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Mario Kart 64 (Nintendo 64) artwork

Mario Kart 64 (Nintendo 64) review


"Even straight stretches are an opportunity to pull ahead of the competition, not to mention the winding areas where the game leads you. For example, one level lets you race along a frozen lake and through an ice cavern while penguins come down from the hills. It’s possible to slide into the curve, around columns of ice and birds, all the way through to the other side on a single power slide. Alternatively, you can milk the winding path for two or three turbo boosts."



One weekend, my cousin and I played through the Mushroom Cup grand prix in Mario Kart 64 no less than one hundred times. We kept track of wins, and I think he won by something like two or three races. Our little mini-tournament was a blast because we were so close in terms of skill. Oh, and because Mario Kart 64 rocks.

If you’ve never played a Mario Kart game, you’re missing something special. Nearly anyone can pick up one of the games and have a great time, regardless of skill level. The most obvious reason for this is a simplistic control scheme and objective (to cross the finish line first, of course). The first game in the series, Super Mario Kart, introduced a quick hop you could make with the ‘R’ button, which allowed you to take corners more tightly. For Mario Kart 64, that mechanic has been improved tenfold. Ride into a corner and you press the control stick into the curve. But as you’re still turning, you can pull it away, then push back in, then pull away and repeat. This causes the kart to drift slightly, and the color of its exhaust will change. Do it enough and you get a little speed boost that gives you the edge over your competition as your driver shouts with triumph (yes, the game has digitized voices).

In the tournament my cousin and I played, the ‘corner trick’ became paramount. Even straight stretches are an opportunity to pull ahead of the competition, not to mention the winding areas where the game leads you. For example, one level lets you race along a frozen lake and through an ice cavern while penguins come down from the hills. It’s possible to slide into the curve, around columns of ice and birds, all the way through to the other side on a single power slide. Alternatively, you can milk the winding path for two or three turbo boosts. There are all sorts of areas like that spread throughout the game as you race through a stadium, speedways, castles ghost houses and more.

Everything fans loved in the first game is now painted with a more detailed brush. Characters have definitely improved, with great color depth and plentiful frames of animation. They’re larger, too. Though the blurriness people remember from Nintendo 64 games does show its face occasionally, and though some textures seem more simplistic than perhaps they should (the mountains look quite bland, for example) there’s never really a moment where the game feels dated. Courses look great and some of special attractions like a large train that chugs across the course and a castle courtyard straight out of Super Mario 64.

While we’re on the topic of courses, I must add that those who played the original Super Mario Kart will definitely recognize many of this game’s locations. Flat courses from the first game have grown hills. You’ll race down through canyons as boulders topple from crags above, wind around beachside cliffs (or in one case, pass through them), and even scale the side of a tower. The more active third dimension isn’t just a gimmick, either. Many of the game’s shortcuts this time around revolve around finding new ways to pass walls (the most obvious case is the Wario’s Stadium area with its minute-shaving trick).

It’s not just the courses that have changed, either. You’ll also find a few new weapons, and ways to use them. Sadly, the feather is gone. No hopping over walls that way. But shells have been totally reworked in a way I can’t praise enough. Though you may sometimes obtain a single red or green shell, they also come in trios. Pick up a bunch of them and they’ll circle your car as a shield you can use to ram people, block shots, or to fire a round of shells at the last minute just before streaking over the finish line in first place. There’s also a spiked blue shell in the game, which homes in on the current leader and takes out anyone that gets in the way. The new additions add a new level of strategy to what was already a deep system.

As a result of the items system, Mario Kart 64 is often more frantic than its predecessor. Another factor is the new four-player mode. The Nintendo 64’s four controller ports mean it’s no longer necessary for friends three and four to sit on the sidelines watching. Though you can’t do the grand prix mode with more than two people, match races are open for your enjoyment. There’s also the Battle Mode.

As was the case last time, Battle Mode puts four balloons around each kart and sets the racers loose in different arenas. From there, your goal is to snag items and use them to burst your opponents’ shields. There are the usual four courses to choose from, so at first I was quite excited for a return to one of the best elements from the previous game. However, I soon found that this is the one place where a third dimension hurts Mario Kart 64. It’s suddenly much harder to hunt down your opponent. Look at the radar and you might seem to be next to him, but he could have climbed a series of ramps and might be well out of range. There are so many twists and turns that it’s hard to enjoy yourself with any less than the optimal four players.

Even with its battle mode deficiency, though, Mario Kart 64 is a great game. The match races are in some ways better than ever, and it’s amazing how much depth the cornering trick and new items add to the game. About the only things missing this time around are the feather and Koopa Troopa, and those are sacrifices I’m ready to make when the end product turns out so fantastic as this one did. Missing out on a game this good should be a crime!

Rating: 9/10

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Staff review by Jason Venter (Date unavailable)

Jason Venter founded HonestGamers in 1998, and since then has written hundreds of reviews as the site's editor-in-chief. He also is a prolific freelancer with game reviews, articles and fiction available around the Internet.

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