Sunday, July 17, 2016

Mario Kart: Super Circuit (Game Boy Advance, 2001)

Next up is the series' jump to portables. This is basically Super Mario Kart 2 in every respect, from the visuals to the track-list. The usual suspects return, and everyone's ready for another round of kart mayhem. Except for Koopa Troopa, who is still out of a job. Thanks, Wario. Thanks a lot.

Previously, on Mario Kart 64...

 Bowser was thought to be dead, another victim of Toad's demonic wrath. However, it turned out that this was only Bowser's stunt double. Where was the real Bowser?

...back at Rainbow Road, furiously making out with a Princess Toadstool hologram.


The following takes place between 8 AM and 9 AM.

We get the usual difficulty levels. Wouldn't it be wild if a new Mario Kart suddenly had a 200cc class? It'd probably look more like Extreme-G with everything blurring out from the speed.

Editor's Note: Just wait, me.

The character select is the usual. I think this game retains the characteristics from Mario Kart 64 rather than its predecessor, meaning Yoshi/Toad/Princess are probably the best characters.

Bowser finally rightfully gets the "fastest" title in this game, with five stars on Weight while Wario and DK have a mere four stars. Weight means a higher max speed (if you don't make any mistakes that slow you down) while Speed means acceleration.

In the original Super Mario Kart it always bothered me that DK and Bowser were portrayed as equals. Actually, a lot of people speculate that DK was actually faster than Bowser in that game. In any case, good of them to finally put numeric ratings on the characters.

The usual cups are back, nothing particularly different here... WAIT WHOZAWHA? There's...there's a new cup there! Lightning Cup? Whoa! Another good idea, since Star Cup always seemed like a difficulty jump from the first two. Lightning Cup does a great job bridging the gap.

Peach Circuit is the first one, and transpires near her castle. Well, the GBA version of her castle, which bears no resemblance to the Mario 64 version. While the previous two Kart games both coincided with a main-series Mario game (for instance, Super Mario Kart used assets from Super Mario World), this one doesn't. That might be why it follows the mold of the original game in the Kart series rather than borrowing elements from any particular platformer.

The usual powerups return here, with the new "three of something" powerup a particular standout. My favorite is the triple red shell... if I don't miss, I'm about to go from 5th place to 2nd.

As is tradition, this game has a beach level. There's a shyguy pirate ship in the distance, but other than that this one isn't super-interesting. The beach level from the original Super Mario Kart has yet to be equaled for me.

 Luigi powerslides through the jungles of 'Nam. Believe it or not, I didn't figure out how to powerslide until years after I first started playing Kart games. It's kind a crucial component to doing well in higher speed classes.

Bowser Castle appears for the third straight game. Another thing that makes this a sequel to the original is that it reuses a lot of the same track-themes. This time Bowser's Castle has TONS O' COINS. Matter of fact, this entire game is overstocked with coins. They don't seem to increase your speed anymore, though. Not sure what they're for.

The exploding fish returns yet again... and again doesn't explode! Instead it just sorta... poops the trophy out. Also, what's with the big lips? Why the sexualization of the flying fish, Nintendo?

Next one. Mario Circuit makes a return, Cheese Land brings the newness (and stink), and Bowser Castle is evidently the final stage of almost every cup.

This time I go for a character that I never play as, Donkey Kong. He's quite fast when he gets going. No word on if this is Donkey Kong Country version DK or the guy from the original platform-climbing arcade game. I think he was the original (or the son of the original) in the first Super Mario Kart, but at some point they decided to just make him the DKC version since everyone thought that was who he was by Kart 64 anyway.

Don't be fooled by the name of Majin Boo's basically just another ghost house level.

 DK is way back in 7th place! You gotta Boo-lieve, DK! Boo-lieve!

 Cheese Land is bizarre. I like it, though. It's very colorful and vibrant; not as muted as most of the game's visuals.

So far, I'm not as fond of this game as I am of the earlier two. The framerate isn't up to par and, as I just mentioned, the visuals seem... washed out.

