Mario Kart 64 Review

Mario Kart 64

There are few video games as synonymous with my gaming youth than Mario Kart 64. The number of hours I spent with its Grand Prix, Versus and Battle modes are uncountable. For a good few years, it was my go-to multiplayer game. The Mario Kart series has come a long way since this second installment hit the Nintendo 64 in 1997, so how well does Mario Kart 64 hold up after so many years of Nintendo perfecting the formula?

The short answer to that is… pretty decently, though there are aspects of the game that haven’t aged particularly gracefully as well.

Being the first 3D entry in the series, Mario Kart 64 was capable of certain feats that the SNES original couldn’t pull off. The new 3D racetracks were more robust, with features like changes in elevation, slopes, and long jumps, among others. This helped Mario Kart 64 create some of the series’ most iconic tracks, many of which have been recreated in subsequent Mario Karts.

Mario Kart 64On the downside, these 3D visuals are now rather ugly to look at. Sure, it’s easy to defend it as being an earlier title in the N64’s library, but that doesn’t change the fact that, when playing the game today, it can sometimes strain the eyes. Not only do the environments look blocky, and the character models downright odd, but you can often only see what’s immediately in front of you, with everything else looking like a pixelated blur. This can sometimes make turns and obstacles difficult to see, which can really effect you during a race. This is all the worse when playing split-screen multiplayer, as the tinier screen space means things look that much blurrier.

On the bright side, the core gameplay is still a lot of fun. The control scheme is simple enough (A to accelerate, B for breaks, and Z to fire weapons), and is among the select Nintendo 64 games that are still fun to control. And it’s different modes bring out a lot of fun in the gameplay.

Mario Kart 64Gran Prix sees one or two players taking on computer-controlled opponents in a complete set of races. Time Trials consist of single player races against a “ghost” player in an attempt to get the best time. Versus mode consists of singular races of two to four players without the computer opponents. Finally, Battle mode has two to four players facing off in enclosed arenas as they gather items and try to pop every other player’s three balloons (this is also the only time in the series where defeated players in Battle mode would become bombs that could ram into a surviving player to eliminate one of their balloons for a little revenge from beyond the grave).

"Where did you learn to drive?"

“Where did you learn to drive?”

The modes are all fun in their own right, with Battle mode probably being the best of the lot. Though there is one huge downside to the game’s multiplayer that should be addressed. When playing a game with the maximum of four players, there is no music to be heard. This was probably due to technical limitations with the Nintendo 64, but it doesn’t change the fact that playing the game without music definitely takes away from the experience. And Mario Kart 64 has a pretty good soundtrack as well, which makes its absence in four player games sting all the more.

This puts Mario Kart 64 in an interesting situation where – despite being an entry in a multiplayer series – the single player modes have probably aged better. Though you can still have plenty of fun playing Mario Kart 64 with friends, the added blurriness to the visuals and the lack of music are really noticeable when playing today.

Mario Kart 64As for the character roster, players can take control of Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Yoshi, Toad, Donkey Kong, Wario and Bowser. This game basically established the “primary eight” characters of the Mario universe (though Rosalina and Bowser Jr. probably make it a primary ten these days), so there aren’t any complaints with the selections (no babies or Pink Gold Peach here), though players may feel a little underwhelmed by the lack of unlockable characters.

Mario Kart 64 is a more basic entry in the series then. But while it may lack the content and depth of many of its successors, it’s still a lot of fun to play. It has its fair share of attributes that show their age, but it’s still way more fun than a lot of other multiplayer N64 titles are when playing today.

If you want a more definitive Mario Kart, just pop Mario Kart 8 into your Wii U and have a blast. But if you want to revisit a N64 classic that can provide hours of fun for you and some friends, you could do a whole lot worse than Mario Kart 64.

 

8.0

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6 thoughts on “Mario Kart 64 Review

  1. sebby29

    Nice review! It is really odd that there is no track music when you are playing with four other players. Last time I played with that many players, we were shocked that there was no music so we just played the tracks off Youtube but it wasn’t the same and like you say it was probably a system limitation. Overall though, there are still many hours of fun to be had playing this game even after completing it. I must say though I miss being able to revenge kill as bomb and I’m sad that this feature hasn’t been brought back in the later iterations of Mario Kart.

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  2. Matt

    Something that always bothered me about Mario Kart 64 (other than the visuals, which are ugly – as you mentioned – and are completely toppled by those of the superior Diddy Kong Racing) was the AI. I think the slingshot implementation is more prominent than ever here, subsequent games still had that issue, but diminished it considerably. It is virtually impossible to build any kind of advantage on 150cc and Mirror.

    Plus, the fact that it only has 16 tracks makes it somewhat thin in terms of content.

    I do love the fact that some tracks (Wario Stadium and Rainbow Road) are ridiculously long, as opposed to the same-length tracks that populate modern Mario Kart games. Oh, and Mario Kart 64 has the series’ best battle mode!

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  3. veryverygaming

    Do you know I don’t think I ever noticed that the music doesn’t play in four player mode. Weird, but it makes sense knowing that the N64 didn’t have a dedicated sound chip – instead the music drains the resources of the system overall, which is probably why they took it out for four players. Maybe I never noticed because there’d always be so much yelling when I used to play it 😛 Also in my group of friends we very rarely played multiplayer races, it was always battle mode. I don’t even recall whether that mode has music at all.

    Music aside, the handling in this game is very unique, it feels different to other Mario Kart games and other racing games in general. Any time I play it I have to re-adjust – Mario Kart 8 took some getting used to too actually although it’s quite different. I love this game and agree with you that it holds up very well, visuals aside.

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  4. Mr. Panda

    First of all, Happy 150th Review! Keep doing an awesome job with your reviews, just like with this one! Mario Kart 64 is probably still my favorite overall package of a Mario Kart game because of the multiplayer and battle modes. Seriously, the battle mode here is the best and is reminiscent of the other 4-player split-screen greats on the system (for some reason, even the quiet 4-player modes remind me of other multiplayer games). Sure, I have nostalgia for this and I enjoyed the battle mode at a pivotal part of my gaming career. But this is also objectively the best battle mode, having played all of them. If Mario Kart 8 only had a great battle mode, that would probably be my favorite Mario Kart. There’s just something about the original charm of this game, taking Super Mario Kart’s Mode 7 graphics and transforming it into 3D courses that just work. I love this game, and I’m glad you acknowledge just how fun it was and is even today. Great review and congratulations!

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