Mario Kart 64 was the second game in Nintendo's popular Mario Kart series. It was also the game that brought the series into true three-dimensional gaming.
Mario Kart 64 was released on the Nintendo 64 which, save for the Super FX and Super FX2 chips in some Super Nintendo Entertainment System games, was Nintendo's first console that was capable of three-dimensional graphics. Unlike series that had to be redefined for 3D, such as Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, the Mario Kart series was made for three-dimensional gameplay.
Super Mario Kart faked 3D with Mode 7 programming that manipulated flat course graphics to twist and turn them around a two-dimensional sprite. This game took the series into true 3D for the first time, but the designers kept what had worked so well in the previous game, despite being less restricted. Courses were slightly larger but were still relatively small and tight to avoid monotony. There are still three speeds of play, 50cc, 100cc, and 150cc, with championship cups themed after locations in the Mario series.
Like the previous game, kart racers encompass the entirety of the Mario franchise at that point. Donkey Kong, replacing Donkey Kong Jr., represents the arcade era. Bowser, Toad, and Princess Peach represent the Nintendo Entertainment System era. Wario, replacing the Koopa Troopa, represents the Game Boy era, and Yoshi represents the SNES era. Mario and Luigi represent the franchise as a whole.
Each kart racer had its strength and weaknesses. Bowser, Wario, and Donkey Kong are heavy, starting off slow but they become the fastest racers when they get going. Their big drawback is that if they hit obstacles it takes them a long time to regain their speed. Peach, Toad, and Yoshi are the best all-around drivers. Their karts aren't the fastest, but they regain their speed quickly. Mario and Luigi fall somewhere in the middle.
At certain points in the courses, there are diamond boxes with question marks on the ground. These replace the question panels on the ground from Super Mario Kart. They contain powerups as well as objects that can be left on the course.
There are objects that can be dropped, including the banana peel which is dropped behind the kart, and the green Koopa shell which is shot in front of the kart and bounces off walls until it hits a driver, obstacle, or water. The banana can be shot in front of the kart by pressing up on the directional pad and the shell can be dropped, stationary, behind the kart by pressing down. There is also a red shell, which will hit the first driver it comes across unless it hits an obstacle or water. All of these items can now be obtained in a bunch of three which can be fired or used as a shield against attacks.
There is a lightning bolt that makes the other drivers tiny, the starman which turns a kart driver invincible, and a ghost that steals an item from another driver. A mushroom causes the kart to do a boost, similar to the effect when you drive over a three-tiered arrow. The mushrooms can also be picked up in a group of three. There is also now a super mushroom that allows the player to boost over and over within a fixed time. Another item that was added was the notorious spiny shell, which hits the kart in first place.
My favorite change is that the enemy characters pick up random objects like player characters, instead of using objects related to their character. It is a lot more fun than before because Mario and Luigi don't have a supply of unlimited starman to make them invincible. They would commonly activate it near the finish line to try to trip you up. As a result, characters run by artificial intelligence don't seem as annoying as before.
Mario Kart 64 is a classic as it took what worked in the previous game and made it better. It also added features to make the game fairer. The primitive 3D graphics are somewhat mitigated by the cartoon aesthetic. This is a fantastic game that deserves to be played by anyone who is a fan of kart racing games,
4½ out of 5
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