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Video Game / Super Mario Kart

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Super Mario Kart (1992) is a Driving Game for the Super NES that started the Mario Kart series and, with it, a whole slew of Mascot Racer imitators.

Due to technological limits, older driving games felt little like racing on a track and more like watching the track twist below you as other racers materialized or vanished at whim. In 1990, F-Zero changed everything with the Super NES's Mode 7 hardware, finally creating a realistic system with a (technically fakenote ) 3D track and real racers.

Super Mario Kart utilized Mode 7 to make a fast, wacky, and thrilling challenge. Your racer must navigate the track—shown in the bottom split-screen—rife with obstacles such as grass, pipes, oil slicks, fish, and many an outright Bottomless Pit. Not to mention the other racers—and their obstacles. Yes, both you and your opponents may pick up items to throw in each others' path; this is one of the many kart racing tropes Super Mario Kart started.


The game features examples of these tropes:

  • A.I. Breaker: On higher difficulties, the computer will always jump over a banana peel on the track if it could reasonably see it coming. On courses where you need to hit a jump panel to proceed (which is how this game handled "figure 8" sections), placing a banana right where the computer would drive would cause all of them to miss the jump and be stuck, giving the player a clean victory.
  • All in a Row: Despite being a racing game, the AI follow behind each other perfectly and will never speed up or slow down unless they are out of the position they were in previously.
  • Always Night: The three Ghost Valley tracks.
  • Amazing Technicolor Battlefield: The psychedelic Rainbow Road, Super Mario Kart's final track.
  • Artificial Stupidity: Unless interfered with, the computer racers would always follow the exact same racing lines. Learn where that line is on each course, and a human has a huge leg up on beating the computer.
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  • Astral Finale: Rainbow Road settles the series' tradition.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: Bowser and Donkey Kong Jr. having the highest top speed. In order to make use of this it requires about a lap and a decent amount of coins to get up to speed and relies on the player not colliding with any objects or other karts to stay there, which on the harder tracks can be next to impossible. The exception is in 150cc mode, where top speed is more easily reached and turns are easier to control and predict with the heavies. False starts can often be fully recovered in the first lap, which is next to impossible in 100cc. Veteran players and speedrunners alike prefer the heavies in 150cc for these reasons, as demonstrated here.
  • Balance, Power, Skill, Gimmick: The playable characters are grouped into pairs: Mario and Luigi are balanced, Bowser and Donkey Kong Jr. have slow acceleration but high top speed, Yoshi and the Princess have fast acceleration but low traction, and Toad and the Koopa Troopa are the gimmick with high traction, but have low speed and weight.
  • Banana Peel: This mainstay item of the Mario Kart series started here, though you weren't able to drag it (along with the shells) behind you until 64.
  • Big Boo's Haunt: The Ghost Valley tracks, though the Boos just float in the background and don't interact with the racers.
  • Bottomless Pits: In the Ghost Valley tracks and Rainbow Road. Lakitu will fish racers who fall down for the price of two coins (or one, or zero, if you have less than two. He's a nice guy like that.)
  • Bowdlerise: In the original Japanese version, Bowser and Peach would drink from the champagne bottle upon winning first place at the awards ceremony. It was changed in international versions to simply tossing the bottle around.
  • Breakable Power-Up: Getting bumped by another racer removes a coin.
  • The Bus Came Back: Toad returns after being left out of Super Mario World. This is also Donkey Kong Jr.'s first appearance, playable or otherwise, since 1982.
  • Car Fu: Heavier karts can bully lighter ones, especially if one racer has been shrunk or is using a Star.
  • The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard:
    • They don't follow the same rules as items go; each enemy racer can use only two items (a "signature" item such as Mario and Luigi's star or Princess [Peach] and Toad's poison mushroom, plus the Feather for avoiding obstacles), but they can be used at will. Its egregious use of multiple items without visiting an item box (as the player character has to) is perhaps best demonstrated when a stationary computer uses five or six feathers in a row to avoid an item just under its wheels. Additionally, if you hit an AI kart that's been shrunk by Lightning Bolts, they merely spin out rather than getting Squashed Flat the way human players will. Besides this, AI drivers can drive right through on-road obstacles like warp pipes.
