Mario Kart: On Track (Vol.1 Super Mario Kart)

Volume 1: Super Mario Kart

This is the first volume of, and introductory piece, to a new series of reviewer articles for MechRiot called Mario Kart: On Track. In this series, I will be critiquing each track across the Mario Kart franchise, and going over the very best and the very worst of what Nintendo have produced within what has become the most successful spin-off series in video gaming history. The first volume will take a look into where it all began in the fourth generation, when Nintendo were the dominant force in the market after having recently renewed worldwide interest in video gaming following the industry crash of 1983; when Super Mario Kart was released in 1992.

Super Mario Kart was an instant critical and commercial success, with many different publications giving it perfect scores over the years, and averaging aggregate scores over 90% with others. The game also went on to become the third best-selling Super Nintendo game of all time, as well as it being one of the most technologically advanced games of the era, making use of then-revolutionary mode-7 graphics to allow 3D rendering. It is also widely credited as being the game to launch the entire kart racing sub-genre of gaming, with many games over the years being developed in the same vein, such as Street Racer, Diddy Kong Racing, Modnation Racers and Sonic Drift. As what is arguably the be-all and end-all spin-off series, it also provided a catalyst for Nintendo, (as well as other gaming companies), to take their franchises in many other different directions with a plethora of different ideas for spin-offs, such as Super Smash Bros and Mario Party.

Throughout this series, I will be critiquing each course based on three axioms of judgement; the general design, the soundtrack and the level of challenge it provides. Each of these three criteria will be marked out of 5, adding to a possible total of 15. Every 3 points out of this 15 constitutes to one mark of the final score out of 5, and the final total will be rounded up to the nearest multiple of 3. So for example:

Design- 3/5

Soundtrack – 4/5

Challenge – 1/5

Score

8/15 (2/5)

However, the first volume will be slightly different to the rest of the series. Normally, I will review each track separately, but with Super Mario Kart, the general design of many of the stages was recycled quite a lot, since most of them were based on stages from a pre-existing game, Super Mario World, and regardless of how much success it did end up garnishing, the original game was still very much a question of trial and error for Nintendo, and there was always going to be room for improvement. So instead, I will be critiquing each style of track as opposed to judging them individually, since not only do I believe it would be too much like splitting hairs, but the game itself actively establishes the last track in each style as being the best out of all of their respective counterparts from previous tournaments.


Mario Circuit

Super Mario Kart Map Mushroom Cup 1 Super Mario Kart Map Mushroom Cup 5 Super Mario Kart Map Flower Cup 5 Super Mario Kart Map Star Cup 5

Mario Circuit in a lot of ways can be seen as a template to the entire series; it’s fairly generic in design compared to every other track (especially in the original game), since it’s a lot more apparent than within any other track style that many elements are recycled. The best thing about it, however, is it’s soundtrack, which is one of the catchiest, as well as most probably the most fitting of the entire theme of the game; fast-paced racing. The bass line in the tune is also unlike any other style of bass playing I’d ever heard prior. I’ve only ever heard it being used again in one song; Spiralling by Keane. But as well as that, the last course in this style is also reasonably challenging. There are pipes to bump into as well as a series if fairly sharp corners to have to make. I think the challenge could have been heightened if the oil pits hadn’t been placed so close to the edges of the track, and there is a well-known shortcut

Design – 2/5

Soundtrack – 4/5

Level of Challenge – 3/5

Score

9/15 (3/5)


Donut Plains

Super Mario Kart Map Mushroom Cup 2 Super Mario Kart Map Flower Cup 3 Super Mario Kart Map Special Cup 1

Donut Plains is one of my favourite variant of track in the original game for a number of reason, but I think Nintendo could have done a little bit better in terms of it’s general design. For example, I’ve never truly understood why the name Donut Plains has ever been used. The reason vague reason I can think of it because the original area in Super Mario World vaguely looks like a donut, but even so, it still sounds particularly out-of-place; even for a Nintendo game. However, despite that, the soundtrack of these courses is most definitely the catchiest of the entire game. I always find myself whistling along to it, even during some of the most testing of situations that can be attributed to it; and in the last stage, there are more than enough of them. Although the roads may not be as narrow as in other tracks, turning corners can still pose a threat, since there is abundance of moles that can be accidentally ran into, causing players to temporarily lose speed. On top of that, there are puddles of water everywhere, making it very easy for players to fall into. There’s even a gap in one of the bridges, whereby players must make a pretty well-timed jump. If it’s not made right, it could end up costing them the race.

