Street Racer

Yes, yes Mario Kart…

…greatest kart game of all time…

…Nintendo magic…

…in the days before blue shells appeared.

Mention karting games for the Super Nintendo and Mario Kart is probably the only one that springs to mind. Indeed Mario and co’s racing debut is held in high regard for good reason and the series has become a long standing gem with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe waiting in the wings for the Switch soon.  Back in 1994 though there was a game that took what made Mario Kart so good and added plenty to it. I don’t recall ever owning Mario Kart for the Super Nintendo, it as a game I usually went round my friend’s house to play, but I ploughed hours into Street Racer in my own bedroom.

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I can still hear the music just by looking at that screenshot.

The best part of Mario Kart was the multiplayer, it’s hardly a stretch of a statement and yet there was only room for two.  Street Racer has the rather glorious idea of doubling that amount and splitting the screen into quarters. This was well before consoles arrived with four joypad ports meaning you had to dust off that multitap you initially only really bought for Bomberman for maximum thrills. It was well worth the effort though because Street Racer was a little more combat based than Mario Kart ever was.  Alongside items you could pick up during each race you could also use the shoulder buttons to make the driver punch, whip or slap anybody alongside them at the time. Even if you had nothing in the item box in Street Racer you could still drive through the crowd battering people as you went.

The cast list of drivers varied from the cartoonish to the bordering on complete racist. A German pilot called Helmut? Yes, he was there. An African witch doctor complete with a bone sticking through his nose? Yes indeed. An Italian who drove something that looked like a Ferrari and kept lowering his shades to look at people? Of course there was. It was almost as if the cast of ‘Allo Allo’ had decided to stop trying to have sex with each other and race around in small cars instead.

Add to this the football mode which was essentially Rocket League twenty years early and Rumble Mode in which every car was placed on a large floating platform with only a collapsing wall separating them from the dark abyss below.  If you didn’t fancy racing then there were still plenty of giggles to be had.

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The game was ported to a vast range of consoles including the Mega Drive and Playstation but never received a sequel. It remains a fleeting example of a gem that was perhaps overshadowed by something a little more well know. It is firmly on my list of favourites however.

Super Mario Bros 2

There are far better Mario games than this. Mario 64 broke new ground by transferring the plumber’s jump mechanic to three dimensions and Super Mario Galaxy had bucket loads of inventions behind the planet based levels. Quite famously Super Mario Brothers 2 on the Nintendo Entertainment System wasn’t even a ‘proper’ Mario game. Rather than release the original Japanese sequel to the first Mario game in the West, Nintendo deemed it far too difficult for gamers in America and  Europe. As a plan B a game know as Doki Doki Panic was repurposed and released instead. Rather than jumping on enemies to kill them you have to land on them, pick them up and then throw them. Bowser is also nowhere to be seen. Mario Brothers 2 is often seen as a black sheep, something to be shunned and forgotten. For me though, it’s the first Mario game I ever completed and will therefore always hold a high place in my heart.

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My NES didn’t come bundled with the original Super Mario Bros, nor do I have memory of having SMB3 later on (I think the first time I played that particular game was when it was part of the Super Mario Collection on the Super Nintendo). Super Mario Bros 2 is therefore my earliest experience of Nintendo’s mascot. As a young kid I joined Club Nintendo which gave you a magazine through the post every few months. There was an entire issue dedicated to the game with massive stitched screenshot maps.

My Dad and my Sister spent some time in China in the early 90’s. I stayed home with my Mum for the two weeks they were away. Their return journey saw them getting stuck in Istanbul for a night due to flights getting cancelled. Among the objects my Dad brought back  were two small statues of terracotta soldiers, some kind of chest infection which kicked his asthma off grand style not long afterwards and a copy of Super Mario Bros 2. To this day I’m not sure where he got it from. It certainly wasn’t Asia as it was clearly the PAL edition. I’ll take a guess at Dixon’s duty free in Heathrow Airport.

