Title :Mario Kart 64
Platforms :Nintendo 64
Publisher :Nintendo
Game Rating :n/a
Review by :Ken Gagne

Mario Kart 64 for Nintendo 64 is the sequel to one of the best racing games of all times. With new gameplay features and 64-bit force, it's an instant smash hit! 

Gone are the flat courses of yesterday. Now, climbing up mountains, racing through tunnels, and flying off mile-high jumps are the norm. There are fewer courses than the original Super Mario Kart, and fewer laps and shortcuts per course, but what's present is much longer than before. 

Eight racers are available; Koopa's gone, replaced by the anti-hero Wario. The four modes of play are Grand Prix, Time Attack, Versus, and Battle. During races, items occur several times during one lap, and the item blocks regenerate. This sudden increase in items, plus the removal of the coin system, makes for an extremely aggressive racing game. Powerful icons like the lightning bolt are more commonplace, and red shells come in deadly dosages of threes. The computer AI is smarter, fighting for items and following unpredictable racing paths. The farther they fall behind, the faster they seem to race; no matter how good a racer is, there'll always be somebody right behind. A noteworthy feature of the Time Trial mode is the ability to save a "ghost" of best laps, to race against for even better times. This function requires a blank memory pack, though. 

Played alone, however, Mario Kart is too easily defeated and retired. The real fun comes in the challenge of multiplayer games. One to four players can compete in four battle courses, any of the sixteen race courses, or two players can join the computer in a Grand Prix. The battle courses seem too elaborate, however, pitting the players against the tracks instead of each other. Some practice, and the ability to literally "get the drop" on a opponent, soon makes it enjoyable enough. 

The graphics are smooth, but sometimes seem a bit choppy, especially in four-player mode. Still, everything is bright and colorful; sometimes you'll want to explore the tracks just to look at everything. Music is fun and fitting, but repeated among different tracks. 

The analog control is perfect for this type of game. Karts can now go in reverse, but good luck getting away from a tight corner or wall. The jump-turn for sharp corners has been replaced with a progressive boost-turn, which, when properly executed, will momentarily increase your speed. There is no support for the old-style directional pad, though. 

With a wide variety of courses and improved computer adversaries, MK64 is a game worth replaying. It'll take awhile for veteran players to grow accustomed to the changes in the sequel, but it proves worthwhile in the end. With four player capability, the more the merrier!

This article is copyright (c) 1997, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 24-Feb-97