Mario Kart 64 (Video Game Review)

Video Game Review
Mario Kart 64
Nintendo 64
1997
Developed by: Nintendo
Published by: Nintendo

Mario Kart 64 by Nintendo might be the perfect video game. It’s fun, easy to play, fun, beautiful in its perfect balance of simplicity and chaos, and most importantly, fun. If you play Mario Kart 64 and don’t have any fun, you may be dead inside. Sure, the graphics are slightly above what some would consider rudimentary 3-D and there are plenty of other games that offer a bunch of other options way beyond what Mario Kart 64 offers but few can come close to touching Mario Kart 64 in terms of overall quality. Many of the kart racers that were released after Mario Kart 64 were akin to being a jack of all trades but master of none. Mario Kart 64 takes the core gameplay of kart racing and perfected it. Legitimately, if Mario Kart 64 is the only kart racer that you have ever played and then you play something else, chances are you’ll be sadly disappointed by the new game and go right back to Mario Kart 64.

Players can select from eight different characters from the Mario universe (and Donkey Kong, Jr.). Each character has its own strengths and weaknesses although most players won’t see much of a difference and will eventually pick the mascot they like the most.

There are twenty courses to drive on although several of them are locked until players have won several championships in the appropriate difficulty level (of which there are three: 50cc, 100cc, and 150cc). There are also four battle courses where each have completely different elements that make them feel like complete opposites from one another.

The game contains three modes. The Mario GP championship mode has players race over multiple courses to finish first in the various circuits. Winning championships will eventually open up an extra set of courses and other options like faster karts (which also stands as a harder difficulty setting) and a reverse course option. Players race around the course throwing weapons at each other and using power-ups that are found in the question blocks littered throughout the courses. A well placed hit in a heated race can prevent someone from taking the checkered flag and finishing in a much lower position (which is tons of fun if you’re doing this to someone and not so much if it’s happening to you). This option is great both for people who are playing alone or with someone else.

The time trial mode is solely a single-player experience where one races on a course without any other racers in an attempt to see how fast they can go. It’s a neat option that will keep players coming back for more as it has a real arcade feel to it in the sense that it encourages players to look at the course and see where they can cut precious seconds off their time. While it is very fun to play as a lone player, it does have enough to it that it is still tons of fun to play with others as the controller is passed around.

The final game mode is the battle mode. This is the main reason to play this game as there is nothing more satisfying than nailing your best friend with a red shell in the kisser to take the match. This mode isn’t about racing; it’s about taking out the other players with a myriad of weapons and other perils. Once a player is hit by a weapon three times, they’re removed from the competition. This mode alone could have been released as a separate package and it would still be considered an excellent title. The fact that it’s included with the two other modes makes this a phenomenal game.

The controls are very simple. The analog stick controls the steering while the A button acts as the acceleration and the B button works as the brakes. The down C button (or the Z button) will use the item that the player is hoarding (although holding the item button will make the character get some items ready behind them and can be used as a shield; only when the item button is released will the item actually be fired or dropped). The shoulder buttons allow players to enter into a power slide. Tilting the control stick to the left and right while sliding will eventually build up a short turbo boost. Overall, the controls are really simple to use and mostly anyone can perform some strong power slides into turbo power boosts after only a few tries.

The graphics for the game look decent for a Nintendo 64 title. The fogging issues that plagued the system are well masked here even though it does exist on a few courses. However, the fog is built into the environment of the courses which essentially makes it not an issue. The courses are well crafted making the game look solid. Some courses, like Rainbow Road are full of colour contrasted against a black backdrop and are simply beautiful. Compared to other games on the Nintendo 64, Mario Kart 64 is one of the best looking games on the system.

The sounds are great here too. Even though everything is just MIDI-tunes, many of the musical tracks are quite catchy. The compositions on some of those courses really bring out a strong racing atmosphere. The sound effects are also top notch here too. Even though the kart engines sound like something a four-year old would do with their mouth if you asked them to recreate the sound of a lawnmower, it still fits the game very well. The screams of agony from the various characters when their hit by a weapon are quite hilarious and each character is distinct from one another; it’s easy to know who just met the wrong side of a red shell.

If there’s one thing that Mario Kart 64 needs to criticized over, it’s the scenery; or more appropriately, it’s the lack of scenery. This is both a graphical issue and a technical issue. On some of the earlier difficulty levels, it’s not unheard of for experienced racers to finish a race well ahead of the second place kart. This lack of other karts around and the emptiness of some of the courses make it feel like one is driving through giant vacant areas. It’s an issue that’s corrected on the harder difficulties as there are way more frantic moments and very few seconds of peace and quiet during races on 150cc. Another thing though is that sometimes it’s very relaxing to drive on some of those courses with the rest of the pack far behind and just take in the scenery. Even though some of those tracks can seem a bit bare, they’re still very eye-catching in their simple beauty (for example, the Kalimari Desert course with it’s sunset colours).

Mario Kart 64 though is a game that is easily enjoyable whether you’re playing by yourself or with someone else. It’s a game that is easy to lose hours with whether you’re trying to finish the main championship mode or playing a best-of-eighty-seven series with your friends in the battle mode. Taking the checkered flag or nailing your friend with a well-placed shell brings a level of satisfaction and fun that is rarely achieved in video games. To play any other kart racing game after this almost seems like a crime.

☆☆☆☆☆

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2 comments

  1. Excellent review! I’m especially happy that you rate the battle mode so highly – it truly is an exceptional part of the game and I spent many hours meant for studying while at university battling it out with housemates.

    It’s great, timeless fun and you sum that up perfectly with this review!

    1. I seldom give out five star ratings and this game definitely deserves it. Still great to play after all these years.

      I had a bunch of friends over and we played Mario Kart Wii; even though I had Mario Kart 64 inside the Nintendo 64 right next to the Wii. We never got around to play Mario Kart 64 and while we still had a blast with the Wii game, I still kind of wish we had played a couple of rounds of Mario Kart 64. It really is an amazing game.

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