By James Sweeting
For this week’s Mario Kart retrospect I went back and played the first handheld title in the series; Mario Kart Super Circuit. Released in 2001, not long after the launch of GBA, it became one of the first “must have” titles for the new handheld system. Super Circuit was able to show off the power that this handheld was capable of, and managed to outshine the original SNES title with its scrolling backgrounds and excellent controls. This was no mere handheld port but rather a full title worthy of being equal to its console predecessors.
After finishing my time with Double Dash I thought it was worthwhile to give attention to the other “lesser known” title, as despite its relative success, like Double Dash it is still one of the more obscure titles. However, whilst I did not own it for the GBA I was fortunate to receive a digital copy as part of the 3DS Ambassador Programme, but I never really got round to properly playing it. When I finally sat down to give it the attention it deserves I found it frustrating and unwieldy.
The kart’s felt unruly and would slide all over the track, and then there was the drifting which felt like an all time low for a series which has some of the best drifting since Ridge Race, Riiiiiidge Raceeeerrrrrrrrr (remember that one?). For me the whole driving experience just felt off. I found that the visual style impeded my sense of distance, and it was difficult to adjust to the Mode 7 system of movement.
This was made more difficult by some of the track design, which is surprisingly challenging in the earlier cups, mostly due to unprotected corners making it easier to fall off the edge, which was frequent due to the slipperiness of the karts. At first I wondered how this could be the case, considering my 11 years experience with the series, but then it occurred to me, my experience has only been with the 3D titles. The 3D titles all handle differently, but in subtle ways, often building on what existed previously and altering it appropriately to match the new type of tracks present in the new title.
Having got into gaming just after the heyday of 2D styled games my main expertise lie in being able to operate with a third dimension present. When this is taken away I often struggle, the main example of this being the classic Legend of Zelda titles such as A Link To The Past which I am unable to adjust to and determine Link’s hit-range (yet somehow I had no difficulty in finishing A Link Between Worlds).
Acknowledging my personal flaws I decided to persevere with Super Circuit and to my great surprise after a few more races I started to get good! I began to understand how to correctly use the different types of drifts available and the optimum time to use them. Bringing me to a level where even the Drift King might acknowledge my expertise. Then I also began to understand the elegance of the many tracks present in the game, simple compared to the newer and upcoming tracks, yet they provide a challenge and also a surprising amount of variety despite the two dimensional view.
After finding that I was no longer rubbish at the game, I began to find myself enjoying the challenge as I progressed through the more difficult cups and and engine classes. This doesn’t mean that I am doing as well as I would be were I at the same stage in other titles in the series, but it is because of this that I found the experience more rewarding. I found myself verbally mocking whoever was unfortunate to have just been beaten by me, even though it was only by a second, but that second felt like a great achievement.
Mario Kart Super Circuit is possibly the “purest” title in the series. Yes there are the usual items that are found throughout, with no items that make a one time occurrence, helping to maintain the balance outside of the main racing. Whilst the Mario Kart series isn’t known for its wheel to wheel racing, but rather its chaotic use of items, Super Circuit offers an enjoyable racer which would have been perfectly acceptable without the items in terms of a gaming experience. But with the necessary Mario items it becomes one of the most challenging character based kart game around.
Check back again soon as I play through another classic Mario Kart title in the lead up to Mario Kart 8.