Super Mario Kart can be played by one or two players. All gameplay uses a forced split screen view. In single player mode, the top displays the course, while the bottom screen can either display a rear-view mirror perspective, or an overhead view of the whole track, displaying where all the racers are currently. In multiplayer, the bottom screen is assigned to the second player's view.
There are two single player modes:
The first is Mario Kart GP , in which one player races seven computer-controlled drivers. Engine classes of 50cc, 100cc, and 150cc are available. Larger engines result in faster vehicles and a greater level of difficulty. There are four cups to select: the Mushroom, Flower, and Star Cups are available immediately and the Special Cup is unlocked after completing the first three in 100cc or 150cc. There is no 50cc Special Cup. Winning the Special Cup in 100cc mode unlocks 150cc mode. Each cup consists of five tracks and the player must receive fourth place or better in any track to advance to the next. Places five through eight are given the "ranked out" title.
The second mode is the time trial, in which the player races through one track in an attempt to set a record for best lap time or course time. No items are available in a time trial.
Three multiplayer modes are available:
The first is Mario Kart GP , which plays just like the single player version, but with one less computer-controlled driver. In order to proceed to the next track only one of the drivers is required to rank in the top four.
A Match race is a one-on-one race on one track.
The last mode, Battle mode , is the only mode in which players do not race. Two players choose from four levels specially designed for battle mode and try to pop the three balloons surrounding the other player with items such as Koopa shells or banana peels. The last player with balloons wins.
In all modes, Lakitu runs the raceway and rescues drivers who have driven off the track for a price of two coins.
The eight available drivers can be classified into four types based on top speed , steering , strength and acceleration. When two karts of different weight collide, the heavier kart will be knocked off the course far less and lose less speed than the lighter one, but lighter characters are better off-road. This largely depends on the angle of contact, since all characters will lose their speed if they make contact with a wall or another driver from the back without jumping at the right moment. Also, when two drivers collide at an angle resulting in no speed loss, the lighter character will usually maintain his speed temporarily if bumped offroad.
There was a large debate, which will never cease completely, over whether each character had different driving attributes. Many accepted the similarities between the characters on the top and bottom of the Choose Character screen, but they claimed there were subtle differences such as offroad acceleration or top speed. Using hexadecimal code found in the rom, a player with the pseudonym SeR first published the driving values, revealing that there were only four sets of values in the code, one set for the two characters in each column of the Choose Character screen, and proving that both characters were identical. As further proof, another player recorded a zmv (a video file associated with the emulator ), replaced Donkey Kong Junior with Bowser , and produced an AVI video showing both characters drove identical paths on Mario Circuit 1. Observational evidence comes from the Super Mario Kart Time Trials World Records, in which top players have achieved records using both DK Jr. and Bowser across both the PAL and NTSC versions.
There is still the puzzling issue of why players continue to feel the driving differences so adamantly. One possible point to consider is optics and how smooth surfaces and jagged surfaces affect the eye. Bowser's shell is pointier than DK Jr's smooth backside. Toad 's head is circular whereas Koopa Troopa's body has more twists and curves.
Note the rankings here do not correspond to a linear increase in attributes like speed or acceleration. Bowser is not four times as fast as Toad , but Yoshi 's acceleration is significantly faster than DK Jr's. The fastest characters, Bowser and DK Jr , have roughly 10% higher top speed than the slowest characters, Koopa Troopa and Toad .
One of the features in this game that sets it apart from other games of the time is the arsenal of Mario Bros. weapons used to power-up one's kart or impede the progress of other racers. An item can be obtained by running over a yellow question mark square. The weapon received is chosen randomly, but is affected slightly by one's position. A racer in first is more likely to get a weapon used to impede progress of players behind him or her, while a player in last is more likely to get projectiles to use on players in front of him or her and is more likely to get stronger items.
- Banana peels can be placed behind a racer or tossed in front of a racer. If a kart hits a banana peel, it spins out, resulting in a loss of speed. In Grand Prix mode, the computer-controlled Donkey Kong Jr. has an infinite number of these at his disposal.
- Boo (a ghost) is used to steal an item from the other player, as well as make the player that used it invisible (this item only appears in battle mode and match race).
