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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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