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CONSOLE: Game Boy Advance DEVELOPER: Nintendo PUBLISHER: Nintendo
RELEASE DATE (NA): August 27, 2001 GENRE: Racing
// review by Jeff

Prepare for a bumpy ride.

Though they never knew it at the time, when Super Mario Kart was released, it would eventually grow to become one of Nintendo's largest flagship series. Obviously a spinoff of the world within Super Mario Bros., the Mario Kart series pits everyone in the Mushroom Kingdom (and neighbouring suburbs, apparently) to a formidable competition on the go-kart track. It's all in good friendly nature; nobody really gets hurt or injured. Bowser won't actually try to claw Mario's carotid arteries to cut off circulation to the brain while driving. Donkey Kong won't beat him senseless with a barrel during wide turns. Wario won't twist a sharp dagger of gold through Mario's heart before crossing the finish line.

...Come to think of it, Mario has made a few too many enemies.

Ever since the inception of Super Mario Kart on the SNES, every subsequent new Nintendo system has been required to put Mario back on the track. With the release of the Game Boy Advance in North America on June 11, 2001, fans were finally treated to an epic colourful kart racer on the go. That game was... Konami Krazy Racers, which beat Mario Kart: Super Circuit to the punch by a couple of months. But Mario Kart: Super Circuit is okay, too, kinda.

As expected, you get to choose from a variety of racers, each with different skill sets, with the purpose of racing on a number of obstacle-laden tracks. Like its two predecessors, players can choose from eight different racing champs. Mario and Luigi are obviously in there (how could they not be), and serve as your "average" middleweight characters that are fair in all aspects. On the more heavyweight end, you have Bowser, Wario, and Donkey Kong, whose top speeds are overall a bit higher and who are a bit tougher when it comes to collisions. (If I ever fell face-first into Bowser's shell, I'd probably lose that battle, too.) And in the more lightweight category, known for fast acceleration, we have Peach, Yoshi, and Toad.

The course selection is spread across five different cups with four tracks each. And let me be perfectly clear about this game's track design: I don't know who did it, but someone apparently had a hundred spare U-Turns in their pocket and sprinkled them liberally everywhere. Compared to Super Mario Kart, which this game most closely resembles and which was coated with a solid amount of 90° angles, these tracks are far more treacherous, each turn adding an extra ulcer to an already overclenched stomach. Power sliding is a questionable ordeal, not really working particularly well in such seemingly small quarters. Heck, I was in first place on Lakeside Park until I powerslid...over a barrier and onto another part of the course, where I immediately dropped to last place. Should that even happen?

They've also included all of the SNES Super Mario Kart courses as bonus unlockables, which would have been great if the whole game didn't already feel like a rehash of Super Mario Kart tracks. I mean, how many Bowser's Castle circuits do I need? ...Seven, huh? Only a select few tracks offer new locales, notably the Cheese Land course. All others just remind me, "Oh yeah, I was here ten years ago." You can give your courses different names, Nintendo ("Boo Lake"? "Broken Pier"?), but a Ghost Valley track by any other name is still a Ghost Valley track. I'm not saying ideas shouldn't necessary be unused in future games, but they sure don't feel fresh here.


This game sometimes "drives" me crazy.

If just participating in the Mario GP doesn't float your boat enough, Super Circuit offers a few extra modes of play. The Time Trial mode lets you race by yourself to place your best time, then race against saved ghost data of yourself. Quick Run mode lets you tackle just one track at a time, customizing different aspects, including how many laps to run, whether there are item boxes or not, and more. Lastly, should you possess the almighty Game Boy Advance Link Cable, multiplayer options become available. The VS. mode lets you race against your friends, while Battle mode pits you against your nearby opponents while trying to pop their balloons in whatever way you can, similarly to how it was done in Super Mario Kart and Mario Kart 64. You can even play multiplayer off one cartridge alone, but other players will only get to use various colours of Yoshis. Drag. And, of course, if you have the Wii U Virtual Console version, you won't have access to multiplayer at all.

My biggest issue with Mario Kart: Super Circuit is in its controls. Why exactly are they do they feel so... off? Maybe it's because the Game Boy Advance has fewer buttons than the SNES or Nintendo 64 controllers did. A accelerates, B brakes. A, B, A, B. Got it. And holding down the R-shoulder button while driving initiates the power slide, which is rough enough to use. Using items is where the situation becomes more nightmarish, particularly because you're fumbling with that while you're still trying to drive on these inane courses. To use an item, you press the L-shoulder button. Pressing and holding it, if the item allows, will drag it behind you, and likewise, if you're holding Down while you release L, the item will drop behind you.

Initially, you'll think you've stumbled across the SNES version, as their graphical styles are similar, down to the legendary Mode-7 track graphics. On closer inspection, however, you'll notice the differences. Pixelation is of greater issue, but on the plus side, the driver sprites are quite well done, with even more frames of animation when the camera rotates around them than in the Nintendo 64 version. The backgrounds are also far more detailed than on the SNES with an almost hand-drawn effect. And while I don't mind the audio much, Luigi's voice is wrong. LUIGI'S. VOICE. IS. WRONG. Did he celebrate his entry into the latest kart tournament by ingesting helium? His voice sounds more suitable for Toad, but for some reason, they just overpitched Luigi.

Sadly, Mario Kart: Super Circuit really doesn't add anything new to the franchise except portability. It is exactly what you'd expect out of a Mario Kart game and nothing more. It's essentially a gussied-up version of Super Mario Kart, but with even worse pixelation issues and a smarmier control scheme. It's not the favourite Mario Kart game of most, and with good reason. Snatch this one up solely if you're an extreme enthusiast of the series, for there are much better ways to spend those coins.


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