    • Additionally the AI players will change their track positions deliberately to block you. On lower difficulties it's most obvious that Mario and Luigi are doing it, but on 150cc cups ALL the NPCs will do this, including arcing wide on the corners to hit you as you're turning. If you're using the L and R buttons to power slide around for tighter cornering this can completely ruin your trajectory.
    • The AI is also impervious to all objects aside from weapons and other racers. This is most obvious in Bowser Castle 2, where four thwomps with unlucky RNG can trap you for seconds, while you watch the AI drive right through them. On the other hand, the AI can't steal your powerup boxes or use boost arrows either.
    • The AI opponents will drive through the courses as though they're riding on a hidden rail, taking hairpin turns flawlessly at high speed whereas the player will always struggle to avoid overshooting on them.
  • Continuing is Painful: Not only does losing a race (or opting for the "Give Up" option) require you to spend a life to replay the course, any position you entered the first attempt with is disregarded so you start in the middle (or even the rear) of the pack.
  • Crutch Character: While Koopa and Toad are perfect for beginners because of their good acceleration and traction, they Can't Catch Up at higher levels because of their poor top speed and lightweight.
  • Difficult, but Awesome: In Rainbow Road, you can use a mushroom to give yourself the boost you need in combination with a jump bumper to cross a large gap for a shortcut. But it takes a hell lot of practice to execute this move right, getting the distance correct and also not losing speed before turning to this point.
  • Dolled-Up Installment: This was originally going to be a generic racing game meant solely to provide a 2-player counterpart to the 1-player hit F-Zero a few years earlier. When the SNES couldn't handle this they decided to make a kart racing game with generic characters. During production someone suggested seeing what it would look like to put Mario in a go-kart, and history was made.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: Despite the claims of Strictly Formula regarding the rest of the series, Super is a somewhat different beast compared to the formula that 64 would create:
    • AI karts have special powers discussed above under The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard, the deck is nowhere near as stacked against you if you're ahead, there's a coin-for-speed boost mechanic that wouldn't be touched upon again until Super Circuit and 7, and the Blue Shell didn't exist (which the European VC release trailer mercilessly lampshades.)
    • The steering mechanics in this game are slippery and sensitive.note  Very delicate input is needed just to stay on the road and not end up hitting the walls or falling off. Mario Kart: Super Circuit carries on with similar mechanics. And instead of the traditional item boxes, there are item tiles, which each can be used up once per track, and since there's only one batch of item panels on each track, players will under most cases be limited to only one item per lap.
    • Each race has 5 laps, which hasn't been used in future games that opted for a standard of 3 laps due to the first game having simpler track designs and shorter length. Each cup also featured five courses instead of four, which gave this game the oddball total of twenty courses (future games always had course counts in multiples of eight due to the redesigned cup structure).
    • This is the only game in the series to have Donkey Kong Jr. as a playable character rather than Donkey Kong himself, though this is due to this game predating the release of Donkey Kong Country by a couple of years. Wario is also absent, though this game came out a few months before Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins, so it's kinda justified.
    • The game uses lives, and it's possible to not even finish a grand prix due to running out of lives for not placing in the top 4. The following two installments would keep this feature before dropping it altogether in Double Dash!!.
    • Each driver had their own ranking music, as opposed to the later games' standardized tunes.
    • Power sliding works differently. You just tap the L or R button to jump while turning, and you'll do a power slide. There are no mini-turbos in this game, and power sliding in this game requires different timing. If you mess up, you more likely to lose the race than win.
    • Both the Special Cup and 150cc mode have to be unlocked in this game. Furthermore, you have to play in 100cc mode, and win all three cups to unlock the Special Cup. You also have to win the Special Cup in the same mode to unlock 150cc mode.
    • There are only a handful of racing environments and instead a single setting can host several track configurations. Later games set each course in its own unique environment (the only exception being Super Circuit, which had four Bowser Castle courses).
  • Exclusive Enemy Equipment: The AI versions of Bowser can throw out fireballs that can be difficult to avoid due to its circular movement pattern while Peach and Toad have Poison Mushrooms, which shrink the victim like Lightning Bolts. Yoshi can toss his signature Eggs, which acts like a Green Shell if ran into.
  • Fake Difficulty: If Mario or Luigi are CPU characters, they can become invincible whenever they want. This is especially a problem on both 100cc and 150cc difficulties.
