Skip to main content

Mario Kart 64: 25th anniversary

Mario Kart 64 brought the fun of go-kart simulator Super Mario Kart into the 3D age. A few chunky polygons notwithstanding, Mario Kart 64 still holds up, even alongside sequels like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.

MK 64 doesn't alter the fundamental formula laid down by Super Mario Kart. You still choose one of four circuits (Mushroom, Flower, Star, or Special) and an engine speed (50, 100, or 150 CC), then race against seven other racers, trying to place at least in the top four. Whereas the SNES allowed only two players, the N64 was built with four controller inputs, and MK 64 happily can use them all (though the music shuts off with more than two). Battle Mode returns as well, in which players attack one another with items, trying to pop all three of their opponents' balloons. This is always a blast when playing with friends. Lastly, there is the Time Trial mode, in which you race alone trying to set the fastest time.
Is this the origin of the "Trollface" meme?
MK 64's biggest and best improvement is the 3D environment itself. Anyone who has played the original Mario Kart knows how flat everything is. Even the walls are 2D, with the only elements on the z-axis being the karts themselves and obstacles like pipes and Thwomps. Racing in three dimensions feels much more real, since you can't see around walls and other barriers. It also allows for slopes, ramps, and ledges to fall off. Despite the antiquated polygons, the environments still look great. In addition, the unique theme music for each track is excellent.

MK 64 adds three new items as well: the Spiny Shell, Fake Item Box, and Golden Mushroom. The blue Spiny Shell has become a controversial staple of the franchise: it homes in on the lead player while knocking out anyone who gets in its way. This makes the game more fun for weaker players, as they always have a chance to take out the leader. The Fake Item Box is upside-down and works best when hid among the real Item Boxes. The Golden Mushroom lets you use unlimited nitro boosts for a few seconds. Besides these, the game includes Triple Shells and Triple Banana Peels, which rotate around you like a shield, until you have shot them all.

The character roster was adjusted slightly: Koopa Troopa was replaced with a third heavyweight character, the always amusing Wario! DK Jr. was changed to Donkey Kong, who had returned to popularity thanks to the Donkey Kong Country games. The sole area in which the game took a small step back was that each circuit has only four tracks instead of five. But this was a small price to pay when all sixteen tracks were so good. They all contain unique elements, such as the branching pathways of Yoshi Valley and the highway race with cars and trucks that is Toad's Turnpike! And of course who can forget the epic, twisting Rainbow Road in space! Being in 3D, these tracks are more iconic than any from Super Mario Kart.

It's hard to overpraise Mario Kart 64. It is among the best games for the system and one of the all-time great Nintendo games. It's as much fun to play now as ever. Almost everything that has made Mario Kart 8 Deluxe the best-selling Switch game goes back to Mario Kart 64 (and Super Mario Kart). The racing is fast, the controls smooth and intuitive, the multiplayer action a joy, and every course unique and a blast to play.

Grade: A+
Linked Review
"Mario Kart 64 has its faults and later entries would refine the systems introduced here, but there's still plenty of fun here to keep you (and your friends) returning for more."
— Dave Frear, Nintendo Life, 8/10


Popular posts from this blog

The Legend of the Mystical Ninja: A whimsical adventure in Japan

Growing up, I played The Legend of the Mystical Ninja at my best friend's house (though I was bad at it), and I had been looking forward to trying it again. It's an unusual, fun adventure game. I recently learned that in Japan Legend of the Mystical Ninja was preceded by three Famicom games and followed by three more Super Famicom games, none of which were localized for the West! The Japanese name of the series is Go for It, Goemon! It's based on a 1980 Japanese arcade game called Mr. Goemon. The emulation community put out fan translations of the Famicom games between 2009 and 2017. Surprisingly, no translations of the Super Famicom games existed until 2020, all three created by the same people . The series takes places in early-modern Japan. It has a light-hearted anime aesthetic. The titular character is a spiky-haired kid named Goemon. If a second player joins the simultaneous action (highly recommended), Goemon is assisted by an older, overweight ninja named Ebisumaru.

Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts: 30th anniversary

Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts is an SNES-exclusive sequel to Ghouls 'n Ghosts, itself a sequel to Ghosts 'n Goblins . Like its predecessors, its claim to fame (or infamy) is being ridiculously hard. Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts follows the formula of Ghosts 'n Goblins to a tee. You control a knight named Arthur who must rescue Princess Guinevere by battling endless hordes of monsters and demons: Zombies, Ghosts, Weredogs, Bats, Red Arremers, and even Mimics (the D&D monster that disguises itself as a treasure chest). He picks up various weapons along the way but can only hold one at a time. Some of them (especially the torch) are worse than the throwing spears he begins with. Three new weapons are the crossbow, scythe, and tri-blade. The crossbow is good because it shoots two arrows at once, at about 45 and 30 degree angles upward. I avoid the scythe because Arthur can throw only one at a time and the ability to arc it downward by holding ↓ does not compensate for this. The