’s time back in the 90’s – Street Fighter II. Even The World Warrior edition – the most basic version of Street Fighter II out there – has you fighting in just two (1P) or three (2P) button presses with no “Are you sure you want to do the thing you've just told me to do?” confirmations. Super Mario Kart is certainly not the first game to feature a tedious menu system, but considering the company this is coming from, I expected better.

It will probably come as no surprise to hear that things perked up once I drilled down through the menus and actually started racing; the karts still feel bouncy and light without being beyond the control of the player and powersliding around a corner is tuned just right – I knew when I was pushing my luck and when I did spin out I never questioned Nintendo’s virtual rules. I like that courses have their own distinct style, giving me a little bit of an idea of what to watch out for on the Flower/Star/Special Cup courses before I've even been round them.

But there are issues here as well. Some obstacles are difficult to pick out at speed, making avoiding them on reactions and visual information alone rather hit-and-miss. Some of that’s simply down to the then-impressive Mode 7 used to create the tracks, but it was certainly annoying to get flattened by a Thwomp that I thought I was going to skid past. It’s not all down to '90s technical limitations, either – who thought contrasting the dark brown floor of the Ghost House tracks with a plain black background was a great idea?

So the karts and the tracks are still lovely, but racing against the CPU felt like a chore – they only appeared to be interested in wiping me out, as if just before the race I'd insulted their mothers while simultaneously flushing their cherished pet goldfish down the loo. It also only took a single 50cc cup to see that the CPU finishing order was incredibly static, making four of my seven opponents nothing more than glorified track decoration as far as the rankings were concerned and destroying any sense of personal influence or pretend rivalry in mere minutes. Authentic AI would of course have been far too much for the SNES to handle and remains a completely unrealistic expectation, but knowing where everyone will finish before the race has even started makes it feel as if Nintendo weren't even trying.

The long-term appeal definitely lies in the time attack and two player modes — that’s fine, a lot of games are better that way — but to be frank I expect more from Nintendo than I do most other developers and to see such a bare-bones single player experience is very disappointing. I’ll definitely make sure that I don’t leave it so long next time to go sliding around Donut Plains or clattering over Bowser Castle’s stonework, but I'll also make sure I bring a willing friend too.

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User Comments (52)



Jazzer94 said:

The older Mario Karts are a lot less forgiving though I haven't really played enough (or really remember playing) Super Mario Kart from what I've heard Super Circuit is quite similar and I really struggled with that when I was little.



NintyMan said:

Oddly enough, I was okay playing Super Mario Kart, though I never got to the cup with Rainbow Road until a few years ago. The odd thing is that I really struggled to play Super Circuit when I was little, and that game is controlled pretty much the same way. I struggled so much it was if it was almost unplayable, so I didn't play it much until it came on 3DS as an ambassador gift years later. I guess a couple of the factors were that it was on a smaller screen and also with a different button layout.



GloverMist said:

@DestinyMan I really need to play Super Circuit. I feel awful that the only kart-ish racing game I had on GBA when I was little was Banjo-Pilot. Yes really. I didn't know what Mario Kart was at the time!



NintyMan said:

I figured the author would hate the hard-to-see ice cube obstacles on the Sherbet Land tracks. Those are still challenging to me to this day!



MrGawain said:

All I know is when Mario Kart came out, it was a game changer of being substantially difficult to make you want to get better, but not soul destroying like F-Zero that slapped you around and made you look stupid, as well as being a love letter to the Mario Franchises adding combat effectively into a racing game. And at the time it enthralled a 12 year old kid. Mario Kart has been advanced on, but the original was a truly innovative racing game.



unrandomsam said:

I only had the PAL version but when I got the 60hz switch I used it which improved the pace. Problem is even the NTSC version now feels too slow.



Kirk said:

I personally think the original F-Zero actually holds up much better than the original Mario Kart.

I mean don't get me wrong; I totally respect what Super Mario Kart did for the racing genre and I thought it was great fun at the time but I've always thought F-Zero was a better racing game at it's core when all is said and done.

To me, F-Zero on SNES plays just a good now as it ever has and although simple looking by today's standards, the graphics still function perfectly for the job at hand.

