Volume 3-3 Mario Kart: Super Circuit: Lightning Cup
A new edition to the series at this point, the Lightning Cup was featured in Mario Kart: Super Circuit to increase the game’s longevity over the two previous entries, and also largely adds to the new dimension of track design and going against the tradition of including tracks solely based on the Mushroom Kingdom tableau the Super Mario Bros franchise had primarily come to be known for. Though the tournament would be notably absent from Mario Kart: Double Dash, The Lightning Cup returned with the release of Mario Kart DS, and has since gone on to be featured in every Mario Kart game since as a series of retro course collections. This was the first and only time the tournament featured unique tracks, and it also marked a slight turning point in overall course quality in Mario Kart: Super Circuit in my opinion.
Kicking off the tournament is Luigi’s Circuit, which is undoubtedly the best track based on and modelling after one of the main protagonists in the Super Mario series. I think the main reason being is because of the scenery, which stands out more than either Peach Circuit or Mario Circuit; though compared to most other tracks in the game, it stands out only slightly. The weather conditions are much more adverse, which goes against the usual happy-go-lucky feel that most tracks like this have attached to them that to me, offers a, interesting change from the norm. The soundtrack, however, is imply recycled from the other two opening tournament courses featured in both the Mushroom and Flower Cups, which adds very little else to the tracks atmosphere in this respect.
Another reason why I prefer this track over the other two starter tracks is because the level of challenge is slightly higher, which there being many more obstacles to stand in the player’s way, as well as an improved number of sharp turns to have to undertake in the process. It’s not the best course in the series that has the name Luigi attached to it, but I think it marginally surpasses the quality of Luigi’s Circuit in Mario Kart 64.
Design – 3/5
Soundtrack – 3/5
Level of Challenge – 3/5
Up next is Sky Garden, which I think is unanimously the best track of the tournament, since it’s one of few tracks in the game that has almost every hallmark of what a good Mario Kart track should be. Firstly, the conceptual design of the stage is very well put together, as not only does it vaguely allude to Super Mario Bros 2, but also for the most part, it stands out amongst anything else that Nintendo had ever done with the series at this point. Like Cheese Land, it alludes to a clear outside source of inspiration (in this instance, it being the classic novel Jack & the Beanstalk), and something else I found quite interesting about it is that in Spain, the course was named Jardin Celeste for the DS release, meaning the Celestial Garden; a religious reference. Why this is so interesting is because the industry as a whole has taken a particular stance on any religious references in gaming, and Nintendo themselves have landed in hot water numerous times they have contained any religious references in their games. Though this one may be much more obscure than the many religious reference in The Legend of Zelda series, it’s still interesting to point out, I find.
The soundtrack is also fairly catchy as well, whilst effectively adding to the course’s atmosphere at the same time. It’s certainly much more appealing and pleasant to hear than many of the other recycled tracks in the game. Comparisons can be drawn between both this song and the soundtrack for Rainbow Road in Mario Kart 64; both tracks have similar chord progressions, and both also set a similar calming tone for tracks designed to be intense and challenging. In terms of challenge, however, Sky Garden doesn’t quite deliver as well as other tracks in the series, or the individual game. Though there may be a couple of sharp turns here and there, and there is a looming danger of falling from the edges of the track, they’re all quite easy to undertake, and what obstacles there are in the protruding beanstalks are easily avoidable.
Design – 5/5
Soundtrack – 4/5
Level of Challenge – 3/5
The next course in the Lightning Cup is Cheep-Cheep Island; a second course based on the seaside theme synonymous with the entire Mario Kart series. A finer aspect that I can point out about this course is that the scenery has been kept fresh following Shy Guy Beach in the Mushroom Cup. Because it focuses on a different enemy from the Super Mario Mythos, there are now Cheep-Cheeps jumping in the background as opposed to the Shy Guy pirate in the last course like this; it’s quite reminiscent of Banshee Boardwalk in Mario Kart 64, except much less scarier atmosphere, and much more of a calmer one.
This is made even more obvious by the fact that the same catchy and serene soundtrack is recycled from Shy Guy Beach, which again fits well with the track’s overall feel. In terms of challenge, however, it seems like much more of a step down than Shy Guy Beach, because since there is no Shy Guy shooting cannonballs from a ship, there is much less to avoid, and consequently, much less to have to think about whilst racing. Some of the obstacles on the track don’t even serve to slow layers down, such as the two white chickens towards the finish line.
Design – 3/5
Soundtrack – 4/5
Level of Challenge – 2/5
The last course of the Lightning Cup is Sunset Wilds; a course themed largely around the old American west, and reminiscent of Kalimari Desert from Mario Kart 64. What I found interesting about this course is that it was the first Mario Kart course to feature a full day-to-night cycle, since whilst Boo Lake had clouds accumulating in the background, and still many times scarier and atmospheric than this course, is still primarily set in the night-time, making this course nevertheless stand out to almost the same extent. Like Sky Garden, the course also has a very standout soundtrack, which is also reminiscent of that of Kalimari Desert, just like Sky Garden is to Rainbow Road; a similar chord progression perpetuating a similar kind of atmosphere. I can’t help but think that if the developers had given another take on the train from the Mario Kart 64 track, it could’ve been a little more interesting than what it is; which is were challenge comes in.
Despite the lack of a train, there are still a fair few thing to have to think about whilst driving n this track. Not only are there obstacles in the road, such as teepees ad mud puddles, but within close proximity, there are obstacles on the edges of the track like cacti and totem poles put in place, which will slow players down if they aren’t thinking about where theyre going.
Design – 4/5
Soundtrack – 4/5
Level of Challenge – 4/5
Overall, the Lightning Cup is a vast improvement on what Nintendo did with the Flower Cup in Mario Kart: Super Circuit; despite the fact that many tracks go against Super Mario tradition in terms of conceptual design, they work much better, make more sense, and they actually have a couple of interesting facts and elements about them than in the former tournament. Although the level of challenge in the tournament overall, may have been wanting compared to what players may have expected whilst playing through this game for the first time, the designs and soundtracks at least in part make up for this, and there is still some enjoyment to be had whilst playing through them.
But things also get even better from hereon out. Join me next time as we take look at the Star Cup.