First came the character select screen. A definite change to the usual Mario formula. Even more surprising was the fact the characters were not interchangeable pallet swaps. Toad was fast, Princess could float through vast portions of levels, Luigi had a very strange high jump that seemed to be accomplished by waggling his legs and Mario was down the middle average.

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It doesn’t play as fast as any other Mario game, the pace seems slow and jumping up and gaining score multipliers by hitting enemies in sequence isn’t really an option. There is however a certain otherworldly charm about a game which is entirely Mario’s dream. There’s a strange theme regarding root vegetables being thrown around, vases that are bigger on the inside than the outside and alternate shadow worlds that hide bonus items which can only be seen via small bottles of chemicals.

Most of the enemies in Mario Brothers 2 haven’t really ever been seen again in the series. There’s the introduction of the Shy Guys who have since popped up a few times (in Mario Kart mainly).  As far as I’m aware Wart, the final boss who takes the shape of a large frog, hasn’t been seen again. The game’s influence on the series overall is fairly minimal and yet it’s probably because it’s so different that I remember it so well.

I played Mario Bros 2 intently over a period of a few weeks. It was one of the first games I played so much that I knew every in and out of each level. I was probably trying to speedrun the game years before speedrunning was a thing. I loved it that much. I’ve played a lot of the mainline Mario games since and, whilst each are pretty amazing in their own right, none of them hold the memories and are linked with such a time in my life as this one.

Super Metroid

This list of games won’t be in any particular order. It won’t feature some of the cornerstones of gaming as far as we know it. Some of the games will be technically clunky and perhaps not seen as much good by most people. All of them however have influenced how I see games. They have all, at some point, made a mark that has stuck around for years.

My Sister is older than me by three years. Whilst we may have had our fair share of sibling arguments in our time we’ve got along for the most part. One occasion of pure little Brother malice on my part occured when I went with my Dad to buy the Super Nintendo console that would be my Sister’s birthday present. Inwardly jealous that she was getting a new console before me I convinced our Dad that, rather than buy it with the Zelda game she’d love,  Street Fighter 2 would be a far better option. Yes, I was a total prick when I was 12.

It backfired in spectacular fashion when she was allowed to keep the console in her room and I was forced to ask her permission to enter whenever I wanted a few rounds with Ryu. This continued until I got my own SNES many months later. Being pretty much into different games at the time (she really didn’t like Street Fighter 2 it turned out) we played games alone in our separate rooms across the hall.

Until the summer of 1994.

Until Super Metroid.

Cartridge based games were massively expensive back in the 90’s, often being around the £60 mark in some cases. I have a strong memory of us splitting the cost of Samus Aran’s 16 bit debut down the middle as we both wanted to play it. The box was huge, double the size of any other cart packaging there had ever been before. Nintendo actually broke thier own rule about uniform box size to bundle the game with its own printed guidebook complete with detailed artwork. It was the sort of thing you’d be skinned an extra £15 today at the counter of Game.

My sister and I loaded up the game for the first time and witnessed that intro. The speech sample of ‘The last Metroid is in captivity, the galaxy is at peace’ was a truly great moment as was stepping into the research station after receiving a distress signal. The opening escape from the station and landing on the planet below is still one of the most atmospheric introductions to a game world I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting.

The summer of 94 was, unusually for Scotland, quite warm yet we both spent hours inside taking it in turns to play through the entire game. We drew maps detailing each part of the cavernous system underneath Planet Zebes. Super Metroid wasn’t a game to hold you and give infinite details on how each of Samus’ weapons worked. Progress in Super Metroid was made by exploration and experimentation. It was because of this that sharing tips back and forth with my sister was one of the best parts of playing through it. Gaining Samus’ powers back gradually after losing them all after the introduction was a fine feeling. A new item would allow access to a previously fenced off area. 

The ending, without spoiling a 23 year old game, is fantastic especially considering it features no pre rendered footage nor dialogue. It remains one of the best conclusions in gaming. I think we were both in the room when the credits rolled.

Sometimes good games are made even better by who you play them with. Super Metroid shall forever be considered as the game that stopped my Sister and I gaming in separate rooms.