Mario Kart’s growing pains
Mario Kart has always been an interesting experience. Combining go-karting and Mario has and is a recipe for success for Nintendo, quite honestly. And, by the time Nintendo got around to making the sequel to the smash hit Super Mario Kart, they knew they had a surefire massive hit on their hands.
Mario Kart 64 takes everything you loved about the first game and immeasurably increases it. The Mario characters, the tracks, the secrets; everything about Mario Kart 64 is better than the original in every respect. Driving has improved with better steering qualities for all characters including the bonafied introduction of powersliding. Mastering powersliding means a world of difference in race times, especially when you have bragging rights at stake. Old mechanics, such as the weight class concept, are still present but it seems everyone has a better representation with respect to how a class really controls. The lightweights feel like, well, lightweights. The heavyweights actually feel like they’re heavy to handle.
While I’m an admitted longterm Mario Kart aficionado, I have to admit that if you’re going to get into Mario Kart, this is the title to do so with. It’s not hard to pick up MK64 and grasp the mechanics. It’s also easy to play with friends who understand the nuances of Mario Kart so that you’re not left behind for very long. And it’s the playing with others that makes this one of the best party games ever created. MK64 has Battle Mode as its ace in the hole and it makes it one of the first quintessential party games, alongside Goldeneye, Super Smash Bros. and Mario Party.
With all that it has going for it, however, there a few minor drawbacks. First, if rubber band AI bothers you, this is not the game for you. MK64’s AI is one of the worst offenders of the rubber banding practice and it gets worse as you go through the single player race campaign. Combine that with the punishing difficulty of 100cc and 150cc races and you have a frustrating, controller-throwing mess. Second, this is the second game after Mario 64 where Mario characters are vocalized. I promise you will get tired of hearing characters say their favorite phrase long before you finish any of the modes. It gets old quickly and makes one wish they could turn the sound off, except that you’ll realize quickly that the soundtrack is actually great. This, however, is the game that turned me against Mario characters talking.
Mario Kart 64 is polarizing to some players: Some think it’s one of the greatest kart racing games ever made while others hate it. I tend to be in the middle; it’s a great entry in the kart racing genre, but there are some fairly major quirks with how it plays to throw a wrench into things. I like to think that the fun and the quality associated with Mario Kart boosts it out of the middle of the pack.