VIDEO GAME REVIEW
King of Racers Returns
Mario Kart for the Game Boy AdvanceBy Chad Serrant
Mario Kart: Super Circuit
By Nintendo for the Game Boy Advance
Rated E for everyone
The kart racing genre is pretty oversaturated. Every since Mario and his friends graced the Super NES in go-karts, every mascot character (Sonic R and Crash Team Racing) and every cartoon ensemble (The Smurfs, Toy Story, even Woody Woodpecker) has had a kart racer. And, frankly, most of them were stale. The raw originality of Mario Kart made it work, and that's what made it so successful.
The Nintendo 64 version of Mario Kart, one of the most anticipated launch titles for the N64, lost the magic. It suffered from terrible “rubber-banding” AI (your opponents would mystically speed up towards you if you were in first place), and there was no reason to play single player.
Well, with the Game Boy Advance (GBA) on its way, Nintendo had to make a kart racer, and they definitely learned from the kart racing mistakes of other developers. This is an outstanding game.
Mario Kart: Super Circuit (thank you for not calling it Mario Kart Advance) is the latest kart racer, but now it's on the GBA. You get to pick one of eight Nintendo characters, with different weights and speeds. These are imported from the Nintendo 64 version, so Koopa Troopa fans are still out of luck. You get to choose from 16 courses and race through them tournament style. You can win with pure racing skill, or you can learn to pelt your opponents with weapons strewn around the track.
Once you finish the first 16 courses, you get to access the final four, the ultimate challenge. Once that's done with, you get a special surprise: the 20 tracks from the original Super NES version! In total, you get 40 tracks to mess with. Yes, I'm very happy.
The computer programmed “enemy” is greatly improved in this game. Anyone who played Mario Kart 64 knows about the horrible computer artificial intelligence. No matter how fast you were, if you were in first, everyone else was faster. If you were in last, though, everyone would slow to a crawl until you got back in first place. And if you let Toad or Yoshi get into first place, the race was over. There was no hope for you. Toad would use the mushroom-of-200-miles-per-hour-kamehameha and would finish the race before you could blink.
But those days are over, because now your opponents act more like human beings (or Yoshi-like beings) that are out to win, not hassle first place. If you get ahead of them, they won't suddenly get 200 turbo boosts. Instead, they will keep driving and wait for you to screw up so they can drive past you. If you're slow and in last place, they will show no mercy. They will fight amongst each other, instead of always against you. You will notice this and be pleased that Nintendo actually took some time to put the “Intelligence” in “Artificial Intelligence.”
The game is colorful and bright. The characters are pre-rendered sprites, just like in Mario Kart 64. The tracks are as flat as the Super NES tracks, but that's because the GBA doesn't do 3D. Every stage has something that makes it stand out. Cheese Land has mice, Ribbon Road has gift packages everywhere, Broken Pier has ghosts (Ghost Valley is back, baby!) and Rainbow Road (both of them) is actually difficult again, instead of boring (six minutes? You expect me to go through such a boring track for six minutes?).
The sound is top-notch, too. I can't complain about the digitized speech, but I don't cringe when the Mario Brothers say their standard-issue “Here we go.” The music fits the mood of the stage it's in, and the sound effects are just the way I wanted them.
For multiplayer enthusiasts, this newest incarnation supports a single and multiple game pak multiplayer. For the single pak, you can race on one of the classic Super NES courses as a Yoshi. Single Pak is limited because of the low amount of memory, but it's a great way to share the fun. With multiple game packs, you can race on any course you want to, and you can play in battle mode with your friends. These modes are what made Mario Kart 64 good, and they have been brought to the GBA with no loss of fun (Unless you tried to snipe people from the top of a mountain in block fort... shame on you!)
To sum things up, Mario Kart is on the GBA and is an excellent example of what a kart racer should be. I hope developers of kart racing games are playing this game. This game clearly demonstrates the dos of kart game design.