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After 25 Years, ‘Super Mario Kart’ is as Fun and Inventive as it Ever Was

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It’s no small feat for something to be so ingrained in pop culture and personal experience that you still see bits of it every day in the world around you. For me, Super Mario Kart is absolutely that kind of piece of pop culture.

You see, I drive for a living, and I tend to eat a banana with my lunch every day. Naturally, you can probably see where this is going. Since bananas are nature’s waste, I have no problem chucking them out the window after I’m finished, and every time I do, I can’t help but imagine some poor soul behind me spinning out like in Super Mario Kart.

In fact, I’ve actually seen vehicles behind me swerve around my daily banana peel as if they themselves have the same deeply entrenched childhood fear that I do.

Looking at the bigger picture, I have to even wonder if a particular scene in Adam Sandler’s only truly great comedy, Billy Madison, is a direct reference to Super Mario Kart, especially when you consider that Donkey Kong and Mortal Kombat are also mentioned in the film.

super mario kart

No!!! Yoshi, you idiot! What the hell are you doing!!!

But hey, this isn’t some treatise on my biodegradable littering habit or some comedic essay on how bananas almost always lead to wacky hijinks, but instead, a look back at one of the greatest racing games of all time on its 25th birthday.

There is no way in the world I could possibly tell you how much time I spent playing this game as a young lad. Back in those sweet, sweet SNES days, grade school Mike could sit in front of the TV from 3:30 PM to 10 or 11 PM, no problem, with only a quick break for dinner or the expelling of bodily fluids.

I had my brother for companionship at that time (no, he’s not dead now, he just doesn’t play video games anymore) and so, I had a constant partner to play any competitive game with continuously. He would ceaselessly go for the villainous Koopa Troopa, prioritizing quick acceleration and an all around healthy speed, while I opted for the slow and steady Donkey Kong Jr, who, despite his slow start, would actually gain more momentum than any racer, provided you could avoid running into obstacles or making mistakes.

Of course, these two were matched up with their mirrored counterparts, Toad and Bowser respectively, while the similarly paired Mario and Luigi, and Yoshi and Princess, rounded out the cast.

super mario kart

Super Mario Kart’s roster may be small, but it gives you four unique styles of play through its 8 racers.

The beauty of this rock, paper, scissors, and… something else strategy was that it provided enough strategy that different players could operate in different ways, yet was simple enough that even the smallest chap or lass could pick it up almost instantly.

In later years Nintendo would apply this same principle to a variety of different sports and activities, including Super Smash BrosMario GolfMario Tennis, and a host of other games with “Mario” in the title. Unsurprisingly, with just a few tweaks, the formula takes off almost every time without a hitch.

The concept isn’t that difficult to understand: Nintendo simply takes a recognizable past time, applies its marketable roster of characters to it, and simplifies it enough that even the most unenthusiastic of laymen can pick it up and enjoy it with only a few minutes of play time.

Super Mario Kart, however, was the first of these, and it didn’t just succeed by stripping racing down to a more fun and approachable experience, it also invented a sub-genre of its own through sheer inventiveness.

super mario kart

Unlike the weak baby N64 version, Super Mario Kart’s version of Rainbow Road didn’t have bumpers to keep you on the track. You had to ace it without a single mistake if you wanted that gold on 150 cc.

The master stroke came in the idea to sprinkle items around the games 20 tracks, which changed up the general formula of racing considerably. What could make racing games frustrating for less-experienced or less-skilled players was that one mistake might take them out of the running of the race for good. Super Mario Kart‘s implementation of items like the mushroom booster, the invincibility star, and the dreaded red shell made it so that it was always anyone’s game, right down to the last second of the race.

This game-changer of an idea wasn’t Super Mario Kart‘s only trend setter though, as Nintendo’s premiere racing series also introduced the concept of battling in cars to the gaming world.

Different as its tone might be, Twisted Metal owes a pretty hefty debt to the likes of Super Mario Kart, as it’s shell-tossing, balloon-popping, arena-based madness would also become a sub-genre unto itself in the gaming world.

super mario kart

Super Mario Kart’s inventive battle mode was a stroke of genius.

Though it isn’t the first game in the series that most fans would go to when looking at the venerable Mario Kart franchise (most folks seem to opt for Mario Kart 64 for their retro racing thrills), it’s definitely the first pick this writer would go for.

While Nintendo Switch players the world over have the upgraded Mario Kart 8 Deluxe to keep them busy, there’s no replacing the original racer, and I for one will be happy as hell to see this game pop up on Nintendo’s new virtual console, complete with achievements… always assuming a virtual console is actually coming of course.

All snark aside, Super Mario Kart is one of the most important and influential games in Nintendo’s entire catalog, and it’s well-worth playing even with 7 successive games in the series having come about since. Should you be lucky enough to win the lottery and grab yourself a SNES Classic this fall, be sure and give this one a go — it still holds up!

