Review: Mario Kart 64 (~12 hours)

I really did go outside growing up. I promise I did. But on days when I didn’t, my friends and I would keep coming back to Mario Kart 64. The only game series to top it was Smash Bros. Mario Kart 64 was different enough from it’s predecessor, and had a formula where you could get in first with a lot of good fortune. Sadly, mascot games and kart racers have gone out of style. Here’s a review more than two decades later.

That good fortune that got you in first? It’s sometimes called “rubber banding” which works in two ways. The closer you are to last place – out of eight racers – you’d be given a better item from a supposedly random selection, taking you closer to first. Also, as I understand it, the closer you are to the back, the more you get a very slight speed boost, also taking you closer to first. Ultimately, Mario Kart as a series has failed to be called competitive because of “rubber banding,” but it was a novel idea in its day.

In Grand Prix, you choose between 50cc, 100cc, and 150cc. The cc refers to “cubic centimeters” in engine size, with 50cc being the easiest, and 150cc being the hardest. Choose from one of eight characters, and select a cup, such as “Mushroom Cup,” which contains four races each. The more often you place first, the more likely you are to be awarded a gold trophy. It’s noteworthy that this game does not have unlockable characters, karts, or courses. This was before all of that.

On the road, your racer is really a two-dimensional sprite. The illusion of 3D occurs when you turn, and the sprite looks like your racer turning. It’s a little cheap, but I figure they did this to have better 3D on the course. Interestingly, in the credits, it says “Donkey Kong 3-D model provided courtesy of Rare U.K.” It’s probably the same 3D model from Donkey Kong Country!

Yet again, this is not a hard game to win playing single-player. Bring some friends, and you have a competition. Still, as mentioned earlier, items and speed tricks mean it’s anyone’s guess who will win. I guess the most famous course is Rainbow Road, in which, I have recently learned, there is a massive shortcut that shaves about thirty seconds off of your lap time. Koopa Troopa Beach is pretty cool too.

You can unlock the “Extra” mode for winning all cups on 150cc. In Extra mode, courses are reversed. Finally, there’s a Time Trial mode and a Battle mode, in which you knock balloons off of people’s karts. Growing up, I played all the modes. I hate to admit, but it’s hard to go back to the 64 game when my interests are now more in driving simulators. Forza Motorsport, GRID, et. al. A good game to show a kid, but luster has been lost.

3/5

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