Mario Kart 64 is a cart-racing video game developed by Nintendo and published in 1996 (USA got it in 1997) for the Nintendo 64. It became the 2nd best-selling game on this console.
Nintendo would later re-release it as a Virtual Console game for the Wii in 2007 and for the Wii U in 2016. This article will focus on the Nintendo 64 version.
From 1990 to 1992, Nintendo released F-Zero for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), which successfully brought blistering single-player racing to home consoles.
Shigeru Miyamoto wanted to capture that feeling in a multiplayer experience. However, the SNES hardware didn’t have enough processing power to make it look as developers originally intended.
They had to go with simplistic designs for the tracks so they couldn’t be a burden for the hardware when splitting the screen to allow multiplayer mode.
Despite that, Nintendo developers created Super Mario Kart, a hit that sold over 4 million copies.
By 1995, Nintendo 64 was about to get released in the American market. Originally, developers wanted the Mario Kart follow-up to become a launch title for the console, but resources got diverted from the project towards another game, Super Mario 64.
Despite the temporary setback, Nintendo ended up releasing Mario Kart 64 in Japan around December, 1996. North America and Europe would get the game in 1997.
Eventually, nearly every gamer who had a Nintendo 64 also had the Mario Kart 64 game ready for a quadruple player party.
This game comes from a period in which players needed to have real-life friends to engage in multiplayer mode. However, this review will focus on the single-player experience.
The Mario Grand Prix consists of four consecutive three-lap races. There are four difficulty levels: 50, 100, 150cc, and the unlockable Extra Mode.
Each difficulty has four cups: Mushroom, Flower, Star, and Special.
Mario Kart 64 is one of the best Mario racing games out there. However, visually speaking, this game didn’t age well.
The game’s director said in an interview that at the time having so many racers on-screen at once was costing too much processing power from the Nintendo 64’s hardware, so it was impossible for them to make full 3D modeled characters.
That is why we get pseudo-3D sprites on the racers, items, and even some obstacles.
The basic sound effects also suffer because of the limits of the Nintendo 64 console. Still, the music features some of the best scores from the series, and each individual piece fits its track perfectly.
The levels are vibrant and stylish enough to capture the player’s interest. Some tracks may seem simple, but more often than not, the colors are lively and intoxicating.
Mario Kart 64 has a lot of beauty, and the gameplay is fun and simple. Nintendo stayed true to tradition and kept the control consistent.
Super Mario Kart featured jumping and drifting. But, Mario Kart 64 introduced several mechanics that became defining traits in the series such as the drift boost.
Learning everything is easy, and once players get it down they’ll likely feel in control of the game.
The 16 levels benefit from the transition to 3D with the ability to alter altitude in the course. This change in-depth allows for a more unique feel in each track.
Repetition is the focus. You have to race each course over and over until you master it. So, there’s always a sense of progression.
All of the items previously seen in Super Mario Kart come back in Mario Kart 64. We have the shells, each with a different ability.
Green shells act as a projectile that bounces off walls. Red shells homes into another player. And the game introduced one new type: Blue shells, also known as spiny shells, tracks down and hits the player in first place.
The bananas are slippery peels that cause other racers to briefly spin out of control. And the lightning bolt shrinks other characters.
Mario Kart 64 also features time trials in the Luigi raceway, the Mario raceway, and the Royal raceway. In these tracks, if the player can finish fast enough, they’ll unlock a ghost racer based on the replay made by the developers who beat the level.
These staff ghosts are pretty challenging and players will have to develop the skills needed to beat them by mastering the game.
At first look the requirements to unlock these staff ghosts seem easy. However, it takes a lot of repetition, trial and error.
In the end, Mario Kart 64 may not look like the prettiest game on the Nintendo 64, and yet the game offers a fun and memorable experience. The aesthetics is still attractive, and the music is good.
Most gamers can finish the single-player campaign in a relatively short time. So, the best way to enjoy this game is engaging in multiplayer mode with your friends. It’s a straightforward game that set the precedent for subsequent Mario racing games.