The Game: It’s a big day at the races, with a field of drivers selected from the Mushroom Kingdom: Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Toad, Bowser, and even Donkey Kong Jr. are among the racers vying for the top spot. From the grassy Mushroom course to the punishingly muddy Star course to the oceanside Flower course, there are challenges, hairpin turns and obstacles. Whoever can learn to navigate each course the fastest without ending up out of bounds struggling to get back on the course will be the winner. (Nintendo, 1992)
Memories: At a time when Nintendo could’ve been accused of returning to the well too many times for Super Mario, they instead took a racing game and populated it with a cast from the Mario mythos. The characters are more or less incidental to the game, mere window dressing that was actually added months into the development cycle of a game that started off without them – but it was clearly a shrewd marketing move to include them, as Super Mario Kart became one of the SNES‘ most-loved games.
One of Super Mario Kart‘s big selling points was its graphics, which finally started to make good on the long-unfulfilled promise of arcade-quality 3-D graphics. Arcade games had been making this look effortless for years, but at a few thousand bucks a machine, they could afford plenty of custom chips to accomplish this. (And to be fair, it wasn’t completely effortless here, either: the Super Mario Kart cartridge included its own extra hardware to take some of the computational burden off of the SNES CPU.) The control scheme is about as good as it can be given that it’s still a racing game using a D-pad.
But this isn’t a tech demo, it’s a game, and it’s a pretty fun game (the muddy Star track aside – ugh!). Super Mario Kart really comes into its own as a two-player experience, offering not only a multi-viewpoint racing experience (the screen is split in half, one viewpoint for each driver), but a “battle mode” that transforms the racing game elements into something between bumper cars and Ballblazer. If you can’t keep a small crowd entertained with Super Mario Kart‘s battle mode, well, you need a different small crowd, preferably one that knows how to have fun.
Super Mario Kart was the game that, after years of seeing Mario “sneak” into other Nintendo titles from Punch-Out!! to NES Golf, finally made it compelling to see what everyone’s favorite Italian plumber does after hours. To say that Mario has branched out since then would be an understatement.
Super Mario Kart took what could’ve been a very dry racing game and gave it personality just by switching up the graphics set (it was originally designed as a competitive racer with generic driver characters). This, in turn, gave Nintendo a whole new franchise with which to claim vast quantities of our cash. But it was also fast-paced fun – basically, a win for all involved.