Design – 3/5

Soundtrack – 5/5

Level of Challenge – 4/5

Score

12/15 (4/5)


Ghost Valley

Super Mario Kart Map Mushroom Cup 3 Super Mario Kart Map Flower Cup 2 Super Mario Kart Map Special Cup 3

Having ghost-themed levels first appear in Super Mario world did extremely well to mix up the atmosphere of not only that individual game, but also the entire series. The design of Ghost Valley in Super Mario Kart helped to maintain that level of conceptual diversity, which would only become more varied as the franchise progressed throughout the years. The track is dark and gritty, greatly deviating away from the happy-go-lucky feel synonymous with most other tracks of the game. But more impressive than that, the soundtrack did an excellent job of adding to the evermore-foreboding atmosphere. A track like this doesn’t call for a particularly catchy piece of music, so it shouldn’t lose too many marks for not having what it didn’t need in the first place. But aside from having all these great things, the last variant of it also presents an extremely stern challenge, with narrow roads, with plenty of opportunities for players to fall, potholes placed in the middle of many stretches (which are not seen in any other variant of the course), and speed boosts that are more or less mandatory if players need to win at that point.

Design – 4/5

Soundtrack – 4/5

Level of Challenge – 4/5

Score

12/15 (4/5)


Bowser’s Castle

Super Mario Kart Map Mushroom Cup 4 Super Mario Kart Map Flower Cup 4 Super Mario Kart Map Star Cup 4

The Bowser’s Castle stages have remained some of my favourite across the franchise, and it even started particularly well. The design of the original levels is imposing, with stone tracks surrounded by seas of lava, which can make players feel constantly on edge; like there’s always a looming threat of danger. The inclusion of the Thwomps in often times extremely awkward places also adds to that greatly. Being a remix of the theme of the final fight with Bowser in Super Mario World, although the soundtrack may not be particularly catchy, as they would later become in other variants of the course throughout each instalment in the franchise, its add quite a bit to the very foreboding atmosphere. On top of that, the level of challenge presented in the final stage can be nigh-on unforgivable at times, with many sharp corners to be traversed, which if done wrong even once can ruin the entire race for players in a single moment. The Thwomps have also been placed in even more awkward positions this time around; especially near the finish line, which again, can easily turn the tables right at the very end of the race.

Design – 4/5

Soundtrack – 4/5

Level of Challenge – 5/5

Score

13/15 (4/5)


Choco Island

Super Mario Kart Map Flower Cup 1 Super Mario Kart Map Star Cup 2

Out of all the different track style in Super Mario Kart, I think Choco Island is the worst for a number of reasons. Firstly, there’s the naming of the track, which I’ve always found to be quite unfortunate. Looking back at all of the tracks in this style, not just the last, they don’t appear to be set on an island, but rather an open landscape with mountains in the backdrop. They did name the track of the same theme in Mario Kart 64 Choco Mountain, which I find to be a lot more appropriate, but the entire theme started out sketchy following on from Super Mario World unfortunately. The soundtrack also isn’t the catchiest tune in the game, and does little to add to the track’s atmosphere in my opinion. It’s level of challenge is also the lowest compared to every other advanced variant of each course, since there are quite a lot of wide open roads compared to the others, and the section with the huge puddle of mud does little to put pressure on players, since every other racer will be marred down by it too.

