Thursday, 3 April 2014

Super Mario Kart

Possibly the most fun racer on the console

Hi Kids, do you like driving? What do you meant "yes" you're not old enough. For those that wanted to drive and like the idea of driving but weren't specifically old enough to do it, there was Go-Karting. A wondrously fun little activity of driving around a track on a seat close enough to scrap your arse-flesh off if it was any close to the ground while replacement lawnmower engines turned wheels and let kids experience the "high speed" thrills of driving into walls. Thankfully Super Mario Kart on the SNES is a lot more fun and not just because I get to throw things other than bricks at people, again.

Your Roster: Pratt and brother, the annoying accelerators, the fatties and the extras

THE Kart racing game of the 16bit era and THE Kart racing franchise that has helped keep Nintendo afloat for a while by re-inventing the same game into new versions for the upcoming consoles that Nintendo have never done before or does with any other franchise it has (Mario, Zelda, Pokemon, Metroid... Seriously, how many times must I walk up and find a missile, or a flower or catch another fucking Pikachu...).

You win the small cup. Now man-up and go for a bigger race.

But enough digging commentary for the moment (it's only ever for the moment) what we have here is a grand scope of a game made possible by the use and clever implementation of Mode 7 on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Mode 7 being a specific function that allowed for the rapid and quick movement and re-drawing of sprites to scale, stretching and rotating that wasn't feasible before on the NES. Thanks to this, we get large colourful tracks that move fairly fluidly around the character sprite while we trundle along on the little wheels trying to pick up coins, powerups and ultimate bash the hell out of our enemies.

Lava lava everywhere and all of it is... mildly annoying.

The game has a starting line up of 8 characters to choose from. In that with most racing games there will be this little thing of having fast cars with slow acceleration, slow cars with fast acceleration, all-rounder cars and "something a bit either side of the all rounder if you want to be really fucking picky with" cars. You've Mario and Luigi as the all-rounders, Donkey Kong Jr and Bowser for the fast with slow acceleration cars, Peach and Yoshi for the quicker acceleration and finally Toad and KoopaTroopa for the extra little specification, which was previously listed.

A huge number one to obnoxiously proclaim your victory, probably more so than the player would.

During your races you'll be able to collect up to 10 coins to help boost your stats and lose them each time you fall off the track, drive into lava, drown, get hit by weapons and so on and forth though if you know the racing line well enough, it'll not be an issue. You'll also be able to collect multiple weapons ranging from the green shell which fires straight and bounces around, the red shell which is your heat seeking variety of shell, bananas to drop to the ground and let others run into it, stars which boost all stats to 10 and make you invincible to everything barring falling off the course, 2 extra coins (whoo...), mushrooms to boost your speed across even rough terrain and improvise shortcuts, ghosts to steal other items while making you ethereal, feathers to jump over items and walls for more shortcuts and the lightning bolt which shrinks everyone else and lets you run them over.

Quite a lot.

If you're being attacked, you get the mildly obscured "rear view" which MIGHT help you.

However, this being the first days of Kart gaming for Nintendo, the AI isn't quite as "human" as one might hope for or even expect. Weapons are pre-designated for specific characters and fire/use them in different ways than you can in most cases. For example, Bowser has a fireball that moves back and forth on the track, you don't. Mario and Luigi as AI can use invincibility stars when they choose, you can't. Peach and Toad drop/throw mushrooms that shrink you, you can't do that either. Yoshi hurls eggs, you can't even get them. But then none of them can use the lightning bolt or use boosters across heavy terrain, or feathers to get around corners/walls. Though having said that, they can run over items and use them as ramps rather than getting hit.

Solo time trial. For the gamer that REALLY plays alone.

Another odd instance is that, apart from the starting line-up, all the AI will race along the exact same racing line bar a few movements here and there. There is very VERY little deviation from one racer to the next in how they navigate the track. Which means that the items you drop MUST be carefully placed, but if you can always drop them in that place, you've a powerful advantage (or you get hit by your own stuff). The AI also manages to keep track with you despite how fast you can go for the most part. Though is some levels there are so many chevron speed boosts that a decent player can lap every single other cart (meaning you beat the 3 laps before the carts manage to do 2).

Without doubt, the most fun part of the game by far.

There's lots of choice within the game, you've 20 different tracks for a start, 4 different cups to race through and multiple engine sizes from 50cc to 150cc which gives a higher/faster challenge with more aggressive AI opponents, which the last set of tracks are notoriously difficult and have the deadly Rainbow Road, which means you've got to keep on the track fully as there's no walls to bounce off and the Thwomps are invincible (though the AI drives through them). However, it's early days and the fact there's so many different tracks leaves the single (and 2 player) Grand Prix mode with a lot of potential and hope.

If only that was all the game had.

You will be punished heavily if hit by something when 3-4 cars over take you on a single mistake

There's also the VS mode where 2 players race head to head on a track of their choosing. No other AI around it's just player 1 and player 2 gunning their engines and slowly trundling off before speed boosts and power ups begin to break up the pace of the level. Or use it as a chance to exploit cheats, explore shortcuts and generally take a less intense race at the game. But that's not the cream of the crop for this game.

That's the battle mode.

3 lives, that's it. Winner stays in, loser sits in the corner.

Simple, pure, fun. How best I can describe it. You've yourself, your friend/enemy in 1 of 4 tracks designed symmetrically (some of which are quite large) and a 3 balloons. If you take a hit, you lose a balloon and after a while the power ups replenish and the weapons becomes more regularly found and fired. You don't get the lightning bolt either but since the focus will be mostly on weapons like green and red shells, you're either playing ricochet with the bouncing green shells or you're trying to bank shots around corners after your opponent with the curving movements of the red shells.

If you've a feather (or enough speed) you can jump the gap for the shorcut. Or fall.

It's fast, it's frantic and it's fun when two players know the level, can power slide around corners and generally are very capable drivers for a fun (relatively) simple game. Even this mode on its own is wonderful as it is, at times it feels like this is the whole point of Mario Kart and that the Grand Prix and AI racers are a tacked on bonus to what is a fun way to duel each other to do the deflation.