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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Super Mario Kart: still the greatest game in the series (Wii Virtual Console)

Simple, but oh-so-effective

Of all the games I had played on the Super Nintendo, Super Mario Kart was the one I missed most. Yes, in my youth I was silly enough to think a newly-released N64 and Hexen 64 (of all games) was more important than the SNES and 16 or so games, but youth does silly things.

Of course, the N64 turned out to be a special console in its own right, but one game alone was never replaced like-for-like; Mario Kart 64 was not better than Super Mario Kart. Mario Kart Wii and DS aren’t better than Super Mario Kart. I realise I’m probably the only person left to think this, but I would happily take this game over any others in the series.


I remember making up my own ways to play Super Mario Kart. There, when the battle mode was just two players, you needed to. I remember one made use of the water themed battleground. There, it was possible to use the jump feather item (which has sadly disappeared in the modern Mario Kart vernacular) to land in a pool of water surrounded by blocks. We called it ‘the fort.’

The only way our little game allowed people to ‘invade’ that fort was to hurl bananas at the person holed up in the fort. A simple, silly game? Yep, but at the time, coupled with the sheer charm of the game, it was a brilliant way to while away a Sunday.




Of course, we spent plenty of time racing, too. Tracks were supremely balanced, and the flat, mode-7 art style remains a unique, charming side to the game that future Mario Karts have replaced, but not bettered (though the GBA game shot for a similar prize, it ultimately faltered at the last hurdle). Finding shortcuts were fun. Hitting your opponent with a red shell before the finish line and thus allowing the entire horrible, cheating AI to overtake at the finish line was always a laugh. There was no silly blue shell, no over-the-top super powers unique to each character.

I loathe that in later games in the series, I had to use characters I didn’t like to get the special items that suit my play style (Double Dash). A game that relies on its character appeal shouldn’t force people to play in a certain way, in other words, Koopa-for-life.

The music, too, was a whole charm in itself – it almost makes me which we were still using .midi as a music standard. The beach levels remain a personal favourite, and I’ve got those tracks and the perfect racing curve drilled into my brain, all these years later.

Come first, and the flying fish dies in an amusing fashion

Going back to the game today, courtesy of the Wii Virtual Console, is one of those few cases where the reality behind the nostalgia hasn’t disappointed me. It’s the simplicity that attracts me to this game, and has put me off later Mario Karts; I like that I don’t have to waggle the controller back and forth to effect power slides. I like that there aren’t silly, superfluous gameplay ‘additions,’ such as motorbikes and dual characters. I love the simple joy of collecting the coins scattered on the track.







Yes, the game controls loosely compared to the precise modern Mario Kart games, and yes, I do miss four-player and online play, but Super Mario Kart is a genuine classic to me that has yet to be bettered.

So, in short: Super Mario Kart is not just a game, it’s a piece of magic, Disney-style art that brings the inner child right to the fore and is an utterly absorbing experience. Still, all these years later, it’s a must have, as far as I’m concerned.



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Super Mario Kart: still the greatest game in the series (Wii Virtual Console)
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