An addicting, unbalanced kart racer.
First of all if you've never played Super Mario Kart, go and pick it up. Seriously, it's so cheap these days you'd be silly to not have that must have piece of nostalgic brilliance alongside Illusion of Time, Super Mario World and Super Turrican.
Conceived originally as Super Mario Kart R and featuring Magikoopa some tweaking was employed and the finished product was released to pretty unanimous praise.
It's easy to see why the game was initially praised. It's incredibly addictive and you won't be able to render yourself from the Nintendo 64 controller until you have had your fill of every track the game has to offer.
I have never been so compelled to stay up to ungodly hours, a bottle of beer in my hand, my friends by my sides on the couch. Raccuous laughter until the sun came up. Absolutely magical.
That's where the magic in this game lies. It really brings people together to enjoy themselves with some of the best multiplayer gaming ever produced.
Outside of the multiplayer there is a fleshed out single player mode. There are four cups to participate in with tracks that gradually increase in complexity as you complete each concurrent one.
They are based loosely on characters or places featured in earlier Mario games and while imagination in one might be quite apparent in others there is no imagination at all.
In general though, they are quite interesting and fun to drive around on.
Speaking of driving. The racing mechanics are improved, obviously, over the original Super Mario Kart. Each racer, like before, has their own statistics but within weight classes the changes are more or less cosmetic.
Items are much more potent this time around with a selection of items that might displace someone from first or form a shield of shells around your racer.
The graphics in Mario Kart 64 are simple, but traditionally the simplicity of the graphics in Mario games has been charming and it is no different here. Environments are richly detailed and the bright, vibrant colours give everything that warm, cartoon like quality that Mario games exude in spades.
It's hard to fault the graphics when they are so stylised, it's like calling the art director a failure for trying to make things look a little different, or in this case; consistent. Kudos.
Mario Kart 64 comes apart in only one instance; single play. When you're playing the Grand Prix mode and you're racing on the highest difficulty the AI will constantly ruin you. It stops being fun. When you see racers you blazed past using a golden mushroom rocket up behind you for absolutely no reason you begin to resent the game for cheating.
Rubber banding is cheating, in every sense of the word. In fact, at the climax of the last few races the only way you're going to beat them is by constantly restarting, or luck. Whatever works for you.
The dire frustration I felt seemingly getting absolutely nowhere despite memorising every last turn and straight of a course almost ruined the game for me.
Put the difficulty back a couple of notches to 50CC and it's a completely different game. I don't know how they ruined the AI so badly.
The music is pretty hit and miss. Most of the time you don't even notice it, but when you do it's either sounding awful or good. It's really inconsistent.
Saving a ghost run of your best times requires the use of almost an entire controller pak. Buying a new controller pak just for Mario Kart 64 is a little ridiculous. It's like Knights of the Old Republic using up an entire Memory Unit or Jet Set Radio using an entire VMU to store Graffiti.
The Bottom Line
Playing Mario Kart 64, in any context, you're guaranteed to have a good time. With friends, it is an absolute gem of multiplayer mayhem with some brilliant arena's, addicting game modes and outstanding replay value on a whole.
Single player is inconsistent and unbalanced. While fun on lower difficulties when playing on higher difficulties the rubber banding of opposing racers becomes such an issue that it begins to suck the fun right out of the experience.
Balance issues aside, this is still a brilliant game. It looks fantastic, features really solid control and is packed with features, tracks and extras.