By Adam M. Cook
Web Editor/Game Reviewer
Game: Mario Kart 64
Release Date: Feb. 10, 1997
Developers: Nintendo EAD
Platform(s): Nintendo 64
Now HOW could I write video game reviews without writing about one of the most popular and fun games ever created? For those of you who have not had the pleasure of playing this game, this is not your average racing game. “Mario Kart 64” is a racing game where you compete against characters from the Mario Brothers franchise in different fantastical settings similar to that of a level found in a Super Mario Bros. game.
Choose from a list of eight unforgettable characters from the Mario Brothers series: Mario, Luigi, Toad, Peach, Yoshi, Bowser, Donkey Kong and Wario. Each character belongs to one of three weight classes, which determines how fast he/she/it is. Lightweights (Toad, Peach) have the highest top speed but will easily spin out of control after coming into contact with heavier characters. Middleweights (Mario, Luigi, Yoshi) have the same top speed as the heavyweights and the slowest acceleration of all weight classes. While heavyweights (Donkey Kong, Wario, Bowser) have faster acceleration than the middleweights, they have a slower acceleration than the lightweights. Heavyweight drivers also have the same top speed as the middleweight drivers.
There are 16 race courses and four battle stages. When playing single-player mode, the objective is to achieve all four of the cups: the Mushroom Cup, the Flower Cup, the Star Cup and the Special Cup. A cup is won after finishing first in every track of that world. You may find yourself preferring certain tracks compared to others. There will be obstacles on the tracks intended to muck up your groove, Bats, Boos (ghosts), Crabs, Yoshi eggs and many more (Hey, they couldn’t make it TOO easy, right?). In Bowser’s Castle, for example, try to avoid the angry falling blocks known as “Thwomps.” It’s simple: they fall in front of you, you collide with them, you watch every other driver pass you. There are tracks that will require more turning control and a sharper sense of hand-eye coordination. Rainbow Road, for example, does not have walls on the sides of the tracks, so be careful not to fall off the edge.
One of the features in this game that makes it stand out among most racing games is that players have the ability to use items. This game wouldn’t be nearly as fun or suspenseful without the items players can use to their own advantage, or to slow down an opponent. These items are found in the question boxes, which are lined up at different checkpoints throughout the tracks. Drive through one of these boxes to receive an item. (Don’t worry if you missed a question box — there should be one coming up ahead soon). Let’s start with the shells. Shoot these shells at other carts to slow other carts down. Upon being struck by a shell, a cart flips in place a few times, allowing other racers to fly by. Green shells require more aim than other shells because they will shoot in whatever direction your cart is facing at the time of firing. Red shells, however, will track down the closest opponent (like a heat-seeking missile). Spiny shells can either be your best friend or your worst enemy. I’ve always referred to them as “blue shells,” but whatever.When launched, spiny shells pass every player until it blasts the cart in first place. One of the most frustrating moments in this game is getting knocked stunned with a spiny shell right before you can cross the finish line as the winner. Mushrooms give you bursts of acceleration. Stars give you the ability to be immune to passing drivers or items thrown your way for a few seconds. It preeetty much makes you invincible for a short period. Running over a banana peel will cause that driver to temporarily spin out of control. There are unfortunate moments where you drive through a question box and, instead of a prize, your cart is shot into the air. These are known as the “fake item” boxes. Thunderbolts will temporarily shrink all other players, making them slower than you. Use these items wisely and you will dominate.
This was the first Mario game where up to four players could play together in multiplayer matches. ***WARNING: Playing this game with friends will test your friendship.*** Competition can get fierce. This game can turn a meek, quiet, shy person into a beast with more confidence than Lil Wayne. You can either race with friends or play them in a battle stage. In a battle each driver has three balloons tied to his/her carts. Each time a vehicle is hit that vehicle loses a balloon. The objective of the battles is to keep your balloons and make sure everyone else loses theirs.
Why I love it:
There were friends of mine who weren’t allowed to play certain games due to the graphic content. Playing games like Mario Kart 64 was a great way to meet others who shared the same love for optimal video games. Violence in video games was an growing issue, especially in the ’90s. It was a time where parents were concerned about the violence portrayed in games (“Mortal Kombat,” for example). Since there was no violence in “Mario Kart 64,” parents didn’t mind letting their kids play the game, which made it a great game to play with other kids in the neighborhood.
When I volunteered at the Gaming Expo at this year’s SXSW Festival, I was lucky enough to meet the legend himself…