Monday, July 19, 2010

Gaming Past: SNES In depth (Part 2) - Super Mario Kart


My top 3 SNES gems (cont.)

Back in 1995, I traveled back to Hong Kong for vacation. While in Hong Kong, I managed to bargin my way to get one game on the SNES. At that point, I really had no idea what I wanted to get, so as I browsed the windows at stores wondering what I would get. I stumbled upon a copy of Super Mario Kart at one shop and bought it on the spot, I figured that since I liked Mario games, this game can't be that bad (Thank God I didn't get Mario is Missing, that would have been just weird). Fortunately, it's probably one of the best games then, and a genre defining title.

At first I was quite underwhelmed: Donkey Kong Country was such a visual tour-de-force that it shames every games before. Sure, it had Mode 7 tech, which was something I hadn't seen before (We'll get to F-Zero :P), but just how plain the visuals looked compared to DKC was a setback for me. The Pseudo 3D effects were nice, but it was no SGI GRAPHIXLOLOLOL (I still can't believe I bought into that, but then again, people bought into "Blast Processing"). While the flat shaded artstyle fit with the designs of Super Mario World, the fact that lacks the look of "depth" sort of pushed me away. The fact that the game only displayed half the screen never really bothered me though. I thought that using it as a full map displaying where everyone was was a nice touch, never knowing that it was a "technical limitation".

The gameplay, however, was anything but disappointing. Even at the most basic level, the game creates many player decisions: Heavy or Light driver (My go to guy? Yoshi, followed by Mario, then Toad); Max coin on first lap or stick to the racing line (Always max coin); hold back and wait for better item in the first item area, or jockey for position (Always wait for items). Every track and "world theme" has their own unique trick to learn (like boosting through the gap in Donut Plains 1), and it was always entertaining (and sometimes frustrating, in a good way) to play through each cup. Learning the timing for the hop/slide was a long process, but I eventually got the hang of it (after countless trial and errors on Mario Circuit 1).

At the time, I never understood how heavy rubberbanded the AI was, but it created intense exciting races. Sure, this badly rubberbanded AI would run into frustrating situations of overtaking first place just at the last corner, but it also taught me to be ruthless in hoarding items, racing a sub optimal line to block, and holding a banana/green shell back for protection. Sometimes the AI would end up costing me the entire series because of one cheap lap, but it was merely another chance for me to replay the series again (Yes, my cart does have all tracks completed, with a 40/40 for all series).

Looking back, I'm surprised how well I took in the attempt at re purposing all the items: coins gave speed increase; mushrooms were speedboost; lightening to shrink, the list goes on. Yet the most interesting use was the Feather. Except for a few shortcuts, the Feather was pretty useless in the main mode. For the longest time, I though someone had to have screwed up somewhere, then I discovered Battle mode. During one game, I got a feather and managed to jump into a closed off pool.

A GLITCH! - I said.


I never found a good strategy to properly use that trick. I know that in all those pools, there are jump pads or item pads that will allow you to get out with ease. To this day I wonder whether this feather design was by design, or just another happy accident that turned into a feature. It is interesting to see Battle Mode to be considered now as the beginning of the "car combat" genre. To think, all the multiplayer missile shooting owes it's origins to a game where people lay down banana peels...

Oh, and before I wrap this up: Worst Rainbow Road ever. Even though I hate the new ones, this one takes the cake for having no barriers whatsoever. Who thought that was a good idea? be continued...

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