Friday, 16 August 2013

Super Mario Kart (SNES)

On reflection I think my Planescape: Torment post last time might have dragged on a little long. In fact I reckon I've been droning on too much in general and it's about time that I started cutting back. So I figured that today I'd take a look at Super Mario Kart, as I can never think of anything to say about racing games. Plus it was a request and it even starts with the word 'Super', so it'll be perfect for me!

I can't just play it for an hour and move on this time though, as this request came with a challenge attached: to do better at the game than (world famous) Japanese comedian Shinya Arino managed on GameCenter CX a while back. I don't want to spoil what he achieved in the episode though, so I'll hide the details under the next screenshot.

Beware of UPCOMING SPOILER.

There's a fair amount of racers here, but I'm not seeing any stats. Whoa, is that monkey in a leotard supposed to be Donkey Kong? Oh right, of course this came out before he was reinvented for Donkey Kong Country, so this guy's actually Donkey Kong Jr, here to keep his dad's seat warm for a a bit before disappearing from video games forever.

Anyway my challenge is simply to beat the first tournament (Mushroom Cup), on medium difficulty (100cc)... IN UNDER 9 HOURS.


ROUND 1: MARIO CIRCUIT 1.


Aww, I only get half a screen? It's slicker than I expected though.

Everyone else in the race kindly moved away to give me some space as I work out the controls, but I think I've got the basics now. There's an accelerator button, for enhancing my velocity, a brake button to pull awesome drifts on turns, and a jump button, because why not? I suppose if you're gonna make a Mario racing game, you might as well put a jump button.

Man, that's just typical of the Mushroom kingdom that is: pipes all over the bloody track.

I couldn't resist running over these shiny golden landmines, but fortunately it all worked out as instead of tearing me apart with searing hot shrapnel, they rewarded me with cash prizes. If this was any other racing game I'd expect to be spending these on engine upgrades later, but somehow I get the feeling they have another, darker purpose.

Damn, this turtle just clipped me from the left, but sent me flying towards him and off the side of the track. To make it worse, it cost me a coin for the privilege!

For some reason driving on mud is much slower than racing on tarmac, so after that I'm trailing in last place. But I'll get that Koopa, somehow.

That's right, keep looking at me and drive right into my banana peel you asshole! It's right in front of you, all you have to do is not turn.

Super Mario Kart was the first of the 'kart racing' sub-genre and set up a lot of the conventions for the games that followed, like item boxes on the track that drop various one-shot toys for me to play with for instance. Though in this case the boxes are as flat as the road, as it's all being rendered with the Super Nintendo's Mode 7 image rotating magic.

The laps on this track are tiny, so I've already had time to drive around once, collect a banana peel item and then put it somewhere I thought they wouldn't appreciate it: I booby trapped the item boxes. The little bastards were all too good to fall for my trap though. In fact, I'm not sure they can even pick up items themselves.

 
LATER, AT THE END OF THE RACE.


Hey what the fuck Lakitu? Since when have you had the ability to destroy matter with the power of your mind?

Apparently the penalty for failure in this tournament is immediate disintegration.

I didn't even come last by the way, I actually beat that accursed Koopa Trooper to the finish line. But all those that finish outside of the top four positions must die, while the winners look on and laugh. And laugh and laugh.

Oh crap, do I really have limited lives here? What kind of racing game has lives! Well, there's no point using one of them up on the first race, as I'd still have to win it to continue, so I guess I'm quitting back to the menu screen then.

HAH, nailed the Koopa turtle with the shell of his fallen brother. How do you like that, you bastard? Did you think I'd forgotten how you pushed me off the road earlier? And then a bunch of other times afterwards?

Man, that hit would have been more satisfying if it was a green shell I'd got him with, as these red shells are homing shots and don't require any kind of skill or luck. It was basically just a free takedown. There's no irritating blue shells in this by the way to my knowledge, so there's no risk of being knocked out of a hard earned victory at the last second by a blind-fired 1st place seeking missile from halfway down the track. Which is obviously a GOOD THING.


37 SECONDS LATER.


Oh come on, I can't have lost again, I am invincible!

Wow, I guess he wasn't so invincible after all. A star power-up can save you from a lot of things, but not the wrath of Lakitu. C'mon, I managed fifth place, you'd think he'd let me get away with just a slap on the wrist for such a near miss.

Oh by the way, I may have edited this image very slightly, but it's Nintendo's own fault for using a font that looks a great deal like it's from a certain other game with the initials 'MK'... that actually came out just after this now that I think about it.


Yoshi and Luigi were the next to fall, managing to get an even worse result than Toad did.

Okay I'm starting to think that I might need to get some some advice here, as I'm obviously failing to grasp all the necessary intricacies of kart racing and the clock's still ticking.


A MINUTE OR TWO LATER.


There you go! I can definitely live with second place. I mean that literally, as Lakitu has let me live this time.

On my first few attempts I was trying to drift around the corners a little using the brake, but the advice I've been getting from people is that I should be releasing the accelerator instead. I can't argue with the results.


