Does A Lot With A Little
Ever since the Nintendo 64, Nintendo has shown a desire to have a Mario Kart game on every system, even if it means outsourcing the work to a third party company. Mario Kart: Super Circuit on the Gameboy Advance was developed by Intelligent Systems Co, who you may know best from Paper Mario, Fire Emblem, and Advance Wars. The problem with outsourcing a franchise like Mario Kart is that each new game in the series relies somewhat on continuing trends of the franchise. Super Circuit does none of this.
Mario Kart Super Circuit follows its brethren in a rather simple recipe. There are five Cups each with four tracks, difficulty ranges from 50cc, 100cc, 150cc, and Extra, and the game also offers time trials, single course runs, and of course multiplayer battle mode. Of course, this is a review of the 3DS Ambassador version, so playing multiplayer is not an option.
Super Circuit is plagued by a lack of consistency or rationality, but I have a sneaking suspicion that all of this can be linked to the Gameboy Advance simply not being powerful enough to properly process as many different variables as Mario Kart presents. The momentum of your vehicle often goes into questionable territory, with regular oddities including turns that pull your car in odd directions and track foliage which is all to inconsistent. Apparently the Gameboy Advance can only process these features with the player's racer, because none of your AI opponents are affected by any of these variables and will continue driving at full speed, making impossible turns with inhumane precision.
Even core features like your powerups being based on your position are all backwards. I more often received power stars while in third and fourth place than in fifth place on onward, while leading the pack in first place left me mostly with red turtle shells. Intelligent Systems did get one thing right, however, in balancing out the more game changing powers. The lightning bolt (shrinks everyone else) is a rare sight and the blue turtle shell (a homing shell that aims for the player in first) is practically nonexistent. In fact, in the multiple runs of each cup on each difficulty, I only saw the spiny shell used once, and it hit a wall and broke before it could reach its destination.
Mario Kart Super Circuit handles much like most other Gameboy Advance racing games, solidifying my theory that the issue is hardware related rather than poor programming of the developer. Still, it's rather obvious that the game pushes the hardware limitations of the GBA, and since anyone who has this game will have received it for free, you might as well live down the two minute download.
Super Circuit is a trimmed down game for a limited system, but that doesn't excuse the game's shortfalls.