This is it, the one that started it all; the video game that kickstarted the "take a popular game mascot and put him/her in a go-kart" craze: 1992's Super Mario Kart for the Super NES. Released near the end of the year by Nintendo, the company had no idea what a mega hit they'd created. Using Mode 7 effects, Mario and company race around a series of racetracks modeled after memorable levels from Super Mario World. All the courses were flat; there were no hills or valleys or anything else beyond a linear twisty road. One or two players can go for a ride, with Single Player Mode providing the challenges of Grand Prix Mode and Time Trial, while Two Player Mode brings us Grand Prix Mode, Versus Mode, and the popular Battle Mode.

The goal of the racing modes is to finish five laps around the track ahead of your competitors. In Grand Prix Mode you race against seven computer-controlled opponents (or six if you and a friend are playing Two Player Grand Prix), while in Versus Mode it's Player One against Player Two and Time Trial is just a race against the clock (the game pak records your best times). Battle mode finds you and a friend attempting to damage each other three times, with eat hit taking away one of three balloons from your kart. The first to lose all their balloons loses. There are three speed modes in the game: 50cc, 100cc, and 150cc (which is initially hidden). Grand Prix Mode and Versus mode are available at any speed, while Time Trial and Battle Mode always occur at 100cc. The game's controls are simple compared to today's modern Mario Karts. The B button accelerates, the Y button brakes, steering is done with the control pad, the A button uses an item, the X button activates the rearview mirror in Single Player Mode, and the L & R buttons cause the kart to hop. Wait, items? Yup, there's more than just simple racing going on here. By running over question mark blocks, you can obtain a special item to help you move ahead. Let's look at the list.

  • Coins - In addition to being scattered around the track, coins that come as items are worth two coins. The more you collect, the faster you will go with a limit of ten coins influencing your speed. You lose coins for taking hits and colliding with other racers. Getting hit when you have zero coins results in a spin out!
  • Green Turtle Shell - The projectile of choice in the Mario Kart series. This shell can be either shot straight ahead or dropped on the track behind you. Striking one results in an immediate halt and spin out, delaying you by several seconds. If you have any coins, you will drop some of them.
  • Red Turtle Shell - unlike it's green cousin, the red shells home in on the racer ahead of you. They turn poorly though, so make sure to use it on a relatively straight stretch of track.
  • Feather - While your kart can always do a small hop, the feather allows you to perform a huge jump. Often you'll want to use this to leap over barriers and access major shortcuts.
  • Banana Peel - Drop it behind you or toss it ahead to cause players to spin out on contact.
  • Super Mushroom - Provides a brief speed boost.
  • Ghost - The Boos have always been tricksters, so activating this item steals an item randomly from another racer plus it turns you invisible and intangible for several seconds.
  • Starman - Like in past Super Mario Brothers games, this item grants temporary invincibility. It also gives you maximum top speed while it is in effect. You can safely ram into other players and some hazards without taking damage.
  • Lightning Bolt - The most coveted item in the game, the bolt shrinks all the other players down to a tiny size for a few seconds, making them slower and easily squished.

This first edition in the Mario Kart series features eight characters from the Mushroom Kingdom and they each fall into one of three weight classes. Lightweight characters have great acceleration, but a poor top speed; mediumweights have average, balanced skills; and heavyweights have great top speed but poor acceleration. As always, it's important to try all the characters until you find one that best suits your driving style. Furthermore, when a computer-controlled character feels threatened, it will unleash a special item only it has available to it, so when you see Princess Toadstool drop a poison mushroom on the track, rest assured that you cannot perform the same trick. Let's go to the character breakdown.

