The debut of the Nintendo 64 brought true 3-D graphics into the limelight and with them came countless great games. A few months after the release of the N64 came the sequel to Nintendo’s very successful title, Super Mario Kart. Mario Kart 64 brought the popular series into 3-D with a bang with its colorful graphics and addicting game play. Couple that with well-designed tracks and great 4-player multiplayer, and you have the makings for a classic game.
The story in Mario Kart 64 is… well… there is no story. Like most racing games that are not of the Diddy Kong variety, the point is to win by any means necessary. The main single player experience is broken up into four Grand Prix races with four tracks each. New racetracks and difficulties unlock as you progress in the game and you can also play time trials if you want to test how fast you can complete a certain track without any other players hurling turtle shells at you. Today, we might not consider this the beefiest single player racing experience, but replaying the races never gets old.
Obviously, by today’s standards the graphics in Mario Kart 64 are below average. However, for its day it looked great. Along with Super Mario 64, Mario Kart 64 brought everyone’s favorite Nintendo characters into the 3rd dimension for the first time. The only downfall to this was Nintendo neglected the Koopa Troopa in this entry.
In addition to the characters, all of the tracks are very detailed and it shows that a lot of thought went into designing them. Everything from Luigi’s Raceway, the oval shaped beginners track, to Rainbow Road, the vibrant and colorful end-game track have unique elements in them. The best part about the tracks is the fact they are either modeled after certain characters, like Toad’s Turnpike, or levels in certain games, like Banshee Boardwalk. There are even shortcuts in some of the tracks to help you get a pretty strong lead on your opponents and since not everyone had the Internet when this game came out, players had to find the shortcuts themselves.
Like the graphics, the soundtrack in Mario Kart 64 is very vibrant. Many of the tracks have their own song with a couple of the songs being reused elsewhere. The music is usually upbeat and it always fits the theme of the racetrack and the pacing of the race. Along with the music, Mario Kart 64 is where many gamers heard the voices of the famous Nintendo characters for the first time. All of the voice work is great, from Wario’s now famous laugh, to Yoshi’s… whatever it is that Yoshi does.
Since there is no real story in Mario Kart 64, the experience really boils down to the game play. Even though there are a limited number of tracks to choose from the racing is extremely fun and very addicting. This is partly because of the weapons system. During the race, players will drive through question mark boxes and acquire one of many different weapons to use on their opponents. This extra element has become a staple in the series and because of the ever growing number of unique weapons, the Mario Kart series is truly unique and different from just about every other racing game.
Most players will probably be able to blow through the four Grand Prix races rather quickly. The harder difficulties might take a little longer to complete, but it is still very manageable. Some gamers might say Mario Kart 64 is too easy, but I feel the difficulty is tailored to the point where gamers of all ages can play and still have a good time. What I like most about this game versus the later games in the series is the fact that someone in last place can’t reach you with a blue shell on the home stretch of the last lap and ruin your race. Although, it should be noted that Mario Kart 64 was the debut of the now infamous power slide boost.
The multiplayer in Mario Kart 64 shines just as bright, if not brighter than the single player experience. While it is true that you can race your friends in the Grand Prix, or just one stage at a time, the real multiplayer attraction lies in the battle mode. Up to four players can play and upon starting players have three balloons tied to their kart. When they get hit with a weapon one of the balloons floats away and the last player with balloons still attached to the kart is the winner. There are four battle stages to choose from and each one gives a completely different experience. The only downside is the looks of the battle mode stages are a little bland in comparison to the racetracks. Even after you have done everything in the single player mode you will want to come back with friends to duke it out in battle mode.
Mario Kart 64 is without a doubt a classic game worthy of attention even today. The single player races are fun for all ages and the multiplayer will keep friends coming back for more. The game looks great with its detailed racetracks, has a terrific soundtrack, and it doesn’t deal you any cheap hands during the races to spoil the experience. If you have not played this game you owe it to yourself to grab a copy for either the Nintendo 64 or the Wii’s Virtual Console.