The game lacks any kind of multi-player mode, which I would have loved to have seen, but I certainly never thought negatively of the game at the time because of it. It's really only in hindsight that I wish there was a multi-player mode because of how good the single player has held up and because I can imagine how good a multi-player option in the original would have been. It was however the first racer on the system so multi-player really wasn't expected anyway and what is there is very solid and holds up brilliantly imo.

Mario Kart is a classic and deserves any acclaim it gets but F-Zero is a superior racing game imo.



ToxieDogg said:

Did Kerry really just spend 2 whole paragraphs complaining about the basic menu presentation of a game from 1992, and having to press a button more than a couple of times to confirm options and start the game off? I always try to respect other people's opinions but I find it extremely difficult to take 'journalism' like this seriously.

Come back to me after you've completed the Special Cup on 150cc mode before you start whinging about how 'disappointing' the single player mode is.



fortius54 said:

The original is good, but I thought the N64 was where the series really shined. We played that thing for hours in college. It is hard to revisit games like this. It's different going back and playing through Super Mario Bros. Super Mario Kart innovated for its time, but it has been built on from there. I think you have to keep things like that in mind.



shigulicious said:

Super Mario Kart is almost unplayable to me these days. Great game for its time but it just hurts my eyes nowadays.



LavaTwilight said:

Haha that's funny. I remembered Mario Kart being a lot easier than it was coming back to it but that just made it more enjoyable to me. And while I agree with your point I also find the menu tedious and unappealing.

And the worst thing about it is definitely the AI. I mean come on, we can't get the shrinking shrooms or Bowser's fire without a cheat and they have an endless supply of what items they do have. It's incredibly unfair and frustrating to say the least.

The problem with games today, is if you're playing a retro game for the first time, a lot of what made that game awesome to begin with is lost. I was hoping to see more from this article, as if it was a 'review' from a first time player for, perhaps, first-time players. But it was more of a 'summary' for players who have already purchased the game to let us know what she thought. It was a fair review I thought. With the more recent installments I feel like Mario Kart has not aged well but it still provides a good challenge for me.



LavaTwilight said:

Not at all. It's probably the most unique Mario Kart in the franchise but for all the wrong reasons. As @fortius54 mentioned above, Mario Kart 64 really propelled the series forwards and made MK what it is today. The first game is still great and worth paying the VC price for but go into it with an open mind, remembering it is now over 20 years old.



garfreek said:

2 player gp is the best, and because 2/3 set CPU characters are always 1,2,3 it made sure that princes peach and mario are (to this day) my ultimate spin off archrivals!

I'd say double dash is probably a game that will never age, 64 was a lot of fun but feels very empty and static nowadays.snes stays fresh because of it's 16-bit charm. (the first 3 will always be the ones I had the most fun with)



Jayvir said:

A lot of this sounds like judging a 90s game on modern standards. Technical limitations and slightly hindering design? SHOCKING!



AJWolfTill said:

@ToxieDogg @Jayvir
Are you guys missing the whole "outsiders perspective" point of view that this article was going for. It's evaluating this game for the benefit of people who's first chance to play this is from the the eShop. Yeah judging retro games by modern standards can appear odd to you if you grew up with it but sometimes games which were great for their time and highly revered simply do not translate to enjoyable experiences for those who are trying them for the first time.



Cinaclov said:

I really dislike both the original and Super Circuit. The turning in particular is something I find really horrible, it seems to turn far too little at first before dramatically oversteering, and powersliding (hopping?) just doesn't seem to work. I've played both multiple times over the years but never for any extended period, so maybe I just haven't 'gotten it' yet, but I just don't understand how people enjoy something you can't control properly. That said, I am still glad people enjoyed the original so much, as it led to one of the best multiplayer franchises in gaming.



retro_player_22 said:

This article is like it was written by someone who sucks at playing the game. Very much of the stuff he/she are complaining about are minor subjects. The CPU was program to follow a simple pattern of racing and whichever character you used change that pattern accordingly. Of course they will try to stop you, they're not just robotic dolls like most other kart racer. Also you can change the order of how they process, hate that Luigi is always on your tail, study his pattern, then take him down with a turtle shell or banana peel, once he's out of second place, then you won't had to worry about that invincible cheap ass plumber on your tail ever again but do realize that once you get him out of your way, the next CPU will be even more annoying as he is.