  • Fragile Speedster: This game has two examples of the "quick to start, hard to catch up" racing game variant.
    • Peach and Yoshi have the best acceleration, but average weight and top speed. Unlike the following games, they also have a traction as bad as heavyweights.
    • Koopa and Toad are more classical examples, having the best traction and the second to best acceleration in the game, but being the lightest characters and the slowest racers on long term.
  • Go-Karting with Bowser: The Trope Namer.
  • Gravity Barrier: The Ghost Valley tracks and Rainbow Road.
  • Green Hill Zone: The four Mario Circuits are located somewhere in the greens. The three Donut Plains tracks play this trope straighter: the track actually is dirt and Monty Moles can stop your progression.
  • Idiosyncratic Difficulty Levels: Each difficulty level affects how fast you and the AI will go. 50cc=Easy (You will easily lap the AI). 100cc=Normal (The AI can keep up a little bit, but you will be a bit faster than they are). 150cc=Hard (You and the AI race incredibly fast and it's difficult to keep a lead on them).
  • Jack-of-All-Stats: Mario and Luigi have middle-of-the-road acceleration, off-road performance, weight, and handling. Their top speed actually is better than Peach and Yoshi, but not as good as DK Jr. and Bowser.
  • Lethal Lava Land: The three Bowser's Castle tracks have lava as the bottomless pits.
  • Lightning Bruiser: Donkey Kong Jr. and Bowser have the heaviest karts which are also slow to accelerate, however this is balanced by having the highest top speed in the game, making them this trope at the hands of well-trained players.
  • Mascot Racer: This game is the Trope Maker. Though silly racing games existed before, this game set the standard for the genre.
  • Mighty Glacier: Bowser and Donkey Kong Jr. are standard examples of the "slow to start, hard to stop" racing game variant of this trope. While their top speed is high, their slow acceleration and poor handling make it tough for them to actually reach and maintain it. However, their heavy weight means they can smack lighter characters around the track.
  • Nintendo Hard:
    • Due to the awkward drifting mechanic present in this game and Super Circuit,note  combined with the slippery controls and limited availability of items (one per lap, unless the player hits a second item panel that are not commonly seen in the tracks of Super Mario Kart), anything past 50cc will definitely prove to be difficult even for players that can master the non-Mode 7 games. 150cc takes the icing on the cake for not only do you go insanely fast (and the slippery controls make it even more difficult), but the AI will go just as fast, if not faster.
    • The best demonstration of this trope at work would be Rainbow Road. Completing this track in the 150cc Special Cup is incredibly difficult because the track is surrounded by a Bottomless Pit, and unlike the Ghost Valley tracks it has no paving to stop you driving off the track at any points. Plus, the Thwomps from the Bowser Castle stages with an added bonus - they flash with invincibility, so if you hit them you don't bounce off, you spin out, often all the way off the track. It's incredibly easy to go from 1st place with a flying lead to 8th with no way back in the space of a few seconds.
  • Palmtree Panic: Koopa Beach tracks actually lack palmtrees, but happens on a beach, implies to race on water, and deeper water sections are bottomless pits here.
  • The Rival: Depending on who the player drives as, there will be certain characters that perform better and try their best to annoy the player. The rival will always be the same for each character, and that rival will do their best to not let you win. For example, pick Koopa Troopa and the CPU giving you the most trouble will be Luigi, but pick Luigi and Yoshi will suddenly give you the most grief, and so on.note 
  • Rubber-Band A.I.: Pretty severe, and especially occurs if a computer that has earned many points in the GP falls behind. A rather interesting case with this trope is the AI will only rubber band back to their original position that matches their standings. For example, if an AI controlled Mario was ranked 3rd in the standings and he gets knocked down a few spots during a race, he'll only rubber band back to 3rd place and won't push for 2nd or 1st.
  • Slippy-Slidey Ice World: The Vanilla Lake tracks have ice blocks disturbing your progression and the second one implies you avoiding to fall in the giant cold water lake.
  • Unwinnable by Mistake: While item panels on the Battle Mode courses will refresh after they've all been used, there's an oversight on Course 3, which has two such panels in areas you need a feather to get to. Use all the other panels and don't have feathers? You're stuck.
  • Video-Game Lives: The only Mario Kart game alongside Super Circuit to use them. Rank in lower than 4th, and you lose a life. Lose all your lives, and it's Game Over, forcing you to start the cup over.
  • Wacky Racing: The cast of Mario characters racing in go-karts in exotic tracks while hurling objects at each other certainly fits the trope.


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