Virtually Overlooked: Kart Fighter

What if a bunch of Nintendo's world-famous franchise characters stopped adventuring and just got in a big fight? No doubt that would be an awesome game. You can just imagine the dollar (or appropriate currency) signs in the eyes of the person who came up with a surefire idea like that.

That was the idea behind Kart Fighter, created ... some time after Super Mario Kart was released, by an unknown Hong Kong developer. It's a 2D fighting game starring Mario and friends, in familiar settings based on the Mario games.

Nintendo totally ripped these guys off. Have they no respect for intellectual property?


Kart Fighter is an unlicensed game for the Famicom, based on Super Mario Kart in looks and Street Fighter II in gameplay. The whole cast of the original Kart game is here, out of their tiny novelty cars (and also out of proportion with each other), under their Japanese names, or silly variations thereof: Mario, Luigi, Peach, Koopa (Bowser), Kinopio (Toad), Nokonoko (a Koopa Troopa), and the very cutely-named Yossy. The odd transliteration of Yoshi's name did more to make him (her?) a likable character than anything Nintendo ever did. Peach's skirt has been shortened significantly, either because the developers couldn't figure out how to animate high-kicking in a long skirt or in a misguided attempt to make the flickery, nondescript sprite look sexier and thus push a few more loose cartridges out of the shops in Hong Kong.

As your standard Famicom Street Fighter clone, Kart Fighter involves exceptionally flickery sprites (there's a reason NES sprites were usually small!) and fireball moves for everybody. The good old down-forward-punch sends a crescent-shaped fireball across the screen (or some variant, like the awesome mushroom Kinopio throws); other moves include a spinning pirouette thing, Nokonoko's great shell-spin, and Yossy's awkward aerial forward ... wiggle of some kind. They're not terribly easy to pull off. Sometimes your bashing of the controller may coincide with what happens on the screen, but don't expect to be pulling off frame-perfect combos with your custom arcade stick. You can't expect some hard-working pirates to make a game and test it as well!

It's not like Kart Fighter is the only crappy 2D fighter on the NES. In fact, every one-on-one fighting game on the NES sucks. Probably the high point of the genre is the extra mode in Double Dragon, and that's only because it's so weird to see everyone else's sprite blown up, but Abobo's left the same size. The NES isn't the system for fighting games -- even ones with budgets.

In fact, in the limited scope of 2D fighting games on the NES, it's almost possible to view Kart Fighter as decent. If they had drawn some original characters instead of drawing Nintendo characters, which wouldn't have taken any more work, this would be a pretty good unlicensed game instead of a pirate game. They still could have named somebody Yossy.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.