Super Mario Kart Reader Review
I quite like the Wii Remote but you have to admit that the humble game pad is a truly remarkable invention. Not only does it provide an accessible, precise, and responsive way of interacting with a video games console, it also has an astonishing tolerance for abuse. I know through my own extensive research that you can propel one at high speed towards your average living room radiator, retrieve it, and then continue on with only a minor impact to your gaming experience. They are also extremely resilient to biting, gnawing, twisting, hammering, and being pressed into your forehead whilst screaming hysterically.
Despite living in a manic, pet-filled household during my childhood, it was the innocent SNES games controller which had the most noticeable impact on our family home. Shards of broken plastic littered the carpet of our living room whilst the walls around our sofa resembled the pock-marked surface of a golf ball. After our pocket money dwindled and the “Official Nintendo” controllers became too expensive, my brother and I were forced to replace further casualties with clunky Taiwanese knock-offs - the ones featuring additional switches with names like “Super Turbo” or “Rapid Fire Power”. They were dark days indeed.
I often look back and wonder what my life would have been like if I had never been introduced to Super Mario Kart. It is the only game which I have been forced to re-purchase after an over excited friend kicked - and shattered - the cartridge inside the console during a particularly bloodthirsty match of Battle Mode. It is the only game which has found me dialling a premium rate Nintendo hotline at 3 o'clock in the morning to try to determine what the fastest possible lap time was on Ghost House 1 (they didn't know). It is without doubt one of the greatest video games I have played in my entire life, and it is from this completely unbiased standpoint that I will begin my review of this revived classic on the Virtual Console.
Super Mario Kart was first released on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1992 and has gone on to spawn numerous sequels, the most recent being Mario Kart Wii in 2008. The premise of the game is simple; you take control of an iconic Nintendo character and attempt to out-race your competitors over a series of tracks based on levels from the Mario universe. Proceedings are spiced up by the inclusion of weapons, traps, and power-ups which are dished out at random over the duration of the race and can be used to damning effect against your opponents.
These range from the simple Mushroom (provides a short burst of speed) to the mighty Bolt of Lighting which causes all of the other racers to shrink, halving their speed and allowing you to crush their pathetic go-karts beneath your mighty wheels. The balancing here is a master stroke by Nintendo. Most of the power-ups have pros and cons whilst 'game changers' like the lighting bolt are restricted to players near the back of the field. There are of course moments of frustration where a late game Invincibility Star will strip you of poll position but these tend to balance out over the course of a session and you are rarely left feeling hard done to, more than can be said for recent Mario Kart titles (I'm looking at you Blue Shell).
20 tracks are included that will be instantly familiar to anyone who has spent time with the moustachioed plumber or his green suited brother. On the whole they are fantastically well crafted and take in vistas from the Donut Plains to Koopa Beach and Bowser's Castle. There are secret short-cuts aplenty and familiar enemies like the kart-crushing Thwops crop up at regular intervals to hamper your progress. The tracks are split into 4 Cups of ascending difficulty which must be unlocked by beating the computer across a 5-race series. An average player will find no difficultly in quickly unlocking all 4 cups and the obligatory Time Trial mode is all present and correct.
However it is not until you plug in a second controller that the real fun begins. Going head-to-head (whether over a single track or a cup) is always frantic and never without controversy. After numerous arguments about the many injustices that one - or both players - have suffered you will probably find yourself ditching the racing altogether and moving into Battle Mode. Here each player must compete in a closed arena to collect power-ups and use them to destroy three balloons which are attached to the opponent's car. Once again the elegant balance of each weapon is brought to the foreground and you will find yourselves trading Shells and Banana Skins like a pair of angry litter bugs before scuttling off to your respective corners in search of more ammunition. Four arenas are included and each provides some scope for tactical maneuvering, although you will no doubt find yourself returning to a preferred hunting ground once you find your feet (wheels? ).
It is tragic to pick holes in such a well crafted beauty but it pains me to say that the game is not without its flaws. The eight characters on offer are split into four categories ranging from nippy feather-weights like Toad to the two hulking behemoths; Bowser and Donkey Kong. The inclusion of varied kart types is welcome but the same degree of polish that was applied to other aspects of the game seems to be lacking here and I found during play that the larger characters struggle to keep up – especially in multiplayer. The reason for this appears to be down to the extremely simple race mechanic which generally boils down to holding down the accelerator button with the odd skid (shoulder buttons) thrown in to get around the tighter corners. If you're after a more involving racer then you might want to look elsewhere.
A lack of new tracks or on-line multiplayer for the re-release is also disappointing but understandable. It would have been nice to see Nintendo put a little bit back into the game which has given them so much over the last 19 years.
On the whole though Super Mario Kart is a triumph and neither the passing of time, nor countless sequels have managed to dampen the raw, euphoric pleasure of collecting a fallen Mushroom and Speed Boosting into poll position just before the checkered flag. Of course the anguish and frustration of being flattened on the last lap has not disappeared either.
Bring on the destruction.