I’ve talked at length about how much I love Sonic the Hedgehog on numerous occasions, and even how important he was in making me fall in love with video games at an early age. In spite of my childhood fascination with the blue hedgehog, I never owned a Sega Genesis as a kid. The very first console I ever owned was a Super Nintendo. When I wrote about Sonic the Hedgehog 2, I talked briefly about the time I spent playing games with my older cousins, and it’s these same two cousins that I associate with all of my memories of the Super Nintendo.
At a very early age, I was given a Super Nintendo and numerous games by one of my older cousins (a different cousin than the aforementioned duo). And man, he really gave me some classics. Turtles in Time, X-Men Mutant Apocalypse, Final Fight II, NBA Jam, Super Play Action Football, Family Feud, I could sit here all day listing off amazing SNES games. But the ones that stuck out to me the most were the Nintendo franchise games, namely, Donkey Kong Country, Super Mario World, Super Mario Paint and Super Mario Kart.
The Mario Kart spin-off series is kinda of a weird one for me nowadays. I will always love the original game, Mario Kart DS, and Mario Kart Wii, and if I’m being fair, Mario Kart 8 is probably the strongest entry in the series. But as my gaming taste has changed, and the series has added in more and more items that stifle skillful play, I’ve found myself preferring games like Sonic All Stars Racing Transformed (similar to the people that say Crash Team Racing is better than every Mario Kart game). But we’re not here to compare and contrast mascot racing games, we’re here to discuss how much I adore Super Mario Kart!
Personal memories aside, I genuinely love Super Mario Kart, and I still think it holds up as a really good game. For the first entry in the franchise, it has very few things that I would consider flaws. The driving is very fluid, the courses are simple in design, but provide a decent enough challenge, and items, while beneficial in certain situations, aren’t overpowered like later ones in the series (no Bullet Bills or Blue Shells). My only major complaint is the fact that the computer controlled racers can activate item abilities at any time they want (especially Luigi and the Star powerup).
Playing Super Mario Kart gives me a similar feeling to the one I got when I played Pokemon Red on the 3DS Virtual Console last year. I didn’t bother going out of my way to get that game’s version of the Experience Share, nor did i spend anytime grinding. So for the first time in forever, I was noticeably underleveled for my Elite Four Challenge. This made for not only a much more engaging overall playthrough, but for one of the most memorable Champion battles I’ve had since I started playing Pokemon games.
Whenever I play modern Mario Kart games, I generally breeze right through the courses with very little problem (when I’m not getting peppered with shells and banana peels anyway).To be fair, this is largely due to the fact that I’m just better at the newer games than I am at Super Mario Kart, but this doesn’t change the fact that the game’s 100cc races still give me a mean case of sweaty palms. Special mention to the various Bowser’s Castle courses and Rainbow Road.
One of the most notable things about the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis generation of games is the timeless sprite work. Many of the games that looked great back then, still look great to this day, and Super Mario Kart is no exception. Each racer’s victory animations is forever embedded into my head, and courses like Ghost Valley never fail to keep me on the edge of my seat. The game also has an awesome soundtrack and array of sound effects. As I’m writing this, I can hear the all too familiar sound of Lakitu’s countdown that comes with the start of each race, as well as the chipper tune of Koopa Troopa Beach.
What truly defines Super Mario Kart for me is the game’s battle mode, which is odd because I’m not a fan of the battle mode in any other Mario Kart game. This is where my relationship with my older cousins comes back into play. We spent hours and hours firing off shells at each other, so much so that I still remember the best strategies for each battle mode course.
Now that I’m really thinking about it, battle mode may be the reason that I love games that reward skillful play. When I used to play with my cousins, the loser would always have to pass the controller, meaning I spent a lot of time just watching the game. So if I wanted to spend more time playing than watching, I had to get better at the game. While I never got quite as good as my elder cousins at the game, I did get good enough that they had to actually make an effort to beat me.
Super Mario Kart is by no means the best kart racer out there, but I do firmly believe that it holds up as a solid game to this day. It’s not as flashy as later Mario Kart games, nor as mechanically fleshed out as modern racing games, but for a racing game on the Super Nintendo, I feel like it holds up well against the test of time. Some of my most treasured childhood memories are centered around Super Mario Kart, and I’d love to hang out with my cousins one day to just play a couple of rounds of battle mode.