October 31, 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 35  

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Once upon a time... Super Mario Kart

By David Lee
Gazette Staff

Koopas and Toadstools, start your engines!

Super Mario Kart for the Super Nintendo was one of the first widely-popular renditions of motor sports, Nintendo-slanted as it may have been. There was no option for pit stops, no drafting and no race-ending collisions. Instead, the game was focused on cartoonish graphics, standard Mario weaponry and recognizable characters. More than anything, the emphasis of the game was fun.

While motor sports were never well-represented on the original Nintendo (RC Pro Am was probably your best bet), Mario Kart brought racing fun to the 16-bit circuit and appealed to the whole family, not just sci-fi geeks who liked futuristic racing (read: F-Zero fans).

Mario Kart offered Time Trials, the Mario Grand Prix and a two-player Battle mode. For all three modes of play, three engine sizes were offered -50cc, 100cc and 150cc. The bigger the engine, the faster you could go, but difficulty increased with engine size as well.

The tracks were varied, ranging from road courses to dirt tracks to sheets of ice. The tracks weren't the draw, though. The standout feature of Mario Kart was the various items that could be picked up by driving over one of the track's question blocks. The most consistently useful pickup was the fiendish red shell. Long before the newest incarnations of Mario Kart offered a blue shell (which chases down the race leader), the red shell was a simple, one-shot homing shell.

However, the rarest and most sought-after power-up was the lightning bolt. By firing off this baby, everyone else on the track would shrink, allowing you to race to the head of the pack or run over the poor souls who happened upon your path. You were most likely to get the lightning bolt if you were far behind, making it liable to change the complexion of the race.

Despite the large array of weapons, few countermeasures existed for a player to defend himself. There was the feather, which let the player hop up in the air and spin and the ghost, which turned a player invisible and in a two-player game stole the other person's item. The best option here was to get a Star, which turned you invincible for a short time and made all attacks bounce off harmlessly. You received this benefit while the old-school "invincible" music played.

A personal favourite was the aforementioned Battle mode. Each player was surrounded by three orbs/balloons that would be popped by a successful attack from an opponent. Thus, the goal became navigating through the simple mazes, picking up power-ups and laying waste to your opponent's balloons.

The strategy to winning during Battle Mode was also straightforward. Red shells were the weapon of choice once again, but littering the course with green shells and banana peels worked since you could clog the confined space. There exist few moments in video games sweeter than avoiding a ricocheting green shell, "hosting" a red shell from your opponent, then popping one of his balloons with his former weapon.

Many of those who have played the game can recount old tactics they used, favourite characters employed and hard-fought races. One memorable match I had last year pitted me against current University Students' Council VP-student affairs Matt Huether. I somehow managed to shoot him out of midair with a red shell, costing him half a lap and handing me the Mario Cup. To this day he insists such chicanery shouldn? be possible and my victory shouldn't count. You just don't get those type of ideological arguments from many video games.

Though it's been surpassed by N64 iterations and other racing games, Mario Kart remains a great deal of fun. Like Othello, it takes a minute to learn but a lifetime to master and can be an enjoyable break from exams or roommate stress.




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