Pros: Unlocking the extras and multi-player
Cons: Insanely outdated, minor game play issues
It's really not hard to believe that the Mario Kart series has lasted as long as it did. When I first played the original Super Mario Kart for the SNES back in 1992, I knew the game was going to be a smash for two reasons; 1) It had Super Mario in it, that's almost a guarantee for success, and 2) the game was fun as all hell. Mario Kart in some form has made it to almost every single Nintendo system to date, with the Game Boy Advance (GBA) being the third one in the line up. Mario Kart Super Circuit which was released in 2001 for the GBA combines elements from the first two games of the series; Super Mario Kart and Super Mario Kart 64. And surprisingly, it's actually better than the first one, but it's not on par with the second game.
For those who may not know, Mario Kart Super Circuit is a multi-player, fantasy racer starring the Super Mario Bros. Mario and Luigi. Flanking them are Princess Peach, Toad, King Bowser, Yoshi, Donkey Kong, and Wario. The object is to complete three laps on your way towards winning the Golden Cup. It's possible to win Silver and Bronze by coming in 2nd and 3rd place respectively. However, the goal is to come in first, because this is one of the two ways to unlock something special, more on that later.
The race tracks are heavily influenced by the Super Mario universe, with stages representing many walks of life from the various games; for example, a few tracks takes place inside of Bowers's lava-pool filled castle, along with the Ghost House of Super Mario World full of little spirits floating around. I still think it was a clever move to use the main series as the playing pool. Playing these games usually gives me the feel to go back to the Super Mario games. Anyway, the race tracks are full of traps to slow you down from making it to the goal; such as drop offs into water, or giant Thwomps trying to crush you flat. The stages have quite a bit of imagination and they are fun to race through. Adding to the depth of the game, are the items that the cars can pick up to use as weapons or power ups, such as banana peels to slip the cars, turtle shells to hit them for a nice tumble, or mushrooms for a turbo boost. To fans of the series, most of the really cool stuff from Mario Kart 64 such as the three green and red shells are well intact.
Now in all honesty, I'm not exactly a fan of racers but I'm getting there. I'm a fan of Mario Kart. I enjoy the wild and wacky antics of trying to make it to the goal line. It's never ending fun when knocking your opponents for a loop, or grabbing that mushroom at the last second and robbing them at the finish line by inches. The multi player is by far the most fun, and when using the Game Boy Advance Link, everyone has their own screen to play on, as opposed to the split screen. This way, you can't see what your opponent is up to and vice versa. This brings out the most fun in the races. Another mode that can be enjoyed, mainly on the single player tip, is racing your ghost on the Time Trial. This pits you against your best time on a specific track that took place in the main game. I actually gave up on this a long time ago, because I can never catch my Toad ghost no matter who I use. I didn't realize that I played that particular round so perfectly. There are other game modes, unfortunately, they really don't have much to offer.
The game has three different engine leagues to race in; 50, 100, 150, and these act as the three difficulties. The first one the AI is pretty weak and it's very easy to ace the game. 150 is where the challenge is, and the AI plays to win, to include, the game likes to play around too much with the items, and it would feel like it's never giving you what you need. Trying to win first place, along with getting the highest ranking is not easy on this setting at all.
Now I mentioned that this was better than the SNES version, and for me there's only one reason, and it's the characters. In the original, the characters you faced all possessed special abilities, for example, Mario and Luigi could use the Starman at will and become invincible. While all the other characters had never ending projectiles which really wasn't fair at all, especially in the case of Peach and Toad. They threw mushrooms all day, and one hit would shrink you to be quickly flatten, which leaves you at a big disadvantage to catch up. They were also able to jump much higher than you to avoid your projectiles. Here, they're better balanced and they can only use the items you can. Those big advantages they had over the player for the SNES annoyed me to no end.
This version isn't exactly perfect though. Each of the characters possess a certain racing attribute, such as the Princess and Toad being the fastest characters in the game. But this is just your basic window dressing to pretend that the game has more depth than what it really does. When the race begins, you can have Toad and you will be outran by let's say Mario, all depending where he began at the starting line. If he began positioned at 7, then he'll be the slowest in the race. If he's positioned at 1, then he'll be the fastest and hardest to catch. The only ones who play somewhat different are the bigger characters, Wario, DK, and Bowser, but playing against them results in the same thing. I never used them for competition against human players.
No real issues here as everything performs quite well. You have buttons for your acceleration, brake, and shoulder buttons to either use your item or do a small hop. The control pad gets rougher to use on the faster engine settings to create that realistic feel with the handling. Some characters here are better than others, and when using the Starman for that extra speed boost, the car is much more difficult to handle on turns, but this has nothing to do with the lack of control responsiveness. This is just how the game is played.
Visually, I think this game is a small step up from the SNES in some ways, yet still not something I would say is great. The backgrounds have some good details such as statues and trees, but there really isn't any variety, and you will see the same objects no matter how many turns you make on the course. Plus the levels are all flat with maybe a couple of bumps. It feels more like a rehashing of the original game. The character designs reuse the sprites of the N64, only on a smaller scale with less animation. The music reflects the personality of the stages, and it maintains that playful like atmosphere canon with the Super Mario Bros. It gets the job done. The sound effects also feel lifted from the N64, with Luigi having a different voice from Mario. I still dig Wario's voice the most here.
Now back to what I mentioned earlier about coming in first place. I'm still pretty unsure on how exactly it works, but I believe you have to come in first place, plus pick up at least 100 coins that are scattered around on the race tracks, in order to open up another 20 race tracks. These stages are the ones found in the SNES, which is another reason why I think this version is better. The challenge mainly comes trying to win in the 150 league. Unlocking all these stages is obviously great for the additional playing fields.
Mario Kart Super Circuit is fun. Unfortunately, with the release of Mario Kart 7 late last year, and even Mario Kart DS some years back, it feels waaaaaay outdated, especially when you factor in the online multi-player that completely does away with the GBA link. And because of this, I see no reason to recommend this game at all. The sequels are far superior in every way you can possibly think of, that's how much progress there has been over the years. Unless you're a true to the core Super Mario fan, I advise to avoid this game and pick up one of those sequels. Your money and time will be far better spent.