ROUND 2: DONUT PLAINS 1.


Oh hang on, there's something going on in the bottom screen all of a sudden. I think it's gone to a rear view cam for some important reason, but I'm kind of focused on the top screen at the moment, trying to take this corner with absolute precision. I've made it to first place by some miracle and I'm doing my very best to stay here.

I mean I'm all for them giving me a rear view mirror, but it would've been awesome if they could have put it above my view, where'd you'd expect to find it.

The second track has slippery gravel corners! My cunning technique for cornering success is useless here.

Actually I think I can manage not to skid off the track here if I can just avoid turning. Or hitting anyone. In fact hitting anyone at all is a BAD THING and should be avoided at all costs, the game's really harsh about that.

Speaking of hitting things, I just noticed that Toad over there deliberately dodged that mushroom. Is it a bad mushroom I wonder? I thought that collecting these things gave me a speed boost power-up, but it appears that some of them must in fact be working to undermine me.

Man, I hate it when sneaky little mushroom folk creep in from the side of the screen on their little go-karts and steal my second place mere seconds from the finish line. Third place will still get me through to the next race comfortably, but it definitely isn't getting me any closer to the gold trophy I'm after.

Well that's interesting, it seems that everyone has come in the exact same position they did in the last race except for Toad and the Princess, and that bit is entirely my fault. If this carries on like this, then there's no way I'm going to be earn the gold trophy on points without winning the majority of the races in first place.


ROUND 3: GHOST VALLEY 1.


Oh fine, why don't all of you drive over me then, take advantage of the guy suffering from temporary miniaturisation why don't you! And I don't know what you ghosts are looking at! Aren't you Boos supposed to cover your eyes when someone's facing you?

Well, now I know what the mysterious mushroom does at least, and it is devastating. No wonder Toad was so keen to avoid the thing.

Damn, driving into a banana peel isn't much fun either. It didn't just send me spinning around for a second with coins flying out, it brought me to a complete stop! I'm having enough trouble trying to finish the level in a respectable position without this, thanks.

I was in second place until this happened, but now I'm dropping fast and I'm running low on race here, so I'm going to have to try something desperate. If you look at the bottom right of the map, there's a thin pier sticking out across the void, with a sizeable gap before it. Well I'm gonna try to jump the gap and use it as a shortcut.

Yes, I knew that super-jump feather pick-up had a purpose! One giant leap later and I'm on track to make it across the line in fourth place with seconds to spare.

But then that bastard Mario clips my wheels in the final stretch, pushing me out of way and letting him steal back fourth place. Who knew that he could be such a bastard.

Fortunately I still have my full set of lives, so I'm not entirely screwed just yet.


LATER, ON ROUND 4: BOWSER'S CASTLE 1.


Damn, I get brought to a complete stop just for brushing against the corner of the curb? Or is that meant to be a wall? These flat levels are really messing with my head. It's like I'm racing on a board game.

I misjudged the timing here and drove straight into a falling thwomp. I could blame the digital d-pad for not giving me the precision I need to make it through the gap between them, but the truth is I'm probably just crap.

At least I get the satisfaction of seeing one of the computer characters finally make a mistake themselves.

The best kind of video game AI is one that makes believable errors of judgement, not one that manoeuvres around the level flawlessly.

When I see these guys perfectly adjust their trajectory to miss a mushroom or a banana peel by mere pixels it makes me feel like I'm racing against Terminator cyborgs wearing the faces of iconic Mario characters, and that's kind of disturbing.

But...

He just...

Well I'll just stay here then shall I?

Princess Peach finally ran out of lives here and fell like the others had, kicking me back to the start of the tournament once again. I was all ready to get the first three rounds out of the way again quickly and give this lava track another go, but I ran into a slight problem along the way:

                                                
It seems like my second place win on the first level with Peach earlier was actually a total fluke. I just can't get past this bloody track a second time! I probably only did so well on the other tracks because I'd started those races near the front of the pack.

I'm honestly not this bad at racing games usually, I promise you! Though an hour or so of sustained failure is starting to make me doubt myself. Well I suppose there's one obvious test I can take to discover if I really am entirely inept.


A FEW LAPS IN AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT GAME LATER.


Mario Kart 64 (N64)
There, a gold trophy in Mario Kart 64, in the Mushroom Cup, on 100cc difficulty. Barely took any time at all.

Also it was nice to play on tracks with a bit of depth and substance to them for a change, surrounded by walls that aren't just painted onto the floor. Getting hit by a rival character in this isn't a big deal anymore, there's no limited lives, and it's more of a scrappy struggle to stay ahead rather than a test of technical driving skill.

Well all this result really proves is that Super Mario Kart's sequel is a far easier game, at least at first. I think I need a bigger sample size...



A FEW MORE RACES LATER.


Mario Kart: Super Circuit (GBA)
Right, okay I'm happy now. Well I'd be happier if I hadn't run out of excuses not to go back to Super Mario Kart, but you know what I mean.

