Although Super Mario Kart was the beginning of a series that would eventually lead to Mario Kart 8, I have mixed feelings about it. On one hand, nuck FASCAR! On the other, this is a really good game to play. And at the end of the day, that’s what matters. It’s the kind of quality game that a company that was badly losing the sales wars to Sega at the time needed.
Plot: 8 out of 10
Despite the use of the Mario license, this is a racing game at its core. Still, they do appropriately incorporate elements of the games have have the playable racers react to certain situations in character. So I’ll give this high marks despite the lack of much of a real plot. Also, this is the first of these spin-offs to allow those of us morally conflicted enough to pick a bad guy to do so.
Graphics: 8 out of 10
Not the best-looking of games, but still visually solid. Nothing is all that flashy or photo-realistic. However, it does have that “Mario” look about it. And in the pre-voice era everyone acting perfectly in character falls on graphics.
Sound: 6 out of 10
OK, this game doesn’t sound as well as it looks. The sequels are a different story, but the songs in this game sound like uninspired filler.
I should note that a lot of racers half-ass it here. The idea is that because you need to focus on driving, good sound only distracts. I disagree. If you take this concept to its logical conclusion, I guess no game of any genre that requires focus and/or skill should have good music, voices, or environmental sounds.
Gameplay: 9 out of 10
There are eight racers to choose from: Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Yoshi, Bowser, Donkey Kong, Jr., Toad, and Koopa Troopa. They have varying strengths and weaknesses. For instances, Toad is slow but handles well, while Bowser is slow to accelerate and corners badly, but is the fastest of them all once he gets going.
The controls work very well. To shake things up, you can run over “?” tiles to get an item. Many of these items are weapons out of the main Mario games that are designed to momentarily stop an opponent. Weapons are even the focal point of the Battle Mode in which each player’s racer gets three hits before losing. As I recall, this was the most fun mode to play with a friend because of its intensity. Just remember: keep it civil.
Challenge: 10 out of 10
This game has the perfect range of difficulty: from very easy to very hard. You start with the 50cc and 100cc difficulties and Mushroom, Flower, and Star Cup tracks available. The much harder Special Cup becomes available after you get the gold trophy against the computer on all other tracks in 100cc. The 150cc difficulty is unlocked by getting the gold on all 100cc tracks. This is clearly meant to slowly warm you up.
Mushroom Cup on 50cc is easy as pie, but the difficulty gradually ratchets up after that. I still can’t do much in the Special Cup in 150cc. Someday…
Overall: 8 out of 10
A bit overrated in the SNES library, but quite playable and the beginning of a big series. Once you look beyond the obvious cash-in on the Mario franchise, you have a lot of fun playing this one. It’s still totally a cash-in, though.