Saturday, 9 July 2011

The Long Awaited - Super Mario Kart (SNES) Review

The opening screen - even this is fun.
Super Mario Kart
SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System)
Released Jan 1993 (Europe)
Richard Talbot-Ashby – Toolbox24
Super Mario Kart. Simply amazing. Simply some of the most fun you can ever have. Just so great, that I might not even continue this review. Just so absolutely mind-numbingly good, that to not bask in its greatness, would be like visiting the Grand Canyon, and be more interested in getting 3 stars on your latest level of Angry Birds or watching Family Guy and not laughing once. And I know you people are out there. Bastards.

Super Mario Kart is one of the all-time great computer games for so many reasons, but one of these reasons is its simplicity. I was a wee baby of 5 years old when this game came out, and was addicted from the start – yes at first I kept steering my Koopa all over the show, but once I got the hang of press left on the D-Pad for left, right for right, I was away. And I still love playing the game now, almost 20 years on.

Yes it is simple gameplay, because back in the day it was the simple controls of accelerate, brake, hop, turn left, turn right and fire/use item. It was the character of the game, the fact that the controls are so easy, that you spend a minimal amount of time learning, the rest of your time enjoying! How many times have you picked up a new game, spent ages trying to figure it out, and given up or disliked it because it takes so long to work out how to play, that the game just passes you by?

The aim of the game is again simple – have fun! Yeah winning is great, and by winning on the Grand Prix’s on higher cc’s you gain access to the Special Cup – more on that later – but the main aim, as with most Mario games is to enjoy yourself, to immerse yourself in this weird and wonderful universe where you can get attacked by turtles or their shells, you can eat mushrooms to go fast or grow fast and you can leap into lava and be picked out of it. Someone in Nintendo HQ is either permanently hallucinating or just a maniacal evil genius, because only someone who is pure evil can create something that is so good – don’t ask me where I get my warped and twisted logic from, it might hurt me while I sleep. Koopa is a cocky winner. I should know, it's usually me. Anyways, that seems like a long enough introduction, and I’m not being paid by the word…in fact I’m not even getting paid at all. Bollocks to this. I’m off.

Not really of course, I need to let people who only know of the more recent incarnations of SMK that they are pale imitations to the original and best – by the way, I don’t hold the thought that originals are better than any sequels or re-doings of games or films or songs, but in this case, I’ve never playing a SMK since the original that captured me like the original from 1993.

Keeping in line with the simplicity of the game, we move onto the modes of play. 4 Modes, in either 1 or 2 player. The 1 player modes are simply Grand Prix and Time Trial, the 2 player modes are Grand Prix again, VS and Battle Mode.

Each of these game modes are extremely fun and can become quite addictive. The GP mode puts you against all the other racers, spanning 5 circuits, 5 laps each. The top 4 places give you 1, 3, 6 or 9 points, and the bottom 4 result in you needing to restart the race. If you fail enough times, that’s Game Over. So although the game is simpler, it also has this feature which adds some hardness to the gameplay that the newer versions don’t have. I’ll mention the circuits involved later on. The 2 player version of this splits the screen so player 1 is above player 2, and you can have some serious slagging matches whilst playing! Double fun!

Time Trial is simply what it says, a time trial. Pick you’re racer pick your circuit and go. Try to get the fastest time on the track overall and the fastest lap time. Very good fun, and also despite the simplicity of the game, some racers definitely favour some tracks, instead of it being across the board top times for Mario, some of the tracks could be better suited to Princess, Toad or Donkey Kong. This means 2 things, 1: the programming on the game must have been absolutely exquisite, and 2: it expands the game even more, by trying to beat the top time you set with Yoshi with other racers and finding out that Luigi kicks some serious arse on that particular race!

The VS mode in 2 player is much like the Time Trial, except the game doesn’t store your times, it is just about 1-on-1 racing. With banana skins. And red shells. And the occasional feather. You can compete for ages on this, especially if you have a crowd of you playing, and you can create your own little tournaments.

Battle Mode pits you 1-on-1 again with a second player. However you don’t race on a track, but in a BATTLE CIRCUIT! These circuits can only be played in battle mode, and are about 1 thing, and that is to destroy your opponents 3 balloons before they do the same to you. Utter carnage as green shells start bouncing around the place, banana skins are left everywhere and more item squares are diminished. Panic as your opponent gets a star or a red shell, and cunning as you hold a feather to pounce over your opponents incoming shell and you preserve your balloons…for now. Again amazing 2 player fun, and can easily be turned into a little tourney if you have enough players. Just don’t invite me to either tournament. I’ll win. No seriously, I’d win.

Toad was starting to wish he'd stayed at home. While touching on this, you also get a unique item in 2P mode, the Ghost. Which a: steals whatever your opponent is holding, and b: makes you invisible for a short while. Awesome.

There are 4 types of Grand Prix to go through, each with 5 circuits, so a total of 20 races, although it doesn’t seem like it, it seems like there are so many more! A testament truly to the fact that the game is quite amazing. You go through the 4 cups of Mushroom, Flower, Star and once they’ve been completed – the Special Cup. You go through different types of track, like Mario Circuits which are like proper racing circuits; Koopa Islands, which are tropical looking islands in the middle of the blue sea; Bowsers Castles, which are stone-clad circuits surrounded by lava; Choco Islands, which are basically chocolate tracks and Ghost Valleys which are creaky old wooden tracks surrounded by nothing but darkness and ghosts in the distance. There are other types of track, but this was just to give you a taster!!

