Super Mario Kart Review – Super Nintendo

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Super Mario Kart

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Genre: Racing
Series: Mario Kart
Released: August 27 1992 (Japan), September 1 1992 (US) and January 21 1993 (UK)
Certificate: N/A (Nowadays would be given a 3)
Console: SNES

Super Mario Kart is one of the most fondly-remembered Nintendo games of all-time. This was one of many spin-off genres for everybody’s favourite plumber (which is interesting when you consider that Mario and the gang were originally not going to be the focus of this title), but it has definitely proven to be the most successful, and Mario’s racing adventures have been the best-selling game on some consoles (Mario Kart releases tend to come once on every home and portable console, with some arcade versions thrown in for good measure). But they all started with this one, which first arrived on Super Nintendo in 1992/1993.


The beauty of SMK is the game’s simplicity. Whereas future Mario Karts would integrate major elements for courses, extravagant weapons and other intriguing gimmicks, this title focused solely on the core racing gameplay. The Mario Kart GP provided an eight-person race (which could have up to two human players) around a variety of courses in five laps, and with five courses for each Cup. The Match Race mode removed all CPU competitors and allowed friends to simply race against one another. More interesting was Battle Mode, where human players could race around a smaller square platform with the express purpose of ramming into one another to score points. And Time Trial allowed one singular human player to try and spin around an empty course in the quickest time possible.

The game had eight characters to choose from. Mario was here, of course, as was Luigi, his taller and generally less appreciated brother. Princess Peach was on hand, and so was Toad, ensuring that the key heroes of previous Mario titles were all available. Yoshi and Koopa Troopa were also available, and for those who preferred walking (well, driving) on the dark side, the evil Bowser was also present. Rounding things out was Donkey Kong Jr., and in a strange twist of fate, the younger DK character has never been on another Mario Kart game since. It wasn’t just about picking your favourites, though: each of the eight people/creatures offered something different when it came to speed, strength and prioritised weapons. Oh, yes: the weapons, as this game would allow you to slow down or blatantly strike your opponents with banana peels, shells, mushrooms, eggs and even fireballs. We take this for granted nowadays, but this was all-new in the early 1990s. Oh, and it’s the only MK to offer the feather to fly around the course; why this cool feature has never been seen again in the series is unknown, but it’s sad nonetheless.

As for the courses, there were three basic Cups, though settings were repeated on numerous occasions throughout the game. Case in point, the Mushroom Cup offered Mario Circuit 1 (a no-frills driving circuit), Donut Plains 1 (a similar course but with a drawbridge), Ghost Valley 1 (a dark background with scary music), Bowser Castle 1 (a lava-surrounded area) and Mario Circuit 2 (same as before but with small adjustments, which would be the case for all 2’s, 3’s and 4’s in this game. The Flower Cup gave us Choco Island 1 (a world of, yes, chocolate!), Ghost Valley 2, Donut Plains 2 (which included some incredibly irritating beasts that would stick to your vehicle), Bowser Castle 2 and Mario Circuit 3. Meanwhile, the Star Cup offered the self-explanatory Koopa Beach 1, Choco Island 2, the winter-themed Vanilla Lake 1, Bowser Castle 3 and Mario Circuit 4. If you won all three Cups, there was the bonus Special Cup which offered Donut Plains 3, Koopa Beach 2, Ghost Valley 3, Vanilla Lake 2 (now with a huge cracked pond in the middle) and the first ever Rainbow Road. Bear in mind that unlike future MK games, if you didn’t place in the top four on more than three occasions during a competition, it would be game over, adding to the drama.


This minimal 2D driving experience was very well-received and remains a firm favourite to longtime gamers 27-28 years later. Why? I hark back to my earlier point: simplicity. Though strategy comes into play when it comes to picking characters and choosing when to unleash weapons, as well as using turns and quick-starts to your advantage, it’s just about trying to win the race. No need for major jumps (the entire game has no big leaps, with speed bumps acting as major obstacles), flashy screen effects, cool horns or anything else that would elevate the series to greater heights in the future. This is a very basic, yet highly addictive and extremely enjoyable, attempt to outlast your fellow drivers in races that would generally last no more than two minutes apiece. You could have the entire game completed in less than an hour, but it would be so gripping that you would want to do so again. Then you’d want to do it with all eight characters, and on each difficulty level. And when you factor in the chance to invite family and friends to play, the end result was a game that would quickly become familiar, but would never grow old.

Again, remember that this was 1992/1993, when we were still only a fair few years away from games like Pong being considered ground-breaking. This 2D title boasted a lot of colour, some incredible gameplay, and unique twists that had never been seen in games before. Oh, and the music was thoroughly pleasant and helped to differentiate each course from one another. Plus, Mario and the crew were incredibly popular with the kids at this time, so having the chance to take, say, Bowser and rule the MK universe with him was a real thrill, especially since up to this point, it was usually only the core characters that humans could control. The 2D sprites may look small-time nowadays, but they were cutting edge in the 16-bit SNES era.

It’s also a vintage game that many newer fans of Nintendo will have probably played, because it has been re-released several times. It became available digitally on the Wii, Wii U and 3DS via the Virtual Console, as well as being available as part of the Switch’s online offering, and also the SNES Classic mini-console. Its courses were also all included as unlockable extras for the subsequent Mario Kart: Super Circuit on Game Boy Advance, and many of its circuits have popped up amongst the nostalgic options for later MK titles. When it comes to a game being made available again and again, Super Mario Kart may hold the world record, but it also means that unlike other titles of yesteryear which can only be purchased for their original platforms via eBay or CEX, SMK can be played to the nth degree on almost every modern Nintendo console, and this will continue for years to come.

To me, the downside to SMK comes from how easy it becomes for a human player to master it, but not necessarily when trying to test oneself against the CPU. If you, as a human player, came up against a friend who had played it night and day, you had virtually no chance of winning, even if you timed your weapon strikes to perfection. Whereas future Mario Kart titles would allow weaker performers to at least have a shot at glory on the race tracks, SMK made it extremely difficult to overcome a world-beater on even one singular race. It was a lot of fun, no doubt, but less so if you were playing against somebody on a much higher level, as even miniscule odds of triumphing were better than none at all. Still, this was the very first game in the series, and future versions would remove this dilemma, so I can forgive this issue.


Many gamers still put this at the top of their all-time lists of great Mario Kart games. I feel this is unfair to subsequent releases, and I put their opinions down to the warm nostalgia that SMK provided rather than them actually stating that this was a better game than, say, Mario Kart: Double Dash or Mario Kart 8: Deluxe Edition. Nevertheless, without question, Super Mario Kart is a terrific game and one of the most important Nintendo games ever. It’s one of the truly iconic videogames, and the beginning of a glorious era of virtual racing. Anyone reading this article should immediately find their nearest Nintendo console and find a way to play this game.


Target Audience: Children Aged 3+
Content: No Content Likely To Offend
Recommendation?: Yes
Overall Rating: 9.5/10 – Classic