Friday, April 25, 2014

The Mario Kart Retrospective: Mario Kart 64

Now this is what I'm talking about! When most people think of Mario Kart, this is usually the game that comes to people's minds. It's the most basic, most distilled Mario Kart of the bunch, but goddamn it, it's just a shit ton of fun! Needless to say, I think that Mario Kart 64 is a good game, but it does have a few problems with it that stop it from being my favorite.

I'll just get those problems out of the way now. I think the courses are lacking a bit in terms of liveliness. The courses themselves are very nicely designed, but they just feel... empty in comparison to other tracks. Take a lot of the tracks from Super Mario Kart. Yeah a majority of them used the same template to design courses, but they were small enough so that even though there was barely anything happening in them, it still felt hectic and chaotic. Here, they felt just a bit too big so that the craziness was diminished just a tad.

Honestly, that's all I can say that's bad about the game. The rest is really well done and always gives a solid thrill to it. The biggest innovation that Mario Kart 64 brought to the table was its local four player multiplayer, which was unheard of at the time. Leave it to Nintendo though to take advantage of the four controller port in the N64 though. With four controllers, four people could play the same game at the same time on the same screen. That may sound like nothing special now, but trust me, it still stand sup as being one of the biggest innovators for multiplayer. Goldeneye 007 and Mario Kart 64 cemented the N64 as a multiplayer console to the point where I still break out the game to play with friends when we've got a big enough group.

The courses are some of the best in the series while we're at it. Some courses in this game are so good that they are continuously brought back for retro tracks in later games, and people call those courses better than the actual new ones. Choco Mountain, Yoshi's Valley, Wario Stadium, and one of the best Rainbow Roads in the series history. Rainbow Road always served as the last course in any Mario Kart game, and 64's Rainbow Road is so good that it's the only one to be brought back for retro courses, being brought back in the upcoming Mario Kart 8.

Battle races were still there, but they really weren't that prevalent in comparison to Super Mario Kart. The focus was more on racing through courses with your friends, understandably so. Instead, a new focus actually came in the way of the Time Trial mode. In Time Trial mode, you race on a course by yourself to see how fast you could complete it, even to the point where you can try and defeat the developer's time around the course. It offered an incentive to master each course and show just how good you were at the game, despite not being able to share your times with your friends.

Coins were removed as well from the game to give everyone a fair chance to win, since the idea of increasing your speed with an arbitrary item was kind of cheap in my opinion. Instead, more items were added to break up the pace, and even introduced the dreaded blue shell, an item that would hone in on the person in first place and hit them with destructive force, oftentimes knocking them out of first place. It's a brutal item that is still feared to this day and love it or hate it, it served as a bit of an equalizer for the series. Now the series became a lot more focused on skill than collecting coins to win. If you wanted to win, you had to earn it.

I love Mario Kart 64 from a nostalgic standpoint, but also as an actual game. It's great for some multiplayer action and is polished enough to stand up to technically more advanced games in the series. It'll be 6 years though until we get another console Mario Kart, so to tide us over until then, we have a nostalgic, yet very divisive game to fill the void; Mario Kart Super Circuit.

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