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Looking Back to 1996 with Mario Kart 64 – The Road Ahead


He’s a jack of all trades. Our favourite mustached plumber has had a go at pretty much everything over the years, since he shot to stardom climbing flagpoles and stomping on the heads of goombas. However, it’s fair to say his most lucrative side project is the ever popular Mario Kart series.

Mario’s first foray into his side project was way back in 1992 with Super Mario Kart. This laid the foundations for much of the series, key features of which have been seen in subsequent releases to this very day. No surprise then, that it didn’t take long for a sequel to be released for Nintendo’s new N64 console back in 1996. 

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It seems almost unbelievable by today’s standards, but Mario Kart 64 only offered 8 playable characters to zip around as. As you may expect, all the big hitters were present, such as Bowser, Mario, Luigi and Princess Peach amongst others. In case you’ve somehow never played a Mario Kart game (and if you haven’t, what on earth have you been doing?), they offer you the chance to race against other residents of the Mushroom Kingdom in many memorable locations.

However, to make things a little more interesting you can pick up various items to disadvantage your opponents and give you the edge, such as banana skins, koopa shells and mushroom speed boosts. Each race course is also themed, and usually contains its own set of hazards which can alter the race in the blink of an eye.

Mario Kart 64 birthed some fan favourite race circuits, such as Moo Moo Farm and D.K.’s Jungle Parkway, that have since been resurrected and updated for later installments. Thanks to the power of the N64, the leap into true 3D graphics opened up all sorts of possibilities for games. The circuits featured all sorts of obstacles such as monty moles and ice skating penguins to try and avoid, and if you were really skilled direct your opponents towards.

Alongside a varied bunch of circuits, Mario Kart 64 had a well written and aurally stimulating soundtrack. Even some of the less visually attractive racetracks, such as Choco Mountain, had brilliant accompanying music that contained that classic Mario D.N.A. If you wish (and I strongly recommend it) you can listen to the full OST for free on YouTube. 

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The best way to play Mario Kart 64 was (and still is) through the Grand Prix mode. Each cup was composed of four races set across different circuits, and the player with the most points at the end would win. What I loved about Mario Kart 64 was the sheer diversity of tracks on offer. They weren’t all instant classics, however there was something for everyone. It brought home just how big the Mario universe was, despite it being in the relatively early days.

Difficulty was measured by engine size, with 150cc providing a very speedy challenge indeed. Mario Kart 64 was the first game in the series to offer unlockable extra levels, where you would race on tracks that were inverted. These bonus tracks would later become commonly and collectively known as “Mirror Mode”

The Time Trial mode also made a return, which was a stripped back test of pure skill where your only aim was to set the fastest time for completing three laps. There were no opponents or items to concern yourself with here, instead you were given three boosts only for the entire session. 

The claim to fame for Mario Kart 64 is surely how it paved the way for competitive multiplayer action in the series. As well as being able to go head to head without any distractions in Versus Mode, it was Battle Mode that became an instant hit with me. This saw each player having to protect their kart’s balloons, whilst using items to wipe out their opponents. More recently, this mode has branched out to support online play and is an awful lot of fun.

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It’s always a difficult gig for the sequel to a successful game (or anything really, hence the well known phrase) to deliver the goods. However, Mario Kart 64 managed to improve on the original whilst introducing new elements that would go on to become series staples. Despite being succeeded many times and potentially being long forgotten, the importance of what the game achieved should never be underestimated. 

But what if you want to play Mario Kart today? The Nintendo eShop will sort you out with a download of MK64. 

Darren Edwards
Darren Edwards
I have been playing games since a very early age, thanks to my Dad's encouragement. I've been an Xbox gamer since the very beginning, the Master Chief is to thank for that. I'm also a big Nintendo geek, and my other half is a PlayStation nut. I'll play pretty much anything in any genre (although FIFA and COD maybe pushing it).
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