Mario Kart 64 was a hugely influential game as far as my love of Nintendo goes and one of the key games the console sold on. The game was the step up to the N64 for Mario and his racing buddy’s with a choice of 16 tracks for racing (split into 4 cups, with each cup having 4 tracks, going from the easy races to the harder ones) as well as 4 battle tracks (to play battle mode, in which players would try to pop opponents balloons). The game was released in Japan in 1996 and followed in Europe and American the following year before the re-release in 2007 on the Wii Virtual console.
The game plays well on it’s single player mode, despite continuous and well publicized cheating by the computer players. But it would be the multiplayer game that would really show how good the game is, with up to 4 players racing around the wide variation of courts, from the easy beginners circuits like Moo Moo Farm and Luigi Raceway, to the complex and multi routed Yoshi Valley and the devilishly difficult Toads Turnpike. The game like it’s predecessors featured items, for use by the players, such as lightning bolts, stars, bananas, shells and mushrooms, all fans of the Mario games would be use to these sorts of franchise mainstays.
The items are:
Stars-makes your player invincible (bar falling off the circuit)
Lightning Bolt-make all the other players shrink and allows you to run over them squishing them
Blue shell-A shell that when fired will track down the leader and hit them
A fake item block-a item that will leave a block that looks like the item blocks on the track
Red Shells-track down your nearest opponents (come in 1 and 3’s)
Green shells-fires in a straight line (come in 1 or 3’s)
Bananas-can be tossed in front, or left behind for rivals to slip on (come in 1 or 3’s)
Mushrooms-a boost (come in 1 or 3’s or the golden variety, which lasts for a set time as opposed to uses)
The games characters should also be (on the whole) pretty well know, with famous faces like Bowser, Donkey Kong, Toad, Peach and Luigi making up the cast of the game. With levels based around the names (and sometimes levels of the games) where the characters originate. The characters themselves behave in 1 of 3 types, the lighter races (Peach, Yoshi and Toad) are all slightly better to accelerate whilst the heavy characters like Donkey Kong, Wario and Bowser all have the better top speeds. Whilst the Mario and Luigi have the better all-round abilities with a good combination of speed and acceleration.
The controls are simplicity at the very best:
To go forward press/hold “A”
To brake press/hold “B” (hold it to reverse)
To turn you use the analogue stick
To use an item press the Trigger (“Z”) or the bottom C button
To “hop” press the “R” button (the right shoulder button) (more of an advanced technique)
So the game has a winning formula of recognisable characters great level design and simple controls. But yet there’s so much more to it than just racing, the game oozes class, from the easy levels such as Luigi’s raceway which may well be a beginners track to the viciously punishing Wario Stadium where a single mistake can cost you severely no two tracks are too similar, or feel like they were just there to be filler tracks. Everything feels like its there for a reason and the reason is to be played and enjoyed there’s not any time where you feel the game tries to be something it’s not, the game is there for the purpose of fun.
Though lets be frankly honest as brilliant as the game is, the rose tinted spectacles cannot hide the fact the game has aged. The games is now over a decade old and lets be honest, it looks it, with relatively blocky graphics used to hide the N64’s limitations as best as Nintendo possibly could, sadly in this day and age with Mario Kart Wii openly available to games, the graphics of this game look really poor. The game fails to cope fully with what we now see as graphical expectations, despite being genuine 3D in course structure a lot of the trees and the such were 2D on closer inspection (by driving up to them you could see they were missing a whole dimension) and the textures always looked like they’d been smoothed out.
As well as this the sounds were incredibly limited, though working on a 12 MegaByte cartridge this is understandable, as the technical limitations of the day added to Nintendo sticking to the cartridge did with out a doubt hinder them in the creation of the game.
Though this isn’t to take away from what a truly remarkable experience the game is, especially in multiplayer, where 1-4 players can compete on any of the courses in a 3 lap race. The game really does peak here, and was arguably with Goldeneye the N64’s base for the mulitplaying games that the console became known for, the fact is the game is so easy to play that you and you mates can play it on the first pick up and have fun with out needing to learn any complex techniques, which makes the game appealing to newbies. Added to the fact that the game is fun, and the game draws in players effortlessly so your rarely with out someone to play with.
The games ultimately simple game play added to a few advanced techniques made the game something that you could pick up and play, as well as learn to play and learn the tricks. The brilliance of it’s appeal is solely in the unadulterated fun that even now, years after the console the game was made for ceased production the game is still selling on the Wii virtual console, the game, much like the original Mario game, will forever live in Nintendo folklore.
Personal opinion in the battle between Mario Kart and Diddy Kong Racing, does side with DKR though as I felt it expanded on what Mario did with regards to the multiple vehicles and the much stronger single player mode. Though this is a mere matter of opinion, I thought DKR was the better game, but spent much longer playing MK64.