#305 Mario Kart 64

Posted: 8th February 2011 by Mulholland in Games
Tags: , , , ,

27th game played so far

Genre: Racing
Platform: Nintendo 64
Year of Release: 1996
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo

As we know, Mario loves his racing, and he loves racing with his friends. After doing so for the first time on the SNES, he returns on the Nintendo 64 with full 3D tracks, more options and paths, different weapons, more variety, and detours that you didn’t think of before. It’s prettier, nicer, faster, better, more interesting. Right?

Our Playthrough

We did single player, we did multiplayer. Kat joined in for a bit to try three player gaming. In other words, we tried to see all there is to see – at easy and hard difficulty. With and without falling in random lakes, holes and other deep places.

Our Thoughts

This game explains why it’s important to have some sense of reliable, realistic physics even in a fantasy-based game. Only you could fall through the top of a wall (or find out such a physics glitch exists). It happens. Apparently, with the Bowser’s Castle barriers, only the sides are solid – you fall through the top. Then again it did annoy me no end that a carpet, dirt track and wooden bridge all have the same physics befitting polished marble. Yeah, and banana peels only make you slip ten seconds after you’ve raced past them. Don’t forget the snowmen filled with nitro glycerine. Ledges you can fall off from a few metres away. And the moment you even graze certain sections you tumble into a lake…

It looks nicer than the SNES game, there’s some improvement, but it just feels off at times, which makes the game a lot harder. It is true that with the later editions in the series like Mario Kart Wii and Double Dash we have become spoilt. Bear in mind this was the franchise’s first foray into 3D. True, and you can’t make the physics too complicated on the relatively limited hardware. So considering what they had to deal with… they did a lot with it, but you could find better physics on F-Zero X. Absolutely. It just gets frustrating to play at times,  an effect that increases exponentially as you get into the harder courses.  It matters little on the simple racing tracks, but when you reach places like the aforementioned Bowser’s Castle, it’s hard.

Then there is the total nightmare that is Yoshi Valley. Don’t even start.  I finished dead last, by a large margin. It was a good experiment in track construction. The idea of multiple pathways through it could have actually been a real boon of a track. In reality though, it didn’t turn our that great and is in fact an almighty mess that is a chore to play. The lack of barriers only makes it harder, as half the time, trying to pick a route means you just fall in between without any way of getting out. The extra bombs strewn about the place in Versus Mode doesn’t help much either.

Interesting note: if 3-4 players are playing at the same time it is unable to play the music so the only soundtrack is breathing and the occasional curse word. The latter is quite frequent and I’m sure with a nice beat, it could lead to a song that’ll top the charts. It looks nice, there’s nice ideas about multiple tracks, different routes, with areas of the track that are there to explore without it leading you anywhere, but as a whole, the game feels unpolished. Due to the limitations, it’s not as good as the later games, and that gets annoying. It’s a work in progress, and interesting in that sense.

Now for something completely different: positives. Sound, when it’s there, is good. The voicing makes it more alive. The sound effects are good. It’s nice. Although I did get a little bit tired of hearing Mario cheer every time he managed to overtake me. Because he’s better? Just because he was incredibly vocal about it. The music, as always, is really good too. This makes it more of a shame when it gets taken away in multiplayer.

Another good thing is the atmosphere of the track and how it impacts your races. One interesting example is the train in Kalimari Desert. One or two of them drive around on a track, and if you’re unlucky, they’ll pass just as you have to cross the railway. Then there are the penguins in Sherbert land which look adorable. The cuteness factor is multiplied threefold when you hit them and they make a little squeaky noise. Something we both loved to try out, of course. It was intentional when we did so. Which sort of leads us onto the graphics. The Mario style has always been beautifully rendered in the games and this is no exception. Yeah. The environments are beautiful and the creatures, where appropriate, cute. And the touches they’ve put in, both in the characters and on the outside, can be amazing. (who is also present in the Wii remake of the track) (Yeah.  Which is slightly more playable, as we discussed before.)
This may read a little bit one-sided in terms of thoughts but this really is a good racing game. It does strike a good balance between challenging and fun. It has a charming personality too. It just that the good sides of the game are all of the generic kind – looks good, sounds good – while there’s some specific issues with the downside of the game. It’s charming, it’s fun, but sometimes you need to be careful to avoid the tracks and areas where the game doesn’t work as well.

Final Thoughts

I would like to personally apologise for all the Mario games in the first 27 games, we’re going to steer clear of him for a while after this game. Then again there will be a lot of Final Fantasy and Zelda titles soon, just a fyi.

In terms of this game I do believe that we have been very harsh when judging Mario Kart 64 as we have done so in a more modern context. It is good, but there are a lot of racing games out there better than this one especially the Mario Kart games that followed this one.

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