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Super Mario Kart (SNES) artwork

Super Mario Kart (SNES) review


"You’ll soon find that much of your success in Super Mario Kart comes from the items you obtain and the way you use them. A stupid player may toss away a green shell, considering it useless. A better player might drop it behind the kart as a bomb, or use it as a shield from a red homing shell. Each item gathered has multiple uses, making strategy just as important as luck. And of course, there’s no substitute for good racing."



Chock full of great visuals, awesome sound, tight play control, amazing track design, items galore and a multi-player mode that’s hard to beat, Super Mario Kart is my favorite game of all time. It’s also one of the main reasons to own a Super Nintendo.

Mascot racers have a bad reputation these days, partly because they tend to be so cute, and also because they’re often quite flawed. Of the two criticisms, Super Mario Kart is guilty of only the former. This is because the bright and cheery graphics do such a wonderful job depicting Mario and associates. Every racer can be recognized from across the track. Even when you’re approaching a green profile from behind, for example, it’s easy to distinguish Luigi from Yoshi.

None of the characters bleed into the tracks, either. The artists chose simple colors for the asphalt and sand, deep browns for the mounds of dirt on Donut Plains or Chocolate Island, and similar hues for the haunted boardwalks. You’ll even race around the snow-covered Vanilla Lake or through the molten hallways of Bowser’s Castle. Though there’s little color variety, the palettes from which atmospheres were crafted always manage to make the game feel ‘right.’

It sounds right, too. The music is a cheerful mix of tunes that make you smile. Some is recycled from past Mario games. For example, you’ll hear the familiar invincibility tune as that person careens wildly around the track after grabbing a star. The melancholy tunes between rounds are perfect filler, but the races themselves are scored with stuff that’s there for one obvious reason: to make you drive fast.

You’ll love doing precisely that, thanks to the spectacular play control. There are eight racers in the game. They range from the plumbers, to Yoshi and the princess, to Toad and Koopa Troopa, to Donkey Kong Jr. and Bowser. Members of each pair I named drive similarly, for a total of four distinct driving styles in the game. The two brothers are fast, but they steer wide. Bowser and the simian have great top speed, but they start out slower than a Sunday driver and they steer with the grace of an elephant on roller skates. Yoshi and the princess start out quickly, but they don’t speed up much from there, while Koopa Troopa and Toad zip all over and can turn on a dime, but get knocked around by larger drivers. Because there’s a style for every type of player, there’s a racer you’ll prefer as you navigate the game’s many tracks.

I already told you about the wide variety of settings, but the differences would mean nothing if they were merely cosmetic. Each track style contains its own hazards, from giant blocks that crash down from above, to ramps that send you falling through space, to gophers who pop out of their holes to make you spin out. To master Super Mario Kart, you’ll need to become a master of sliding around such obstacles, but other racers will be doing the same. You’ll want to take corners more tightly than anyone else, hit more of the zipper pads than anyone else, and perhaps even take advantage of a few shortcuts. Some of these are of dubious value. Racing over the grass on Donut Plains to pass through a wall instead of zipping around a sharp u-turn isn’t necessarily going to save you any time. Numerous areas force such decisions. Your choice will often come down to whether or not you’re carrying the appropriate item.

Item boxes are scattered all over the place. Touch one and you get an item, which could be anything from a star to a mushroom or feather, or even a shell or banana peel. The shells are like missiles you can use to pelt your opponents. Banana peels can be dropped behind you like bombs, or thrown in arcs to send the leader of the pack into a spin. Mushrooms and feathers give you horizontal or vertical boosts, respectively. The star allows you to knock into enemies and stop them cold while boosting your own speed. And there are other items, too, like a ghost you can use to steal others’ items, or a lightning bolt that shrinks the competition so you can flatten them.

You’ll soon find that much of your success in Super Mario Kart comes from the items you obtain and the way you use them. A stupid player may toss away a green shell, considering it useless. A better player might drop it behind the kart as a bomb, or use it as a shield from a red homing shell. Each item gathered has multiple uses, making strategy just as important as luck. And of course, there’s no substitute for good racing.

As important as items may be in the main game, though, their importance is never more paramount than in the game’s multi-player areas. There are three ways to play with a friend: grand prix (the same as the normal game, but with your friend’s view replacing the map view along the screen’s bottom), match race (pick your favorite track and go to it) or battle mode. The last of these deserves an extra explanation because of its depth. You pick from four arenas, and then each racer starts with three colored bubbles spinning around him or her. From there, players grab items and attack their opponents to burst the three bubbles. The first player to do so wins. Such rounds are quite frantic, and strategy reaches new heights. It’s easy to play twenty or thirty rounds before you realize how much time has passed.

Like I said, this is my favorite game. I could tell you stories of great matches I’ve played against friends, of hours I spent in front of the television just perfecting my races in the game’s time trial mode. But I won’t. This is a review, not a chance to get to know me. Besides, I’m not half as interesting as Super Mario Kart.

Rating: 10/10

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Staff review by Jason Venter (Date unavailable)

Jason Venter founded HonestGamers in 1998, and since then has written hundreds of reviews as the site's editor-in-chief. He also is a prolific freelancer with game reviews, articles and fiction available around the Internet.

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