Ruh roh, looks like I tied with Bowser. The feud between DK and Bowser for speed supremacy is like a holy war that will never end.

For some reason, I still win the gold. So if you tie, the game gives you priority? I did not know this.

Time for the mysterious new cup, which features all-new tracks. Appropriately, the first one is a stormy track. I likey.

Unfortunately, it only rains when I stop moving, which is almost never. Not sure if my copy here is bugged, or if the system simply couldn't handle rain and screen motion at the same time. Generally speaking, this game seems like it was too much for the system that it was on.

On the bright side (heh) the rain does commence during the post-race celebration.

Sky Garden is an entirely new area. It's very cool, has a bit of a Jack and the Beanstalk vibe. You can fall off of this track, but the track is so big that it's difficult to end up in that predicament. Gotta say, I'm having a much easier time playing as Yoshi than I was with DK and Luigi.

Cheep Cheep Island is another new track. It's the beach level I wanted the earlier one to be, so I'm happy. Also making a cameo appearance is Kame House, apparently.

Sunset Wilds is the final stage of Lightning Cup, bopping Bowser Castle from the usual final boss status. This is a very pretty stage, and a fun one to boot.

At least, until you have to deal with the horror that is Monty Mole. Remember these guys from the SNES game? This time they at least have the decency to grab onto your back instead of attacking your face.

Star Cup is next. Notice the general lack of repeating stages, aside from Bowser Castles. This game has SO MUCH VARIETY.

For this cup, I go with Wario. Playing as this guy in one of these games is still very novel to me. And speaking of variety, snow levels like this one are an important part of any Mario game. It was a bummer when Mario Sunshine didn't have anything except island-themed levels. The final level was a fire level, but it was short and didn't really count as a true major level. No ice levels to be found, or sky levels for that matter. Mario Sunshine was aggressively mundane.

Ribbon Road is a level that, for whatever reason, I had a lot of trouble with. It's full of corners and edges that really get in the way and stop your momentum. Try as I might, I couldn't finish this level in 1st place. Also, the color scheme in this one is just...weird.

I did like the desert level a lot, at least. One thing Mario games usually do very well? Desert levels. Also missing from Mario Sunshine.

Bowser Castle 3 is the most difficult track yet by a good margin (with only Ribbon Road coming close). Thanks to this level and Ribbon Road being so difficult to get first in, I had to re-do the Star Cup a couple times before I got first place overall, something that never happened with the earlier cups.

Finishing the other four cups with the gold unlocks the Special Cup. Bowser Castle returns yet again for this one, but this time it gets second-to-final boss status because Rainbow Road is The Ultimate.

Lakeside Park is an island level, and isn't all that memorable aside from Dagoth-Ur in the background there.

Except... on the final lap, the sky darkens as the volcano starts to erupt.

Side note: I usually try to hold on to Power Stars when I get them. They're overpowered, and using them in the final lap is a good way to surge to victory. Unless you're on a stage with lots of drop-offs, like a Ghost Valley or Rainbow Road. Use a star there and you'll just be racking up more Lakitu towing bills.

And speaking of ghost levels... Broken Pier may have a different name, but it's just another ghost house stage. This one is more in line with the Super NES versions of the ghost house track, with tons of opportunities to fall off to your doom.

Bowser Castle 4 is, naturally, the hardest stage yet. Doesn't help that this game returns to the original game's style of giving you a measily three lives. Mario Kart 64 gives you unlimited lives AND guardrails everywhere. While I like that game more than this one, I do appreciate a bit more challenge from the tracks. I had to actually work a bit for my Star Cup and Special Cup wins in this game.

This track features lava pit traps that you can fall into very easily. Truly a diabolical level.

 I finish in second-place (behind Bowser, fittingly), but I'm still first place overall. Bowser and DK have been stealing points from each other to the point that - since only the top three really get points - I'm emerging as the winner by default. Kinda like Mitt Romney in the 2012 GOP primaries.

This is it, the final level. Rainbow Road portable version. It doesn't have the awesome holograms that the N64 version has, but it does have... a weird Bowser ship looming in the distance.