- A Feather is used to perform a high jump during which the kart spins 360° in the air (the 360° turn is a purely cosmetic element of the jump). It is used to jump over obstacles or gaps or to perform certain shortcuts. In Grand Prix mode, all computer controlled racers will randomly use this item to dodge obstacles (such as items used by the player or other racers). Because of this, this is the only Mario Kart game in which the Feather has appeared.
- A Green Shell can be placed behind a kart to impede following racers or thrown in front of the kart in an attempt to hit another kart. This shell travels in a straight line and ricochets off of walls. In Grand Prix mode, the computer-controlled Koopa Troopa has an infinite number of these at his disposal, although he tosses it forward like a banana peel instead of shooting it forward like a human player would.
- Lightning is the most powerful weapon in the game and much more rare than the other items. When used, a bolt of lightning hits every opposing racer and shrinks him or her, which reduces his or her speed and allows him or her to be squished if run over.
- A Mushroom is used to give the player a temporary speed boost or to perform a super jump when used while driving over bumps.
- A Red Shell is used to attack leading racers. This weapon locks on to the driver in front of the player, making it easier to hit another kart than with a green shell. Unlike the green shell, it cannot be set behind a kart and does not ricochet off of walls. Although long declared "it cannot be done," expert players have puportedly demonstrated that the red shell can indeed be locked rearward onto the second place driver by the driver in first place, thereby performing the legendary "reverse heat-seeker" maneuver. Sometimes the computer-controlled players are able to avoid the red shell by merely jumping over it when it homes in on them.
- A Star is another powerful weapon that provides a kart with greater speed and invincibility to everything except track boundaries, deep water, lava, and cliffs. In Grand Prix mode, the computer-controlled Mario and Luigi have an infinite number of these at their disposal.
- Coins gives the player two extra coins. Single coins can also be picked up off the track. Each coin increases the speed of the player's kart up to a maximum of ten, beyond which they no longer affect the kart's speed. Coins can be lost by bumping into other racers on the track, falling into pits, water, and lava, hitting obstacles placed by other racers, and by going out of bounds by using a feather.
- A Shrinking Mushroom is set down behind a kart or thrown in front of a kart (only computers can throw the item forward). Any racer who hits one of these will shrink, as though struck by a lightning bolt. A player that has been previously shrunk by a different mushroom or a lightning bolt will regain his original form if he hits one of these mushrooms. In Grand Prix mode, the computer-controlled Princess Peach and Toad have an infinite number of these at their disposal. The player themselves could only throw these backwards, and it was performed by using a Lightning backwards (which is fairly foolish mid-race as it would be far more damaging to use the lightning normally).
There are two additional items that are only used by computer-controlled drivers in Grand Prix mode, but they are not to be used by the player-controlled drivers. This was to give them some sort of advantage because AI algorithms were rather limited at the time.
- A Fireball is set down behind a kart or thrown in front of a kart. This weapon strafes from left to right, increasing the likelihood of a collision. In Grand Prix mode, the computer-controlled Bowser has an infinite number of these at his disposal.
- A Yoshi Egg behaves like a placed green shell. In Grand Prix mode, the computer controlled Yoshi has an infinite number of these at his disposal. While a player that runs into a banana tends to slide forward after impact, a player that runs into a Yoshi Egg stops instantly on impact.
Cups and tracks
There are four cups available in the game, each consisting of five courses.
|Mushroom Cup||Flower Cup||Star Cup||Special Cup|
|Mario Circuit 1||Choco Island 1||Koopa Beach 1||Donut Plains 3|
|Donut Plains 1||Ghost Valley 2||Choco Island 2||Koopa Beach 2|
|Ghost Valley 1||Donut Plains 2||Vanilla Lake 1||Ghost Valley 3|
|Bowser Castle 1||Bowser Castle 2||Bowser Castle 3||Vanilla Lake 2|
|Mario Circuit 2||Mario Circuit 3||Mario Circuit 4||Rainbow Road|
The tracks in Super Mario Kart are also available in the Game Boy Advance game Mario Kart: Super Circuit as unlockables, albeit 'trimmed down', with many course-specific obstacles not present. Super Circuit features five cups with four tracks each, so the track arrangement is significantly different. Four tracks are also available in the Retro Grand Prix of Mario Kart DS , which are much closer to the originals than the versions in Super Circuit , even including the old backgrounds.
Super Mario Kart is still widely played today by many "karters". The main form of competition is in the Time Trial mode. Karters submit their fastest records to a main records site and are ranked according to these times.