Mario Kart: Super Circuit Review – Game Boy Advance

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Mario Kart: Super Circuit

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Genre: Racing
Series: Mario Kart
Released: July 21 2001 (Japan), August 27 2001 (US) and September 14 2001 (UK)
Certificate: 3+
Console: GBA

In 2001, the Game Boy Advance portable console launched. The official successor to the original Game Boy and the Game Boy Color, this would offer 8-bit graphics on a device that could be carried around and played anywhere, so long as you fired it up with batteries. It sounds minor now, but this was a big deal back then, mainly because it meant that its catalogue of games would actually look and play fairly respectfully compared to home console offerings. Sure, even the best-looking GBA title wouldn’t hold a candle to an N64 release from a visual standpoint, but it was still better than what we had received previously, and it also allowed some established series’ to begin appearing in handheld form. One of those was Mario Kart, which meant that Mario Kart: Super Circuit was an eagerly-anticipated and warmly-received offering for the GBA.


Although Mario Kart 64 had been released a few years earlier, this has more in common with the original title Super Mario Kart in more than one way, as I will explain. As with SMK, the racing action is kept very simple, focusing on 2D landscapes (since the GBA couldn’t really support 3D graphics), as well as using some duplicate versions of courses. To that end, the Grand Prix mode gave us Peach Circuit, Shy Guy Beach, Riverside Park and Bowser’s Castle 1 within the Mushroom Cup (four tracks per competition was more in line with MK 64 to be fair); Mario Circuit, Boo Lake, Cheese Land and Bowser’s Castle 2 in the Flower Cup; Luigi Circuit, Sky Garden, Cheep-Cheep Island and Sunset Wilds for the Lightning Cup; Snow Land, Ribbon Road, Yoshi Desert and Bowser’s Castle 3 as part of the Star Cup; and Lakeside Park, Broken Pier, Bowser’s Castle 4 and Rainbow Road to form the Special Cup. In a very cool twist, if you won all five Cups, you would unlock the entire range of Super Mario Kart’s 20 courses, broken up into five Cups of four areas rather than the reverse, which had been the case in SMK.

When it came to the characters, the same roster was used from MK 64, meaning that Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach and Toad were joined by Yoshi, Bowser, Donkey Kong and Wario. Whilst audio was kept very basic, there were very occasional soundbites from all eight, and the background music – while in MIDI form – was still pleasant and appropriate enough for each area. Although this was a stripped-down version of Mario Kart, the tracks were still prone to (intentionally) presenting challenges such as puddles and the sun setting between laps, so there were still obstacles to overcome. Strategy was still important in determining who to pick and what tactics to use, and this included the expected range of items to use as weapons towards opponents. I should also mention that ratings were given for your Cup performances as an incentive to replay competitions in order to achieve the top A rating (a similar system was used for Mario Kart Wii), and there were three levels of difficulty to further increase the game’s lifespan.


This all sounds very primitive, and if anything, it’s like I’m writing Mario Kart For Beginners. But remember that this was a handheld console, so it was unrealistic for this to be the big follow-up to the all-time classic Mario Kart 64. No, this was intended to be an off-shoot, a smaller version of the main series, and it greatly succeeded. When the graphics are limited and the feature set is relatively low, the gameplay has to be on-point, and thankfully that proves to be the case here. Super Circuit shines where it really matters by offering an addictive and fun experience which is easy to pick up and play, yet slightly tricky to master, especially on higher levels. It sounds like I’m stating the obvious, but this was Mario Kart in portable form, and as recently as 1999, a handheld game to this depth would have been unfathomable. This was the template not only for the likes of Mario Kart DS and Mario Kart 7 (on DS and 3DS respectively), but also for other racing games on portable devices, since this proved that by focusing on what really mattered and by making the game as a whole authentic, titles such as this could become must-haves, if not groundbreaking.

Some people play Mario Kart for the multiplayer, the chaos, the weapons, the stunts and everything else, and there is nothing wrong with that; hey, Nintendo want you to feel that way. But if you simply enjoy the thrill of winning races, overcoming setbacks and trying to reach the top with the weakest characters on the highest difficulty levels, then Super Circuit will be a game for you to cherish. Assuming that you’re sensible enough to accept the limitations, about the only downside to this title stems from the Game Boy Advance system itself: depending where you played the game, the back-light of the portable console meant that it could be very hard to see what was going on, which became very problematic during Cheese Land (imagine reading that sentence out of context). However, if you happen to own a Game Boy Player (an add-on which provides a platform and a disc for the senior GameCube system), it meant that you could play this game (as well as any other Game Boy, Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance title) on a television, meaning that you could get an even more enhanced experience with Super Circuit. They are tricky to get hold of nowadays and fairly costly, but the Game Boy Player elevates Super Circuit and, to me, is an important side-accessory to consider. (Incidentally, it later became available for the Virtual Console on the Wii U, so there is hope that this will also be released as part of the Switch’s online service eventually.)


There are no real issues whatsoever with the game for me to critique on, other than simply pointing out – as if you didn’t already know – that this does not have quite the amount of content as the senior games within the series. If you accept this, though, then Mario Kart: Super Circuit is a massive amount of fun and a title which should get far more attention than it receives. If you want to be a Mario Kart completest or if you just want to play a great game for the Game Boy Advance, then I urge you to check out Mario Kart: Super Circuit, because even after all these years, it’s still thoroughly entertaining.


Target Audience: Children Aged 3+
Content: No Content Likely To Offend
Recommendation?: Yes
Overall Rating: 9/10 – Outstanding