Also though a lot of the course are difficult to pick up speed, there's the mushroom power-up and coins scatter around the track to help you boost your kart, heck you even get a free boost if you know how to do the boost start at the beginning and even if you're not going the fast and the furious, there's plenty of hidden shortcuts you can find and take to get back on top not to mention better power-ups to help you catch-up. To me the game seem too easy the way it is, if you want real challenge try playing it in shrunk mode, that would really take it out of you. Super Mario Kart is a part of my childhood, I have had tons of memorable moments with everything that game had to offer.

Also complicated menu and selection, please go play any other racing games and you'll be even more surprise. On a lot of Need For Speed games, you had to pick a mode then confirm, pick a difficulty, then confirm, pick a car, then confirm, pick the mode of that car: manual or auto, then confirm, pick parts for the car, then confirm each time, pick colors for the car, then confirm, pick track to race in and confirm, and sometimes even pick the different layout of the track as well and confirm, so yeah I think complaining about Super Mario Kart's menu confirmation is just idiotic especially when it's just a few button presses unlike others which had a marathon of button presses.



ledreppe said:

I recently went back to SMK, and found it very different from modern MK's. I haven't completed 100cc GP and unlocked all the tracks, as I felt I was getting no where. I'll need to have another serious attempt at it soon (hopefully before MK8).



PinkSpider said:

@retro_player_22 agree exactly with what u said, what a poor article this is, to be honest I lost it at having to press a button more than 7 times to start a race. Seriously that's a problem???? imagine having to load between button presses, I'm looking at you lego city undercover.



Sean_Aaron said:

I've only ever played Super Mario Kart and when it was brand-new, so it's been over 20 years for me. I'm pretty jazzed for Mario Kart 8, though - looks like a lot of fun!



TheKingOfTown said:

I played Super Mario Kart for the first time fairly recently and I had a blast with it. I also think that SMK is vastly superior to Super Circuit.



PJR0cks said:

No offense to people complaining but you really don't know what you're talking about. I loved the game, so did all my friends and anyone who started playing it back then, I loved it when it was first released and when I picked it up years later, I enjoyed it just the same, easily if not the best racing game in gaming's history, one of the top 3. I haven't played a lot of the other MK versions since I can imagine them being great, but I can't imagine they could ever be as influential as this game was back then, and complaining that the game was challenging is ridiculous, since that is part of it's overall appeal.



BearClaus said:

I never had a problem with the menus. And really, I watch that classic title screen play out nearly every time I boot up the game. And there were a lot of clever things in the deeper menus, like the borders on the Grand Prix screen and the course backgrounds on all the other course select screens. There are way worse things to complain about with this game.

Of course, those get rightfully touched upon later on, so it's all good. It took me forever to start liking this game; for the longest time it was one of those games that I kept coming back to despite it being terrible, until I came to the conclusion that either it wasn't terrible or its terribleness was a good thing.



Sean_Aaron said:

I only ever played it with friends and it was fun as a party game. I can't say I'd see the appeal of playing it alone so I'm sympathetic to the writer here. I sincerely hope there's nothing goofy in Mario Kart 8 like new tracks only unlocking via single-player mode or I expect I'll end up not seeing a lot of what it has to offer...



KevTastic84 said:

The game controls fine. Its just newer / younger gamers are used to the post Double Dash era of controls. Which in their own right are perfectly controlled too. SNES MK is brutal for beginners, but the fact you'll smile with glee everytime you get a red shell is worth it.



JosieC84 said:

Super Mario Kart played a big part in my childhood life. Such good memories playing with my older brother, especially with battle mode. I found the menu easy to navigate when I was 6 or 7. To me the original Mario kart is my most favourite and holds a special place in my heart.



micronean said:

Super Mario Kart is a great game, don't let the others fool you. There's a reason why it is still spoken about and played. The controls are responsive, the tracks are challenging, the items are well balanced (i.e. no blue shells or bullet bills), and it's very dependent on skill.
But as it's such an old game, some people may not be used to the physics of 2-D racing or the graphics, but that is their problem--not the game's.



