Mario Kart 64 Virtual Console Review
Mario Kart 64 may hold nostalgic value for some, but if you've spent any time with recent entries in the series, you'll find this version difficult to go back to.
Few subjects polarize former Nintendo 64 owners more than Mario Kart 64. Some people proclaim MK64 to be one of the very best in the series; while conversely, others say it's the worst of all Mario Karts. Mario Kart 64 is now available through the Wii's Virtual Console for $10, and its addition is likely to spark more of that same debate. However, no matter what your original feelings were on the game during its heyday, the inexorable truth is that Mario Kart 64 simply doesn't hold up all that well in 2007.
For Mario Kart fans, MK64 marks the introductory point for many of the mechanics and concepts that are now staples of the series. Apart from being Wario's kart-racing debut, weapons such as blue shells and fake item boxes originated in this game. Mario Kart 64 also significantly lengthened the tracks over its Super Nintendo Entertainment System forebear, which was either a blessing or a curse, depending on your mindset. In some ways, it made the single-player game too easy, though some of the fault also lies with the opponent artificial intelligence, which isn't very aggressive and is pretty easy to bowl over. The only thing that really makes the game challenging at all is the kart handling, which is arguably the worst in any MK game. Powersliding is an exercise in frustration if you're used to the less exaggerated slides of games like Mario Kart DS and even the original Super Mario Kart. That's not to say that it can't be gotten used to, but it takes more effort to adjust to than it probably ought.
The main draw of MK64 was its four-player multiplayer. Whether in battle mode or split-screen racing, for its time, the multiplayer offered a great deal of fun, because there wasn't really anything else quite like it during that initial run of N64 games. The multiplayer still stacks up favorably compared with some of the other games available on the Virtual Console, but it's hard to play if you've been spending any time with more recent Mario Kart games. The battle-mode stages are especially difficult to enjoy. The stages are just too big and empty, making it difficult to find your opponents. Four-player racing is still reasonably fun, however.
The VC version of MK64 is a mostly solid port, though it has some quirks. For one, the game won't save any ghost racer data, which the original N64 game saved to the system's memory card. Another issue pops up with the audio. The original audio effects already sound pretty crusty in this day and age, but there's some sort of emulation glitch that causes music to drop off from time to time. We ran into a few instances where music just stopped playing during races until we restarted the game. As far as controls go, MK64 supports the classic controller and GameCube controller, but we noticed that the Cube controller had a few small problems, not the least of which was that it was a real hassle to fire weapons backward using the Cube's control stick. Also, the options menu that was pulled up with the left shoulder button on the N64 isn't mapped to the left shoulder trigger on the GameCube controller, which is just unintuitive.
On top of the few issues with the emulation, Mario Kart 64 just doesn't look very impressive anymore, even compared with something like Super Mario 64 on the VC. The character graphics are extremely pixelated, and the tracks aren't much to look at. Yes, it's an old game, but it's an old game that has not aged well. That statement is true across the board, actually. Of course, some players are undoubtedly going to have fond nostalgic memories of time spent with Mario Kart 64 back in the day, and those folks will probably end up downloading the game no matter what. But what they'll find with MK64 on the VC isn't so much the same great game they remember but a slightly crusty relic from the past that has had its framework improved upon multiple times in recent sequels. And for those who never got around to playing Mario Kart 64, it's not that the game isn't at all worth checking out, but it's tough to recommend paying $10 for the least enjoyable version of Mario Kart out there--especially when it seems like an inevitability that Super Mario Kart will hit the Virtual Console some time in the future.