Design – 2/5

Soundtrack – 2/5

Level of Challenge – 3/5

Score

7/15 (2/5)


Koopa Beach

Super Mario Kart Map Star Cup 1 Super Mario Kart Map Special Cup 2

The greatest aspect of Koopa Beach in my opinion, is that it is the most graphically astute set of tracks in the entire game. The different water depths, as well as the moisture of the beaches and grass patches give them more textural detail than in any other track as far as I’m concerned. The soundtrack is also fairly catchy, but more than that, it also does a pretty good job of adding to the tracks atmosphere, which is calmer than in other tracks. I think Nintendo also tried to do the same with the music for Choco Island, but that score unfortunately didn’t have anywhere near the same effect. The problem with the last variant is that it is by some distance the least challenging stage of the special cup. There are no particularly tricky corners to navigate, and not many obstacles to slow players down. The element that payers need to be most weary of is the small patches of deeper water that can hinder the chances of victory, but they’re easily avoidable.

Design – 4/5

Soundtrack – 3/5

Level of Challenge – 2/5

Score

9/15 (3/5)


Vanilla Lake

  Super Mario Kart Map Star Cup 3 Super Mario Kart Map Special Cup 4

To me, Vanilla Lake is one of the more standout track designs of the game, since not only is it one of two tracks that wasn’t based on Super Mario World (this one being a bit more reminiscent of the original game), but it’s one of the two really standout examples of what the mode-7 graphics engine was capable of. There’s a lot more textural detail in this track variant than in many of the other tracks, and it makes me wonder why there are only two versions of this, and four of Mario Circuit in total. The soundtrack isn’t very catchy, which I don’t think would have been impossible to do, but it does add a great deal to the atmosphere, since the percussion used in it sounds a lot like icicle droplets, as was most definitely intended. But the most standout thing about it is how challenging the last stage can be. There’s ice to slow players down, and a huge lake in the middle, which can cause quite a lot of problems for players. There is a way of gaining a fairly big lead by sticking to the left side of the track and jumping over protrusions in the lake at every opportunity, but doing so is incredibly dangerous, and can end costing players the race if they’re not careful.

Design – 4/5

Soundtrack – 3/5

Level of Challenge – 5/5

Score

12/15 (3/5)


Rainbow Road

Super Mario Kart Map Special Cup 5

To me, Rainbow Road is by some distance, the best track of the entire game. Nintendo seem to think the same way too, since it is the most frequently re-mastered track in the history of the entire franchise, being re-tooled for use in Mario Kart: Super Circuit, Mario Kart 7 and most recently, Mario Kart 8. The design makes for the only unique track in the game, which of course, makes it stand out more than any other, since it wasn’t based on pre-existing worlds or levels in the franchise. As well as this, the soundtrack is not only catchy, but does extremely well to add to it’s atmosphere as well as the fast-paced tableau of the whole game. Soyo Oka, who composed the soundtrack, actually cited it as being one of her own favourite compositions. However, more important than either design or soundtrack, the course is also unforgivably challenging at times. Not only can players be forced off the track, or accidentally fall off at most corners, or even straight lines if they use a light character, but the Thwomps from Bowser’s Castle also make an appearance, but are also powered up with stars it would seem, so if players bump into them, it causes a significantly longer delay to their race, and thus players need to be even more careful when trying to avoid them. There has been a Rainbow Road in ever Mario Kart since, but this to me, was the ideal way to start.

Design – 5/5

Soundtrack – 5/5

Level of Challenge – 5/5

Score

15/15 (5/5)


Super_Mario_Kart_SNES_ScreenShot4

Overall, whilst there may be a number of issues with many of the different tracks, Super Mario Kart was still very much a question on trial and error, and I believe Nintendo answered that question in style when they designed many of the great courses that can be found in the game, making for an extremely strong track roster to begin with. Massive improvement would be made with each instalment of the series, but many of these tracks still make up the majority of the excellent experience that is the original game, and did well to cement it as one of the most popular franchises in gaming history.

Steven Tench

-AKA-

Scouse Gamer 88