Takerkaneanite6 said:

@micronean Coming Off Of Mario Kart Wii Straight To Double Dash, The Physics And The Drifting Was Very Different, But I Was Able To Put All Of That Aside And Throughly Enjoyed The Game, So Going From Mario Kart Wii/7 To Super Mario Kart Shouldn't Be Too Much Of A Problem, But To Me, Graphics Don't Make Me Decide On A Good/Enjoyable Game To A Bad Gane, For The Time, As In 22 Years Ago, This Was Amazing, I Think That I Would Really Enjoy Playing It If I Was To Download It From Wii U E-Shop, I Mean It's Mario Kart, What's Not To Like???



k8sMum said:

i would watch my kids play it for about 3 minutes and then have to go throw up. for some reason it caused severe motion sickness in me.



FriedSquid said:

There's a difference between judging a retro game by modern standards and having your standards set too high. I have only started playing SMK (as well as Super Circuit) within the last few years or so, so I don't have "nostalgia-goggles" on. These games are great and I think the author's gripes are simply too trivial.



Andrew_Cook said:

@Damo lolwut? There's a pretty big difference between starting an older game in a series you've never played before (hence "outsider's perspective," it's pretty easy to understand) and criticizing a game from 1992 for its "low budget" visuals, the CPU for going after you in a Mario Kart game, and whining about having to press a button a whole seven times. Oh, the humanity! The entire idea of playing a game this old, especially when its the first entry in the series, and critiquing it based on subsequent innovation is foolish. Made even worse is its laughably condescending tone ("I expected better... Nintendo wasn't even trying"). It's like playing the original Metroid and saying "no backgrounds? Samus only shoots in two directions? Get with it, Nintendo!"



Melkac said:

I'll go ahead and say it: In comparison to the other Mario Karts, this one is by far the worst. Whoever it isn't is obviously blinded by nostalgia.
Yeah yeah, 20 years old game.



SneakyStyle said:

This is one of those you had to be there moments, you guys will mostly never ever understand why Super Mario Kart was so great to all us that loved it. When it first came out there was nothing even close to being as fun of a kart racer around, so it blew everything outa the water. And the competition scene in this game was crazy we had huge gatherings of friends all racing all day every weekend on this game lol.

And Pfft it was easy to win against Ai if you don't suck at video games.

I give this review and most of it's comments a 1/10.



Krzysztof said:

I remember playing original mario kart at friends of mine an I wasn't that impressed, mostly because of controls. So I lost interest in the series until MK Wii. And I was blown away by how much fun this game was. MK7 was good too but it wasn't the same, something was missing. MK8 though, I really hope it's gonna be at least on the same level of funness as it's home console predecessor. Fingers crossed.



Ferret said:

SMK will always be the best racing game of all time. Con trolls are fantastic and the tracks actually force you to be good. I hate all these wide tracks nowadays on Mario Kart as you really don't have to be good at racing the karts.



Zombie_Barioth said:

Well of course its the worst by comparison, its the very first game in the series, never mind that yes, its a 22yr old game. I honestly don't get the point of calling any old game the "worst" in the series, unless its an objectively bad game, if you expect a game to have any modern conveniences I don't what to tell you. Labeling anyone who disagrees blinded by nostalgia isn't exactly gonna win you any arguments either.

I suppose I should thank you for illustrating the point I wanted to make though.

But as for the article, I may not agree with every grip Karry had but they were reasonably thought out and stuck to comparing to other games of the time. She also gave it a fair chance rather than stick her nose up at it for being old, thats farther than many people would probably get.



ToxieDogg said:

@AJWolfTill I appreciate what you're saying, but come on...2 whole paragraphs complaining that the presentation looks a bit basic and having to press a button more than twice to confirm options and get the game started? How in any way, shape or form does that affect the quality of the game? It's just pointless whinging for the sake of whinging, especially the nonsense with comparing it to how many button presses it takes to start other games from that era off....Street Fighter 2 is a bit of a silly example because most people are likely to change the difficulty setting in the options (leading to more button presses) and she also forgot that in VS matches you also have to select a country to fight in as well (see, I can also nitpick ).

