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In the oldschool super mario kart for snes you could collect coins that lie around on the track.

What do they do? Why should I collect them?

Back in the days as a kid I would collect them because they are a shiny. I doubt that is everything to it.

HUD showing 3 coins

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Each coin held slightly increases your top speed on the road, by approximately 0.8%-1% per coin (the exact percentage depends on the selected driver, the kart class, and whether you're playing a PAL or NTSC version). For example, a Koopa Troopa with 10 coins will have the same top speed as Bowser with 0 coins.

As michaelb958 notes, you only need 10 coins for the maximum speed bonus. Any additional coins will not provide further benefits.

You will lose 4 coins if are hit by an item that causes you to spin out, 2 coins if Lakitu rescues you, and 1 coin if you hit another player. If you crash into another driver while you have 0 coins, your kart will spin out.

Coins do not affect any other aspects, so drivers are still going to vary a lot in acceleration, handling, etc.

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    Just BTW, I think coins after the 10th don't provide any further benefit. – michaelb958--GoFundMonica May 5 '14 at 1:52
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    @michaelb958 is correct. The max speed increase is 10 coins. – FoxMcCloud May 5 '14 at 13:30
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    Never knew this, mind=blown – RvdK May 5 '14 at 14:01
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    I read the manual for that game ( mariomayhem.com/downloads/mario_instruction_booklets/… ) SO MANY TIMES. I was seven when it came out, and it taught me the meaning of the word "Surplus". "Any number of coins over 10 are surplus." – ilinamorato May 5 '14 at 19:25
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    @ilinamorato furthermore the manual adds: "coins only appear in the GP and MATCH RACE modes" and "Lakitu will charge you if he needs to pick you up" (Lakitu is the guy with the cloud) – Wandang May 6 '14 at 6:34
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Also, when a player-controlled driver is hit, they lose a coin. If a player-controlled driver is hit with zero coins, they will spin-out.

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    Furthermore (according to the manual linked above) if an item attack causes you to spin you lose 4 coins and Lakitu rescuing you costs 2 coins. – Wandang May 6 '14 at 6:41

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