Mario Kart 64 (Nintendo 64) review
"Remember Rainbow Road? "
Remember Rainbow Road?
The hypnotizing color wheel blurring beneath our speeding tires. The unforgettable, upbeat techno tune blaring through the speakers as we raced beneath a starry night sky. The absolute mayhem that ensued on the hectic circuit, electrifying Thwomps guarding tight turns and narrow straightaways as we jockeyed for position on a track bound by no railings.
The elation we felt, when after countless episodes of being bullied around and bumped into the bottomless abyss, we finally claimed that elusive 150cc Special Cup trophy on a daredevil pass in the final turn.
Good, because practically none of the excitement and mystique has made the transition to its successor.
Mario Kart 64 subscribes to the "bigger is better" approach to sequels, and no track exemplifies this quite like the one we hold most dear. Whereas before it took under two minutes to speed five laps around the enchanting, prismatic circuit, now it takes closer to six minutes to finish -- and we only need to complete three revolutions! The sharp ninety-degree turns and slender straightaways have been supplanted by enormous, looping spirals and long, pointless stretches with ample breathing room. Three easily avoidable giant Chain-Chomps circle the mammoth track counterclockwise, replacing those tactfully placed Thwomps that caused us countless fits before. And most appalling of all, the entire length of this behemoth is lined with a golden, arch-shaped barrier, erasing the most prominent challenge of the everlasting loop we grew to love.
Beautiful? Without a doubt. Giant neon countenances of the eight selectable mascots radiate off in the distance as we round the opening turns, shining brilliantly in the still night air. The whirl of colors screaming beneath is no longer headache inducing, Super Mario Kart's solid tiles separated by ugly black crevices now a seamless, streaming, ever-repeating rainbow. Even the new accompaniment -- a high-pitched, atmospheric piece that always seems to escalate at just the right moments -- is an improvement over the original, truly capturing the surreal allure of the fantastic imagery presented.
Too bad it just isn't as fun.
So many of the courses presented here, however impressive, suffer from the same fault of being too big, too drawn out to captivate us for the amount of time they take to complete. Wario Stadium is an awesome concept -- racing on an Excitebike 64-style dirt track set in a hundred thousand-seat stadium, with countless hills and gullies to cross -- but the track is just too wide and monotonous to make for any thrilling moments, the same dull, ugly dirt walls forever whizzing past. Banshee Boardwalk is supposed to be the evolution of the cheesy horror of the former's Ghost Valleys, but possesses none of the quirky charm -- shrieking tires, gaping ghosts and a bellowing refrain -- that made its predecessors so beloved. Even Toad Turnpike's novel twist that sees us racing amongst enormous semis, lumbering city buses and innumerable sedans on a bustling highway stretch suffers from the constantly reoccurring problem; these courses are just too prolonged and repetitive to keep us alert their entire duration.
Not that we necessarily need to be though, as computer controlled drivers are no longer the fierce, ruthless bunch we saw on the Super Nintendo outing. Taking a more subdued approach, Mario Kart 64 has opponents dog us through every turn thanks to the "rubber band AI" implemented, but rarely do they swap paint with our chosen driver. Content with staying close behind, they'll instead wait for us to make a turn a bit too wide or skid into an inconveniently placed banana peel, and even then they don't capitalize nearly as much on our follies as they formerly did. Gone are Super Mario Kart's racer specific attacks too; rather than Bowser hurling weaving fireballs or the Princess dropping poisonous shrinking mushrooms about the course, they now compete for the same item boxes as us, wielding the exact same repertoire we have at our disposal.
Does it make for a level playing field?
Does it seem fairer to the player?
Is it more fun?
Not even close.
Holding off the relentless pursuit of the second place driver -- him trying to cut us off at every turn while littering our path with his unlimited supply of weaponry -- made for exciting, gripping, impassioned moments. Having to constantly be on our toes and alert, knowing full well a Yoshi egg or Koopa shell could land directly in front of our bumper, made for suspenseful waning seconds as we tried to close out a win. We gripped the controller harder. Our hands were sweaty and our eyes fixated, more focused than ever before. Sometimes we'd win, and sometimes we'd throw the controller in disgust with exclamations of, "No fair!"
But though we might not have realized it then, Mario Kart 64 only proves that it was the lack of fairness in the original that made us so enamored by it. It was the fact that we overcame the odds -- not tremendous odds, but ones nonetheless stacked against us -- that made those award ceremonies so sweetly satisfying. It was the sense of chance that came with each and every lap that flustered and frustrated us, but ultimately kept us resilient gamers coming back for more.
I've yet to come back for more of this disappointment. "Solid" doesn't cut it as the follow-up to a classic.
Community review by drella (September 12, 2007)
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