Mike Worby is a human who spends way too much of his free time playing, writing and podcasting about pop culture. Through some miracle he's still able to function in society as if he were a regular person, and if there's hope for him, there's hope for everyone.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. D Worbs

    August 27, 2017 at 9:43 pm

    Koopa Troopa for life!
    -Brother from beyond the grave

    • Mike Worby

      August 29, 2017 at 9:14 am

      Don’t turn your back on Donkey Kong Jr maaaaaaaan.

  2. Maxwell N

    August 30, 2017 at 1:36 pm

    I miss how chubby all the Mario characters used to look.

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Games

‘Tecmo Bowl, the Godfather of NFL Games

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Tecmo Bowl Retrospective

Tecmo Bowl was a big deal back in 1989!

With Madden growing more popular and even more complex every year, we sometimes forget about the game that started it all.

I cannot stress the importance of Tecmo Bowl twenty-nine years after its release. Originally an arcade game, Tecmo Bowl was ported to the Nintendo Entertainment System by the makers of such classics as Ninja Gaiden, Mighty Bomb Jack, and Solomon’s Key, and it took everyone by surprise by just how good it was. Nobody expected the Japanese developers of puzzle games and 2D platformers to succeed in creating a sports game, much less an American sports game, but they did. Named NES Sports Game of the Year, Tecmo Bowl provided players with the best football experience found on the NES console back in 1989 and it paved the way for what became the biggest trend in sports games to this day.

Although Tecmo didn’t have the official NFL license to use the actual team names and logos (the teams in the game are identified by their home city or state), the game features players from 12 NFL franchises due to being licensed by the NFLPA (National Football League Players Association). Nowadays this doesn’t seem like a big deal but back in 1989 it was huge! Tecmo Bowl features some of football’s greatest players including John Elway, Bo Jackson, Marcus Allen, Mike Singletary, Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott, Walter Payton, and Dan Marino, and when it shipped 29 years ago, it changed everything for sports video games.

Long before football video games became just as complex as real-life football, Tecmo Bowl laid the groundwork for what would be the standard moving forward. There aren’t many plays to choose from but you’re given the choice of 4 plays while on offense and another 4 while on defense. In addition, the game features three different modes: Single Player, Two Player, and Coaching mode which allows you to call plays while letting the CPU control the players on the field. The simple and responsive controls work perfectly within the framework of the game, and it is this simplicity that makes the game fun to play to this day. And regardless if you know don’t know much about the sport, anyone can easily follow along thanks to the broadcast camera view and two-button controls.

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Tecmo Bowl is a seemingly effortless game in which everything falls neatly into place. It stripped football down to its basic elements and created a fun arcade experience anyone can enjoy. Tecmo Bowl was Madden before Madden was a household name. It’s the game that started the football franchise craze in video games and laid the groundwork for the even better, Tecmo Super Bowl. American football games have come a long way over the years, but what hasn’t changed is the sheer enjoyment any football fan can have when playing Tecmo Bowl.

Tecmo Bowl is without a doubt the granddaddy of football games, and there’s something to be said for the back-to-basics formula that Tecmo Bowl employed. With technological enhancements in gameplay, graphics, power, and speed, the original Tecmo Bowl seems incredibly dated in 2016, but surprisingly the game holds up nearly three decades later.

Side Note: There were two NES versions of the game released in the U.S. The first release is easily identified by its black and gold seal of quality and the second version by its white and gold seal. It should also be noted that the names of players were removed on the virtual console release.

Tecmo Bowl
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Game Reviews

‘Coffee Talk’ Review: The Best Brew in Town

Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen.

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It’s 9:00pm. The rain just started coming down softly a few minutes ago, and the street outside is reflecting the lights above it. Neon signs shine brightly in the distance, although it’s hard to make out the words. You unlock the doors to the coffee shop and wipe down the counters in order to get them clean for the customers. The rain makes a soft sound as it hits the glass and passerby speed up their walking pace to avoid it. The bells chime as a tall, green orc walks in and sits down at your table in silence. You wonder what their story is…

I wanted to set the tone for this review because of how important atmosphere and audio/visual design is in the world of Coffee Talk. While it’s easy to boil the game down as a visual novel-type experience, it’s honestly so much more than that. A unique cast of characters, incredible user interface, and a mysterious protagonist combine to form the most enjoyable experience I’ve had this year on Switch.

Coffee Talk
Some of the subject matter can be pretty serious in nature…

Coffee Talk is beautiful because of how simple it is. The entire game takes place within a single coffee shop. As the barista, you’re tasked with making drinks for the patrons of the shop as well as making conversations with them. The twist is that earth is populated with creatures like orcs, werewolves, and succubi. The relationship between the various races is handled very well throughout the story, and some interesting parallels are made to the real world.