Okay let's try this again then. Attempt 17. From the start.


ROUND 2. AGAIN.


This time I used my freshly honed driving skills to get myself stuck behind a wall on round 2. Look at them all driving away in the distance. I bet they know I'd just collected a lightning power up as well, capable of shrinking every one of them down and turning them into easy prey, and that I could've used it to dominate the race and come out in first. In fact I bet they're secretly laughing, in the way that Terminator cyborgs often do when no one's around to find out.

Oh well, I'll still have two lives left after this.


EVENTUALLY, ON THE LONG AWAITED ROUND 5: MARIO CIRCUIT 2.


I've reached the fifth and final track of the Mushroom cup at last and... well it looks a lot like the first track of the Mushroom cup really.

Look at Princess Peach slip between those pipes up there to take the corner with absolute precision. Every racer I've watched has gone for that gap, and they always make it. One time I was perfectly lined up to make it through myself, and one of the other racers shoved me out of the way so that he could get through first (probably that bastard Mario)! It's doubly annoying because I can't do to them, as it'd cost me coins and probably send me skidding off instead..

Speaking of coins, I have found out their sinister purpose at last. Not only do they act as a kind of health bar to stop you from spinning out to a standstill when you're knocked by a rival kart, but they also increase your maximum speed. So just touching one of the other racers on the track (of which there are seven and it's not a huge track), costs me health, maximum speed, and pushes me out of the way. Punishing me three times for one mistake seems a bit disproportionately harsh really.


SOME NON-TRIVIAL AMOUNT OF TIME LATER.


THERE! I got my bloody trophy as Mario in less than two hours and I can turn this off now. To be honest I actually got the same amount of points as Peach, but the game took pity on me and put me ahead.

You might be thinking 'hang on mate, didn't you say the challenge was to get a gold trophy?' and that would be a fair and reasonable thing to bring up. But on the other hand... LOOK A GIANT GORMLESS AIRBORNE FISH!



If you have any comments you'd like to make about any of the issues raised by this post, then you are of course welcome to do so. Encouraged, even.

Well, go on then.

10 comments:

  1. This game was pretty popular and revolutionary back in time... but it is so awkward, it seems that every racer is plotting against you. Look at the ranking, it was already planned!!
    And this sinister look is the proof: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-LTVu-QUf70g/Ug1tYp4rGtI/AAAAAAAAiNg/dqYavbMl2H4/s1600/Super_Mario_Kart_%28SNES%29_28a.png

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    1. Oh yeah they're all definitely conspiring against me. What appears at first to be a straightforward kart race is actually a game of deception constructed by seven of the racers to destroy the will of the player's character and send him into a spiral of despair for their amusement.

      It's what they did back then to pass the time between games of golf and Princess kidnappings before it all got out of hand and the Smash Bros. tournaments began.

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  2. So basically you failed... And blaming the damn game now are we?

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    1. With tongue firmly in cheek I assure you.

      I'd say the game's more... hardcore than unfair. You have to ignore the temptation to screw around, stick to the ideal racing line and make damn sure to race clean laps or else you just won't get the lap times needed.

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    2. I'd also argue that maybe, just maybe, it's kind of hard to deal with Mode 7 nowadays. Especially when it comes to properly judging things like distance, which you kind of had to do a lot in SMK. Constantly having to mentally compensate for Mode 7's perceptual quirks is easy enough when you're experiencing it often enough to become hardwired, but otherwise... man.

      Pilotwings is only worse. I've legitimately finished it, but that was 14 or so years ago and holy crap is it ever hard to go back to now. Oh, and don't even get me started on the Hoth Speeder level of Super Empire Strikes back, a level I used to revere dearly but now find almost completely incomprehensible.

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  3. Very nicely written review! It brought back some pleasant memories My brothers and sisters and I still love Super Kart to this day. One of my brothers had this game so mastered, he could beat all of the levels in first place. If I remember correctly, his favorite racer was Bowser, because of his high top speed.

    Keep up the good work with reviews, and don't forget to review Lufia II (SNES) and another TurboGrafx-16/PC Engine game or two before too long. Recently, I've played through and have beaten Dragon Egg, Final Soldier, Niko Niko Pun, Galaxy Deka Gayvan and Cho Aniki, and I think that each of them have something interesting about them for you to review.

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    1. Man, every time I finally cross a game off your list of requested games you appear with five more! Thanks for the suggestions, I'll check them out.

      I appreciate the praise as well, in case anyone could suspect otherwise.

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    2. Sorry 'bout that... :P
      I just really enjoy this style of review. Your blog and one other - The Brothers Duomazov have the same text-screenshot-text-screenshot-etc... format and both happen to be my favorite. Keep up the good work!

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    3. Don't forget Coronajumper!

      I also enjoyed this post. Think I'll do some Mario Kart posts in the next couple of months myself. It'll be interesting to experience the non-SNES games in the series, because the original SMK is my only Kart experience so far.

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  4. A bit late now, but it's all about using the shoulder buttons to hop and slide around corners.

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