Review: Super Mario Kart (New 3DS / SNES)

Classic karting on the small screen

Many Mario Karts later it can be a little disorientating to go back to where it all began. Each cup has five races. Laps are short, but there are five of them. Item boxes are squares laid flat on the ground and put out of use after you've run over them. The CPU characters don't collect items at all, but have a single special ability they can call on during the race. Those are some of the differences between Super Mario Kart and later games, but it still provides the fun and frantic racing action the series is known for. Now available for New Nintendo 3DS you can enjoy this wonderful racer whilst out and about; the suspension/restore point functions coming in handy if you do not have time for a full cup of races.

The Mode 7 visuals are very effective, making you feel like you are throwing your kart around corners or narrowly avoiding perilous drops. The clean designs of the racers stand out from the tracks, stopping things from blending together; good when the action is now being viewed on a smaller screen – a smaller screen split in two. With only half the screen used for displaying the action (the other usually shows the map) this could cause problems, but thanks to a sensible camera position the racing remains clearly visible; in truth most other racing titles would just use the extra space to show more sky.

Though shrinking the screen further, this re-release includes the standard (for SNES on New 3DS) original resolution mode that can be switched on in the Virtual Console options to make the visuals sparkle that little bit more. One thing there isn't an option for, however, is multiplayer. Sega 3D classics let you connect copies of certain games for multiplayer shenanigans, NES Virtual Console titles go with download play to provide fun with a friend, but for SNES titles you're on your own.

The multiplayer modes can be selected and (by holding the Z buttons and tapping Y) you can switch "controllers", but there's no way for simultaneous play to occur. This is disappointing when multiplayer was a big part of Super Mario Kart's appeal, whether using help to obtain gold in the cups, racing each other or battling away in the highly enjoyable Battle Mode. As a release for a portable machine, multiplayer is something unlikely to be used as frequently as on a home console, but if you do bump into a New 3DS-owning chum it's a shame you can't join up for some retro karting action.

The single player mode is still as enjoyable as it ever was with twenty tracks to get to grips with. With the traditional-style Mario Circuits, the right-angled turns of the Bowser Castle tracks or something a bit different like the Koopa Beaches, there are a lot of memorable tracks here that bring a smile to gamers' faces whenever they return in later Mario Karts. Of course if you have an ambassador copy of Mario Kart: Super Circuit transferred to your system, the tracks are (unlockable) there, but these are the original versions with their original obstacles and zippers in place, and there's also the feather available for avoiding danger/taking shortcuts too.

Playing (and replaying) through the various cups is a lot of fun and can sometimes be a bit challenging; the CPU characters' repeated use of weapons can feel unfair at times. Luigi in particular is a complete git who will turn on his invincibility whenever he gets near. Races can be tight affairs or - if you get good at a track - you can find yourself lapping the field like you're Ayrton Senna in the XXXVIII Sega European Grand Prix. If you'd like a different (more challenging) way to play Nintendo Life recommends pressing the Y and A buttons together on the character select screen.

Finally, the Time Trial mode is as addictive as it's ever been as you try desperately to improve your time by a small fraction. Thanks to Miiverse integration you can also post your time to see how you compare with other owners of the game. Spoiler alert: you're not as quick as Sami Cetin.

Conclusion

It's Mario Kart, but not as we have come to know it. There are differences but in truth only the CPU characters' use of special items is an issue. There's a lack of multiplayer - the Wii U iteration naturally has this included - but plenty of highly enjoyable single player racing action with a fun GP mode and the time trials. There have been other Mario Karts, but the original still provides good entertainment and is a game you'll enjoy returning to again and again.

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