  • Lightweight Division
    • Faster top speed, less acceleration
      • Toad - Everyone's favorite mushroom retainer takes to the track. He controls the poison mushrooms that, if touched, cause a character to shrink.
      • Koopa Troopa - A member of the Koopa Troop, KT has unlimited green shells to lay on the track.
    • Faster acceleration, less top speed
      • Princess Toadstool - Her royal highness also controls the poison mushrooms, but is much more apt to use them than Toad.
      • Yoshi - The driving dinosaur can drop Yoshi eggs on the track. Running over one produces the same effects as if you'd hit a turtle shell.
  • Mediumweight Division
    • Mario - The star of our show, Mario is a good character for novice players. He can activate a starman whenever he wants.
    • Luigi - Another good choice for beginners, Luigi also has unlimited starmans.
  • Heavyweight Division
    • Bowser - In his first playable appearance the leader of the Koopa Troop can drop fireballs on the track (which, like the Yoshi egg, is just like hitting a turtle shell).
    • Donkey Kong Jr. - Where does a massive gorilla drop banana peels? Anywhere he wants as often as he wants. This is Junior's only appearance in the Mario Kart series.
A racing game is nothing without well-designed racetracks, and Super Mario Kart has plenty of those. They are so memorable and well done, in fact, that Nintendo has included them as hidden tracks in the third game in the series, Mario Kart Super Circuit. There are twenty racetracks divided into four cups of five tracks each plus four tracks for Battle Mode. Unlike future games in the series, you will notice the same kinds of tracks appearing several times, i.e. several versions of Bowser's castle. Let's take a closer look.
  • Mushroom Cup
    • Mario Circuit 1 - A basic starter course, this track has a few obstacles and some slow turns.
    • Donut Plains 1 - Monty Moles pop out of the ground here, clinging to your kart and slowing you down.
    • Ghost Valley 1 - This track is well known for the massive shortcut near the end of the track.
    • Bowser Castle 1 - A poorly-timed jump could send you into a lava pit. Thwomps rain down after the first lap, too.
    • Mario Circuit 2 - Another basic course, except this one has a neat jump over another section of the track.
  • Flower Cup
    • Choco Island 1 - Muddy roads will slow you down here, as will the piranha plants growing out of the bog.
    • Ghost Valley 2 - There's another shortcut here, but not as nice as the one in the previous Ghost Valley course.
    • Donut Plains 2 - Monty Moles return, plus it's all too easy to skid into the lake.
    • Bowser Castle 2 - The only course with a trap, watch out for the arrow painted on the ground that wants to trick you into steering into a lava-filled path. Thwomps are around, too.
    • Mario Circuit 3 - No longer basic, the Mario Circuits begin to contain more and more nasty turns.
  • Star Cup
    • Koopa Beach 1 - Cheep Cheeps leap from the water and a wrong turn will have you swimming before you know it.
    • Choco Island 2 - More mud, more piranha plants, and more bad turns.
    • Vanilla Lake 1 - The precursor to future Mario Kart's Sherbet Land, this level features ice blocks that bar the way.
    • Bowser Castle 3 - The nastiest of the Bowser levels, this one boasts multiple paths and more Thwomps.
    • Mario Circuit 4 - If you like hairpin turns, this course is for you. It's full of them.
  • Special Cup (hidden initially; only available at 100cc and 150cc modes)
    • Donut Plains 3 - Sections of the bridge are out, plus the Monty Moles return with a vengeance.
    • Koopa Beach 2 - Another island romp, this track boasts a great shortcut.
    • Ghost Valley 3 - There's pieces of the track missing here, but there's a nice straightaway for using boosts.
    • Vanilla Lake 2 - The track runs around a large frozen lake. The fastest route is to hug the shoreline.
    • Rainbow Road - The most difficult course in the game. Suspended over a void, this track has no guard rails, includes a number of sharp turns, and features electric Thromps that rain down from above.
  • Battle Mode Tracks
    • Battle Course 1 - A simple open space with few walls for protection.
    • Battle Course 2 - Based on Koopa Beach, there are several walled-in pockets of water on the course. Using a feather to get inside one provides protection from the enemy.
    • Battle Course 3 - Based on Vanilla Lake, this frozen course if full of ice blocks and icy driving surfaces.
    • Battle Course 4 - Providing plenty of walls that are arranged in a bullseye target formation for protection, battles on this course can last for over thirty minutes.

With all of these characters, items, and tracks it's no wonder the game became such a smash hit when you consider the gameplay and replay value are equally well done. It's instantly addictive and some players insist, even with all the sequels, that it's the only "true" Mario Kart. The game inspired a number of imitators over the years as other companies began putting their own mascots into go-karts. Sonic the Hedgehog raced in two Game Gear games (Sonic Drift and Sonic Drift 2), Mega Man went for a ride in Rockman Battle and Chase, and even Crash Bandicoot took to the road in Crash Team Racing and Crash Nitro Kart. Super Mario Kart gave way to three sequels: 1997's Mario Kart 64 for Nintendo 64, 2001's Mario Kart Super Circuit for Game Boy Advance, and 2003's Mario Kart: Double Dash!! for Nintendo GameCube. The later versions improve on the formula first defined here, but there's still something to be said about the lifespan of a classic. Hunt this game down at your local used game store or online auction because it's worth the search. See you at the finish line!