Making drinks is as simple as putting together a combination of three ingredients and hitting the ‘Serve’ button. If a unique drink is made, it will be added to a recipe list that can be referenced on the barista’s cell phone. This is where the awesome user interface comes in, as the phone has a series of apps that can be accessed at any moment in the game. One app houses your recipe list, another acts as a facebook for the characters in the game, one allows you to switch between songs, and the other houses a series of short stories that one of the characters in the game writes as it progresses. It’s one of the coolest parts of the whole experience and helps it stand out from other games in the genre.

Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen.

Coffee Talk cycles between talking with customers and making drinks for them. In the beginning, they will ask for basic beverages that can be brewed on the fly. Later on however, they may ask for a specific type of drink that has a unique title. These drinks often have certain descriptive features that hint at other possibilities in terms of unique dialogue. If the wrong drink is made, you’ll have five chances to trash it and make a new one. If the wrong drink is made, don’t expect the customer to be pleased about it.

The gameplay really is not the focus here though; it’s the characters and their stories that take center stage. An elf with relationship issues, a writer that can’t seem to pin down her next story, and an alien whose sole goal is to mate with an earthling are just a few of the examples of the characters you’ll meet during the story. There are tons of memorable moments throughout Coffee Talk, with every character bringing something unique to the table. The barista develops an interesting relationship with many of these characters as well.

Coffee Talk
Appearances can often be deceiving in this game.

Even though serving the wrong drinks can change some of the dialogue, don’t expect any sort of options or branching paths in terms of the story. It’s not that kind of experience; the story should simply be enjoyed for what it is. I found myself glued to the screen at the end of each of the in-game days, waiting to see what would happen in the morning. The first playthrough also doesn’t answer all of the game’s questions, as the second one is filled with all kinds of surprises that I won’t spoil here.


Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen. It’s an easy recommendation for anyone who loves video games, not just visual novel fans. There are characters in the game that I’ll certainly be thinking about for a long time, especially when the setting brings out the best in them. Don’t pass this one up.

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The Magic of Nintendo: How Mario and Zelda Connect us to Our Inner Child

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Magic of Nintendo

Nintendo is special. Many excellent developers depend upon story or progression systems to entice engagement, but not Nintendo. Nintendo games captivate because of their immediate charm. There is no need for a payoff. The games, themselves, are enough: they elicit feelings, hard to find in adulthood. Through intrepid discovery, playful presentation, and unfiltered whimsy, the best of Nintendo connects gamers to their childlike selves.

The heart of any great Nintendo game is discovery and no encounter encapsulates this better than Breath of the Wild’s Eventide Island. First, finding the island requires genuine gumption. Found far from Hyrule’s shore, the island is only clearly visible from other islands, and even then, it’s only a speck in the distance. Reaching the island requires players to brave the open ocean and head towards something … that could be nothing. Then, upon arriving on the beach, a spirit takes all the player’s gear, including clothes and food. Link, literally, is left in his underwear. From there, players must make clever use of Link’s base skills in order to steal enemy weapons and make traps. The scenario creates a marvelous sense of self-sufficiency brought on by one’s own desire to discover. The player comes to the island purely of their own choosing, tackles the sea, and then overcomes obstacles without the aid of their strongest tools. The game turns players into plucky children who are discovering they can take care of themselves.

The intrepidity of Breath of the Wild and other Nintendo greats mirrors the feelings Shigeru Miyamoto, the father of many Nintendo franchises, experienced as a child. “I can still recall the kind of sensation I had when I was in a small river, and I was searching with my hands beneath a rock, and something hit my finger, and I noticed it was a fish,” Miyamoto told the New Yorker. “That’s something that I just can’t express in words. It’s such an unusual situation.” In sequences like Eventide Island, players don’t just understand what Miyamoto describes, they feel it: Apprehension gives way to exhilaration as the unknown becomes a place of play.

 Nintendo’s intrepid gameplay is often amplified by playful presentation with Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island being the quintessential example. The game’s visuals, defined by pastel colors and simple hand-drawings, appear crayoned by a child while the celestial chimes that punctuate the jubilant soundtrack evoke shooting stars. The overall effect cannot be understated. It takes the surreal and turns it real, allowing players to interact, tangibly, with imagination.

Super Mario Odyssey Wooden Kingdom

Even if one removes the presentation and gameplay from Nintendo’s masterpieces, an unabashed creativity remains that bucks norm and convention. The arbiter is fun; reason and logic have no say. For instance, Super Mario Odyssey’s Wooded Kingdom, takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting akin to Nier Automata. Players explore the metal remnants of a civilization that has become a lush home to robotic beings. However, unlike Nier, the dark undertones of the past have no bearing on the game or those who inhabit its universe. The post-apocalyptic setting is just a fun backdrop. It’s as though a bunch of children got together, began playing with toys, and one of the kids brought along his sibling’s adult action figures. There is no attention paid to the context, only unfiltered imagination.

When they’re at their best the creators at Nintendo invite gamers to come and play, like a parent arranging a play date. Pulled along by joyful gameplay that expands in unforeseen ways, players desire to play for the sake of play. It’s a halcyon state of being: No messy thoughts or contradiction, just joy.

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