Certain tracks have certain obstacles and features to make that race unique, like the Mario Circuits have the iconic green pipes sticking out of the ground to make you manoeuvre differently around corners, or some of the Donut Plains tracks have these little annoying gopher bastards that jump out at you and stick to you slowing you down for half a lap.

The best and hardest track however is the unique and individual Rainbow Road – a track that has featured in each of the other incarnations of Mario Kart. It’s flat yes, however, like Ghost Valley it is surrounded by nothing, so if you leave the circuit you fall and have to be helped by Lakitu (the apparent owner and referee of SMK) to be put back on track. Fair enough, but also the track itself is flashing with all the colours of the BOW man!!! This can be an off-putting and migraine inducing distraction, it means that it’s harder to see the boxes to pick up your banana skin or red shell. And the yet another feature of this track is the Stone Thwomps that also appear in Bowsers Castle – these lovely guys hang in the air and slam down, either blocking you or squishing you depending on where you are when it lands. Oh yeah in Bowsers Castle that’s all they do, in Rainbow Road they also are constantly high on Super Stars, so are also flashing and if you happen to graze one, you’ll spin out, sometimes off the track. Lakitu earns his coins in this race.

Speaking of Lakitu, he’s the only character in the game who is non-playable but always there. He starts you off by holding the start lights on a fishing rod out of his floaty cloud, he waves the chequered flag when you finish, tells you which lap you're on, tells you to turn around when you’d going the wrong way, and will fish you out of trouble if you fall into deep water, lava or into a bottomless black pit. Apparently these circuits are his, and he appears in every game afterwards to show that he is more than a match for that little cock-end Bernie Eccles Cakes or whatever he’s called.

Obviously as well you have Mario and Luigi, who’s signature weapon is the Star; Princess and Yoshi, who own unique cupcakes and eggs respectively (which cannot be used by the player, even if playing as Princess or Yoshi), the cupcake shrinks you down, the egg is like a banana skin which just spins you out; you also have Toad and Koopa Trooper, Toad uses the cupcakes again, and Koopa uses red and green shells and finally you have Bowser and Donkey Kong, Donkey uses banana skins, and Bowser uses unique fire balls which wobble from side to side making them harder to avoid.

Bowser and DK are your “heavies” they start slow, sound rough and deep, but once they get going are faster than any of the others…just don’t stop, otherwise you’ll have to start from scratch again, and they are the slowest at accelerating.

Toad and Koopa are the lightweights, and are pretty quick, with pretty quick acceleration. They’re easily barged out of the way by everyone else.

Princess and Yoshi are the quickest off the mark, speeding away from the start/finish line, but are the slowest once they get going.

Mario and Luigi are obviously tuned to be the best option, they are hardy enough to withstand bumps from other karts, pretty speedy at their quickest, and no slouches from the get go. But the sound of their karts does my nut in.

The game also has these nice little foibles, like if you drive past a banana skin your character instinctively looks over their shoulder to look at what they almost hit. Another thing is when an opponent is behind you and about to use an item, your rear-view mirror kicks in to check out the opposition.

The sound and music in this game are very catchy and easy to listen to, with each track type having their own music played through, and each track getting that sense of urgency on the last lap, when it’s sped up! The karts all sound different, as I said, with the heavies sounding deep and more growly, the Mario Bros sounding annoying like a crappy moped, Koopa and Toad sounding quite normal and quiet, and finally Princess and Yoshi sounding the smoothest.

Sounds on the game are spot on with impacts, and you know if someone coming up behind you has a star because you hear them…I suppose blinkering is the best way to describe it. Whenever you throw something like a shell you get this lovely satisfying “wheeee” as it leaves your kart and when you use a feather to jump really high, you get another satisfying “boi-oi-oi-oi-oing”. Koopa Trooper was regretting his binge on the Newcastle Brown Ale.
As I near the end of this review, I must mention some of the historical stats and figures surrounding this game. SMK is the joint 2nd best selling game of the SNES with Donkey Kong Country, selling a whopping 8million unit, only for both to be beaten by the immaculate Super Mario World selling over 20million units. To put that in perspective, here are some other games that have sold less copies - Pac-Man (Atari), Halo: Combat Evolved (XBOX), Star Wars KotoR (XBOX), GTA 4 (XBOX 360), CoD Mondern Warfare 1+2 (XBOX 360), Metal Gear Solid (PS1), GTAIII (PS2), and what’s more remarkable - ANY PS3 GAME (to date).

On (a site that pools together the aggregate scores of games from various sources such as IGN, Gamespot, Game Informer and GameSpy) it has a total aggregate score of an almost perfect 94%. That’s an average baby! How good is that???

SMK has spawned many newer incarnations. None of which comes close to emulating the sheer awesomeness that is Super Mario Kart on the SNES. All others simply crash out after spinning on the originals 2D banana skin.

It’s a game that I’ve been playing for almost 20 years, and could happily play for another 40.

This game deserves a perfect 5/5.