A look back – Super Mario Kart
Today, we’re looking at the origin of the Mario Kart series, so that we can see how everything has changed over time. Super Mario Kart came out in 1992, two decades ago. I don’t remember getting this game, I simply remember having it as a young child, and I played it quite a bit with my older brother. I’m going to do my best to be objective, but I can’t promise that I will be able to keep nostalgia totally out of this.
Super Mario Kart was a break from the norm for racing games in many ways. The races took place on gimmicky tracks and had items that allowed you to trip up your opponents, and generally had less emphasis on the fast-paced driving action of its peers, settling in an area that I would characterize as anti-competitive. Sure, you wanted to win, but sometimes you might be more focused on simply avoiding the track obstacles (breakable walls, enemies, oil slicks, other racers) than moving as quickly and efficiently as one would like in a racing game. To this day, I have always enjoyed this model of racing games more than the norm.
At its core, Super Mario Kart is a racing game that takes items, settings, and characters from the already established Mario universe, creating a successful game where maybe there wouldn’t be one. I don’t know how many people would have played a racing game like this if it didn’t have the Mario branding all over it. I can’t honestly say I would have, but I also can’t be sure, because I wasn’t even to double-digits yet. Still, even as yet another Mario game, it managed to try something new, and succeed, if the entire series (7 games and counting) can be used as evidence.
However, Super Mario Kart was not without flaws. Honestly, a lot of the tracks were interesting, but not fun to play on, especially the ice ones where racers had to waste time ramming though block walls. The computers cheated by having their own item generation at random intervals, and some of them even could use stars on a whim! This made the game pretty hard at higher levels, and Rainbow Road was insanely difficult to win on. Also, the 8 characters had different pros and cons, but the game didn’t really convey that to you. You just picked the character you liked most and that was that.
MK7 is definitely more merciful in the AI department than Super Mario Kart, but that’s because MK7’s AI has a rubber-band effect, which infuriates me to no end. You may be the best player on the planet and get a huge lead on the whole pack, but if they are AI, they will catch up easily. This is balanced by allowing the player a chance to make up for once-fatal mistakes, by causing the AI to slow down when you’re far behind. It’s a trade-off, but I don’t know that it’s better.
So what has changed for the better? I’d say MK7 still retains the silly and fun spirit of Super Mario Kart, possibly going even further by having increasingly strange and diverse tracks, and an expanded selection of characters. One very positive change is the customization that MK7 presents to the player, but I talked about that on Monday. Really, the best changes over time are for fun’s sake, with improvements to tracks (more options for routes, more fun effects and opportunities to take out an opponent), and much improved items, blue shells aside. If you asked me as a kid what I would like to be fixed about Super Mario Kart, MK7 is basically a list of what I would say.