The recent arrival of GBA games on Nintendo Switch Online was a cause for celebration. The first wave includes some of the handheld’s finest, and Nintendo has already confirmed that Golden Sun, Fire Emblem, F-Zero, and more are coming.
But there was one title within the launch line-up met with disdain – Mario Kart: Super Circuit. While not a bad game – far from it, in fact – this was the entry in the series that merely met expectations instead of exceeding them. It didn’t offer much in the way of innovation, failing to push the series forward with its no-thrills character roster and stock item selection. If you played Super Mario Kart extensively in the ‘90s, a sense of overfamiliarity would likely soon dawn.
It seems that Nintendo’s marketing ploy solely centered around this being the first handheld Mario Kart, with the series skipping the Game Boy Color due to its limitations.
Despite some shortcomings, Mario Kart: Super Circuit’s review scores were positive and it went on to shift close to 6m copies. Many critics claimed that it was the handheld’s killer app and a real shame that it wasn’t a launch title.
But while this may sound like a success story, it still today holds the record of having the lowest sales of any Mario Kart – even Mario Kart: Double Dash on GameCube managed to outsell it.
It definitely seems that the appeal surrounding Mario Kart: Super Circuit has diminished over time, eclipsed by later handheld iterations, while also lacking the nostalgia of Super Mario Kart and Mario Kart 64. The weakest link in a strong chain is perhaps the best way to put it.
Super Circuit also launched after a very similar game from a respected third-party developer. Pipped to the punch, you could say; a move that took the wind out of its sails.
That game was Konami Krazy Racers, a GBA launch title that offers nearly identical kart racing thrills some four months earlier. It isn’t sheepish about its inspiration– it’s as brazen as Mario Kart clones come, and Konami was clearly keen to release it before Super Circuit. It’s visually identical, shares some mechanics – including hopping and sliding – and has a similar itinerary of GPs.
It’s to Konami’s credit, then, that Konami Krazy Racers is an excellent clone that’s on par with Nintendo’s effort. Being something entirely new, it feels a tad fresher too. Imagine playing a mini celebration of all things Konami, with some cameo appearances from long-forgotten franchises.
Characters, items, racetracks, and the jaunty rearranged BGM all come from past Konami classics. The opening cast features characters from Goemon/Legend of the Mystical Ninja, Parodius, Castlevania, Metal Gear Solid, TwinBee, Pop ‘n Music, Power Pros Baseball, and Gradius.
Bear Tank from the N64’s Rakugakids can be unlocked, along with Vic Viper and Goeman’s portly pal Ebisumaru. Sorry, Silent Hill fans – this clearly wasn’t the right place for Pyramid Head.
Races take place across different terrane – with one course being set on a dusty baseball field – and a homage to Rainbow Road also features, complete with alluring racer reflections. It has some fun touches too, such as the ability to turn the opposition into pigs, and surprisingly expressive character animation – especially upon being shocked with lightning.
The slick presentation really excels here, especially for a system launch game. The title track is a score with catchy, albeit cheesy, vocals and the Metal Gear remix is a real treat. The main menu meanwhile resembles a PC desktop, complete with a few silly touches. Items can be purchased via collected coins, and there’s also a rumour section – a parody of a ‘90s message board – where some of the game’s finer points can be discovered. Even the character select screen is novel, using a portrait of all the unlocked characters bunched together.
Konami Krazy Racers had a second chance to shine on the Wii U eShop back in 2015, priced at a reasonable £6.29. Nintendo Life scored a 7/10, claiming that “there’s plenty of joy contained within this cute and fun little racer” but felt disappointed by the removal of multiplayer modes.
It’s safe to assume that it’ll turn up on Nintendo Switch Online in the future as the 2015 release suggests that there are no licensing entanglements. Those experiencing it for the first time will likely be left pleasantly surprised. Whereas developers of other kart racers were only able to imitate, Konami was able to perfectly replicate.