Way before the term "eSport" was banded about with such casualness amongst gamers we were just getting started with what you can consider real video gaming back in the early 90's. Fourth generation consoles had just taken gaming up a notch and it was an exciting period to be growing up as a gamer. The Sega Mega Drive and the Super Nintendo had just landed in 1990 and there were some seriously high quality titles that would follow, not just on the initial launch dates of the consoles themselves but for years after.
While Sonic the Hedgehog and Super Mario were the iconic mascots of both systems, an offshot of Mario would prove to be one of the most unique racing games ever to land on a gaming system. I am of course talking about Super Mario Kart for the SNES released in 1992. It was the first and remains the most skilled version of the game today. Both SMK and SMK64 are still played competitively as an eSport where as the newer versions would abandon more of the skill element to make the games more appealing to the casual fan (basically to sell more copies).
2018 SMK Final
Super Mario Kart is played by a loyal following at a competitive level
While racing games before it were competitive nothing was quiet as colourful or original as SMK. It introduced beloved characters from the Mario games into racing whilst also adding some very unique combat elements with special items such as Banana Skins, Heat Seeking Shells and even Character Shrinking Thunders. Add to that some highly original tracks to compete on in multiplayer mode and a 150cc mode that demands the upmost care in navigating said tracks and you have a winning formula for an eSport title. Yep SMK may not be anywhere up to standard of today's racers in terms of visuals but with playability and with it being a 2D racer it's a solid game that has stood the test of time.
150cc demands that the racer drift around corners with care and manoeuvre the kart all so delicately as with the highly sensitive controls comes the ability to easily crash into a barrier, slip off the track and loose your time or fall off the edge into a lava pit or even space itself!
Part of the reason why later games failed to match the skill level of SMK beyond the control sensitivity is the fact that the 3D versions allowed the player more space to turn corners and overtake. With a 3D plane the player had more scope to drive with as to where they could steer their karts. In SMK corners are super tight and get awfully crowed when racing against the computer and other players.
While we consider sensitivity of controls and less space to overtake and turn corners, tracks are also longer in SMK and every race can feel a little exhausting but this also allows for many twists and turns with who is leading. Rainbow Road just caps off what is an exceptionally well designed 2D racer that today has yet to be beaten in terms of complete originality mixed with skill. Whether we are talking about open world racers or popular franchises like Gran Turismo, Need for Speed, Ridge Racer and Forza, how can a 2D game even be mentioned in the same light? The answer lies in the fact that games are still all about their gameplay as much as their looks.
What I would love to see is a 2D version launched on mobile phones, while this is wishful thinking for SMK fans a 3D version known as Mario Kart Tour is current in beta testing. This is likely to be a stripped down version of Mario Kart 8 with simplified game play to adapt to phones. I very much doubt there will be anything in the way of tricky game play, tracks to navigate with skill or lightning reflexes needed to finish first, instead it's just going to be one of those lottery ticket racers.