Look at Super Mario World. Virtually everybody would agree that it's one of, if not THE best 2D platformer ever made but it's presentation absolutely sucks....just a rolling demo of one of the Star Road levels, the title of the game and a tune playing in the background. That's it. Then just hit start, select your save file, number of players and away you go. Should Super Mario World be retroactively criticized because it didn't have a nice little opening screen animation like Super Mario Bros 3? 'I expected better' from Nintendo indeed

@Damo No point having a feedback section on articles if you can't accept people offering constructive or negative criticism.

@Andrew_Cook Well done for hitting the nail right on the head.



AshFoxX said:

Mario Kart, along with Star Fox are the staples of Nintendo to me, as any time one or the other is announced I immediately add the respective system to my 'to do' list. With this in mind, it took guts to write an outsiders perspective to the series that they never really liked to begin with. I admit, I found it very nit picky with the menu system and comparing this to a fighting game. (which is actually my least favorite genre, but thats why I could appreciate this position.)

I do fully agree with the predetermined positioning of the AI, and also agree that the limitations of the system were not at fault for such 'lazy' programming. This game launched a great series, and as this is my second least favorite entry (the last being Advance Circuit for GBA) so it does not have many of the bells and whistles we come to expect from the series today. Still, it's always a fun ride, and one of my favorite SNES games ever... Except Star Fox.



StarDust4Ever said:

Honestly, despite Mario Kart 64 being some people's least favorite, MK64 was my all time favorite as I had memories of racing the beautiful 3D courses and the awesome battle arenas with my high school buds. My first experience with Super Mario Kart was when I started retro collecting as an adult, and while I have played it a few times over the years, the battles and the rigid square courses do seem to not have quite as much polish. I did enjoy GBA Super Circuit for the enhanced graphics and more balanced AI. Battle modes in Double Dash and MK 64 were the best for multiplayer mayhem, though the difficulty was a bit unforgiving in Double Dash. Heavy carts were practically useless and lighter riders got knocked off track; Nintendo fudged up battle mode every gen by making users "blow" their balloons in MK-DS, teams in MK-Wii, and losing your score in 3DS when all your balloons are popped. Also gameplay should be to the last man standing, but 2nd and 3rd should get some credit. In a 12-player free-for-all, only the winner getting any points, sigh... I also really loved how in MK64 with 3 or 4 players, you could be turned into a bomb and get that coveted "revenge hit", a mechanic that has since not returned. Bomb mode in MKDD was awesome too... Wii and 3DS felt very balanced difficulty wise, nearly perfect, and online gameplay adds loads or replay value. Looking forward to more in MK8. Cart customizations and bikes are back, baby! Can't wait to try some of the galaxy-like upside down courses either...



defrb said:

The mother of all cart racers, the worst in the series. i enjoyed this one the most. Back in the days you had not much to choose from.
This was it, and it still is ^^



FantasiaWHT said:

Wow I don't really agree with any of these complaints except for the menus, which are very minor. I never have problems with contrast in ghost houses, or timing thwomps. And if the order of AI finishing wasn't static, it would be incredibly easy to win the GP just by finishing 3rd every race..



Rensch said:

While earning gold on all cups certainly isn't easy on any Mario Kart game, this one in particular is unforgiving. Still a great game, though.



DragonbornRito said:

@Takerkaneanite6 Even worse than caps lock. Seriously.

I loved MK for the SNES. It was a great game for 2 players, and the single-player mode just encouraged me to keep coming back until I got first in the 150cc Special Cup. All this at the ripe old age of 10. I can see where someone who got spoiled on the controls of today's games would struggle majorly with the older games, but like someone else said: that's the gamer's fault, not the games.



SparkOfSpirit said:

Still beats the boring Mario Kart 64 anyday. This is still my go to Mario Kart for pick up and play.



hephiroth said:

Yes, Super Mario Kart is the oldest of the series and has some quirks, but it's amazing to me how much they got right in the first go 'round. The fact that they included the item system, cups (and their unique points system), battle mode speed boosts, power slides, and more, all in the first game...well, it's pretty impressive in my book.

I actually was playing this one tonight for my blog, as I'm doing some retrospectives on the Mario Kart series, and I was impressed with how fun the game remains to this day. The only big downside for me is that it only supports two players. The four player madness of later Kart games is what makes the series so sticky, but it was definitely not possible on the SNES.

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