In this series of articles we'll write about one Mario game every day for 30 days, each representing a different year as part of our Super Mario 30th Anniversary celebrations.
With the exception of our 1987 entry, this series of articles on Mario titles for each year since 1985 has been all about main-series platformers. 1992 was a significant year, then, as it brought the highest profile spin-off based in the Mario universe - this wasn't a silly cameo from Mario, but rather a new kind of game starring the plumber and seven other characters from the IP.
This wasn't the first racer on the Super NES, of course, with the iconic F-Zero being a launch title on the system, with that entry also being an early demonstration of Mode 7 effects at work. Prior to the 1992 arrival of Super Mario Kart (early 1993 in Europe), however, the kart racing genre had little relevance in the market. As was typical of Nintendo at the time, it leveraged its IP with some terrific gameplay to establish another smash hit; inevitably it would be copied by rivals in the years that followed, while Mario Kart became one of the big N's most valuable franchises.
Anyway, we're somewhat skipping ahead, so let's dial back. As had become the norm for major releases with Mario in the title, Shigeru Miyamoto was prominent in his role as producer for Super Mario Kart, with Tadashi Sugiyama and Hideki Konno directing; Konno-san is now the long-serving series producer, continuing that role with Mario Kart 8. Reportedly, early prototypes were for a generic kart racer with multiplayer as a priority. Yet the creative direction of the project came up against hardware restrictions, while the decision to turn it into a Mario release was surely taken with sales and popularity in mind.
System shortcomings, assessing them now, arguably played a significant part in enabling the Super Mario Kart experience to be so different to that of F-Zero. Accommodating two players necessitated simpler track design in order to process two screens, and that early focus on a desire to prioritise multiplayer surely contributed to the design choice of single player still operating a split-screen, albeit with a map on the bottom.
With multiple race classes - that are a darn sight harder than in modern efforts - there was a chance to learn courses and, of course, identify shortcuts. This first Mario Kart title handled very differently to modern efforts, too, with power sliding but not the easy-peasy drifting that's associated with current day entries. Picking up coins to unlock top speed, one-time item panels on the track - this original entry had some design approaches that have largely been left out of home console follow-ups, though coin collecting is back on the agenda in the current generation.
For some, though, the relatively simple-but-tricky course designs, combined with challenging handling, makes this not just the original but also the best Mario Kart. That is, of course, up for debate, but what's certain is that this was a major hit in the SNES era. Its visuals - utilising Mode 7 for a 3D feel to the pixel-based characters and tracks - were hugely impressive for the time, while the inclusion of multiplayer and Battle mode - in addition to Grand Prix and Time Trial - were all hugely popular features. Being able to play with a friend in head-to-head play was, in that era and with a game looking this good, a real treat.
As for Super Mario Kart's legacy, on a basic level it spawned a total of seven sequels (so far and not counting arcades) which are typically among the best-selling games on their respective systems. Though it may seem minor in this age of Mario Kart 8 and IP-busting DLC, SMK was also a big step in demonstrating the popularity of Mario spin-offs in general. After capturing hearts driving a kart Mario would go on to star in a lot of sports games, a trend that continues to this day along with a whole load of other genres.
It's still a popular title in the modern day, too, with the competitive record-setting scene in Time Trials going strong and annual World Championships taking place in France. There are also still plenty of Nintendo gamers of a certain age, we suspect, that fire it up on a regular basis.
Super Mario Kart may look and feel a lot different from its successors - with the exception of Mario Kart: Super Circuit on GBA - but it was an important catalyst for one of Nintendo's biggest franchises. It made kart racers cool and fun, too, while showing there was more to Mario than platforming and occasional cameos.