 Gone are the super-merciful fences from the N64 version, but you don't just fall off like in the SNES version either. In this one, the edges have bumpers on them, so you get jumped into the air if you hit an edge. Often this sends you flying off the track, but if you're good (and have room) you can course-correct to land back on the track. Can also cut corners with it. Adds a new dimension to the stage.

 Super-jump! One thing Rainbow Road could have used is a super-jump. I'm down with this.

 I'm locked in combat with Bowser for first place. He may have beaten me in the previous level, but since DK upstaged him in the previous two he simply doesn't have the points to win overall even if he takes this one.

I make a mistake on the LAST corner of the race and fall off, allowing Bowser to pull ahead at the last second. ARGH! I CAN SEE THE GOAL RIGHT THERE!

I still win overall, as prophesized. DK stole enough points from Bowser early on for the gold medal win to never be in doubt for me. Due to the way points are tallied, if you're coming up on the end of a race in 4th place (or even 3rd place if you don't have a substantial lead) it's better to just Retry. Or hold off and take 5th place or worse so that you have to repeat the level. Getting 5th or worse gives you another shot at it, while 4th advances you but you end up with almost no points for that level and little chance at a gold overall. These things are true for the whole series.

 I wonder what happens if you get fourth in all four races. You make it to the end, but you wouldn't qualify for any of the top three spots. Does the game just sorta end? Do you see your character standing next to these platforms, crying?

The ending has our heroes parading along joyfully. Temper your joy, for there is a spider in your midst.

Final thoughts? This game really is Super Mario Kart 2, despite coming along well after Mario Kart 64. I gotta say, I like this one a lot less than the previous two games on consoles, but it's still good. The problem is mainly the draw distance, framerate, and general portable limitations. Had I played this in 2001 when it was current, I'm sure I would have thought it was the Cat's PJs. This is the only portable Mario Kart that I'll be covering since the others aren't possible to screenshot adequately, but I'd like to cover some more of the console games.

Other Mario Kart Posts


  1. Three red shells are evil, though they were in MK64 too.

    My understanding of Donkey Kong is that he's actually never changed in the kart series. Cranky Kong in DKC is the original DK. Donkey Kong Jr was in Super Mario Kart, and he's the same guy who became the most recognizable "Donkey Kong" of the DKC series, he just lost the tank top.

    Cheese Land looks more like Pee Land!

    To my knowledge you always come out on top of a tie in Mario Kart, and likely a lot of other games.

    Even without the rain that stage still has a great sky.

    Hanging onto a star is also risky since other items like ghost or lightning bolt can cause you to lose your item.

    I can't say for sure about the 4th place ending in every game, but for a brief moment in MK64's ending you can see the character in 4th looking on from a distance.

  2. I enjoyed Cheese Land. Really I enjoyed all the new tracks here. This is my first time reading about the post-64 Karts and there's a lot to see.

    DK Jr. from Super Mario Kart is the weirdest. I believe he comes from the arcade sequel, and they redesigned Son of DK as Diddy very shortly after.

    I got 4th in Super Mario Kart once. My character sat there on the road off podium as the other 3 were recognized.

    I wonder how much the future games will succeed at character-balancing.

  3. I'm really confused on the DK lineage. I thought Original DK became Cranky Kong, while DK Jr. was some middle-of-the-road guy lost to time, who fathered Donkey Kong from DKC and then left to become a Kart racer. Because no reference is made to Cranky being DK's dad in DKC. Hell, Cranky is a bit old for that. Granddad, sure.

    What we do know for certain is that Cranky = Original DK. After that it's muddled.

    Diddy has no relation to the above guys that I know of. They all have the Kong last name, but Diddy/Funky/Candy are all just from the same tribe. I guess. I hope Candy and Donkey/Diddy aren't related, since she was flauntin' her womanliness to them.

    Not sure how character balance is in MK Wii since they did away with the star-stats. Also, there are so many characters that I can't see it having the same delicate balance that they achieved with eight characters in the first couple games.