As we approach the eighth iteration in the Mario Kart series, the original makes a triumphant appearance on the Wii U Virtual Console, and, in Europe, it’s the first time we ever see it in its intended glory.
For the uninitiated, Super Mario Kart is simply a go-kart racing game featuring Mario and pals who put items plucked from the Mushroom Kingdom to use whilst gunning for glory. Such ingredients help to make what is still widely regarded as one of the best party games to exist.
Unlike its future iterations, there are only eight characters and they’re all available from the beginning. Mario, Luigi, Toad, Bowser and even long-lost favourites such as Donkey Kong Jr. make an appearance, each playing differently in terms of speed, acceleration and weight, meaning that it’s not just an aesthetic choice. In addition to that, in single player mode, you will have two specific rivals who will always cause you the most hassle, based solely on your chosen character.
The game has two separate modes, Single Player and Multiplayer, the first encompassing Grand Prix and Time Trial. When playing solo you can see where some inspiration for how Mario Kart DS, Mario Kart 7 and Mario Kart 8 handle the second screen on their respective consoles. The game has the screen split as standard, with the top half focusing on your character while the lower is typically the map of the course, showing where all the racers are, with it being able to be switched to a rear display as and when you wish.
In Grand Prix, as you go through 100cc and especially in 150cc, you will see some serious rubberbanding that can get infuriating. As stated before, you have two rivals and no matter how far back they get, they will quickly catch up to you, even if it’s not technically possible. Additionally, the computer-controlled characters aren’t restricted to using items they pick up, but rather have a specific item based on who they are; Mario and Luigi can employ invincibility, Peach and Toad throw mushrooms that shrink you, Koopa Trooper has Green Shells, Bowser has fireballs, Donkey Kong Jr. has bananas, and Yoshi chucks his signature eggs around.
Due to their use not being limited to your opponents picking them up from Item Boxes, if you’re having a close match with a character, you will often find that they use these in quick succession, which can be frustrating. However, it can be said that the challenge of the game comes from this, otherwise you would easily be half a lap ahead in every race.
There are 20 courses to race through spread across four different Cups, each with multiple themes that their terrain is based on. Donut Hills is populated with open grass fields, Choco Mountain is coated in chocolate, and so forth. Each Cup very rarely has multiple courses of each type, so they each feel well-varied. If you have been playing for a while, it’s easy to have the courses memorised. After each race in the Grand Prix, you will get various points depending upon your position. If you came fifth or worse then you will have to repeat the race, losing a life in doing so.
Alongside this, Time Trial allows you to set various times on the courses, and, thanks to Miiverse, lets you share your top scores, see those set by others, and try to beat them.
Multiplayer is where the game really shines through, but as it’s a Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) game, only two players can get in on the action. As with single player, there are multiple modes to choose from. First is Grand Prix, which allows a duo to tackle the same content as when playing solo, and Match Race, where players can go head-to-head against one another on any track as many times as they want.
And then we have the beloved, multiplayer exclusive Battle Mode. This gives you four unique courses where both players are given three balloons, your task is to defeat your opponent by using items to pop each of their balloons. This requires a lot of tactical thinking and luck of the draw and is a mode that you will keep coming back to play with your friends.
Graphically, the game has held up rather well with its sprite art, although some aspects do seem blurred due to the speed of the game. Due to the SNES’s capabilities, the courses are all flat, but the aesthetics still manage to work despite this. The colours are all vibrant and it still looks good despite the upscaling. The game is also running at a full 60Hz giving the truest experience we in Europe have had with this game.
The soundtrack is equally joyous, with each stage being accompanied by a memorable track that you may often find yourself humming, all sounding nice and crisp, as are the sound effects.
Super Mario Kart is a game that, despite being 22 years old, I personally find myself coming back to every now and again for the multiplayer. Whilst playing alone can soon become frustrating when aiming to secure Gold on 150cc, the whole game can only be described as an absolute masterpiece.