Super Mario Bros. characters racing go-karts . . . that shoot weapons? Yeah, you knew this game was going to be good!!
Now, at the game's main menu you have six options. The first four options are titled "1P Game", "2P Game", "3P Game" and "4P Game". These options simply determine how many human controlled players you plan on playing the game with. The other two options are Options (where you can adjust certain game settings like toggling the sound between stereo/headphone/mono, copy N64 controller pak, or erase all data) and Data (where you can view the time records for all 16 race tracks in the game).
Getting back to the first four options, once you select how many human players you plan on competing with, you then have to choose which game mode you want to take part in. There are four game modes in total, the first of which is called "Mario GP", which is the main "story mode" behind Mario Kart 64. When you select this mode you are tasked with defeating any one of four racing circuits in the game. As I said earlier there are 16 total tracks in the game, so each circuit consists of four races. The circuits include the Mushroom Cup (consisting of races at Luigi Raceway, Moo Moo Farm, Koopa Troopa Beach and Kalimari Desert), Flower Cup (Toad's Turnpike, Frappe Snowland, Choco Mountain and Mario Raceway), Star Cup (Wario Stadium, Sherbet Land, Royal Raceway and Bowser's Castle) & Special Cup (D.K.'s Jungle Parkway, Yoshi Valley, Banshee Boardwalk and Rainbow Road). These circuits each get increasingly harder as you move along.
To complete a race in one of these circuits you have to finish in at least fourth position or better (there are 8 total racers in the game), as you receive points based on how you place (9 points for first place, 6 for second, 3 for third, and 1 for fourth). If you finish in fifth place or worse you will be asked to either retry the race or quit the circuit. If you finish fourth in your first race of the circuit you will be asked to retry or quit also . . . basically to advance through a circuit you must make sure that you stay in at least third place or higher in the overall points standings. After each race a screen will display your finishing position and total race time, a second screen will display how many points you earned for that race, and a third and final screen will display your current overall points total for the circuit. If you manage to complete a circuit you will then drive your kart up to the front of a castle and be awarded a special trophy depending on your finish (either the Gold Cup, Silver Cup or Bronze Cup, for first, second and third place respectively). To beat the game, roll the credits, and see that classic "THE END" message you simply have to beat the hardest racing circuit on the hardest difficulty level (more on them soon). The Mario GP game mode is specific to just the 1P Game and 2P Game options only.
The second game mode, which is only available on the 1P Game option, is called "T. Trials" (time trials). In this mode you simply go out for a spin around the track of your choosing, all by your lonesome, and run 3 total laps. Your goal is to go as fast as possible and set time records.
Third we have the "VS" game mode, which is simply a one off race against another human controlled player(s). Basically you choose a race track and just go at it head to head against each other in a 3 lap, one on one race, with no outside interference from any computer controlled racers. This mode applies to the 2P Game, 3P Game and 4P Game options.
The final game mode is called "Battle". This mode is not about racing, it is about being the first to pop the three balloons that are attached to the back of your opponent(s) kart. The first to do so wins the battle and ends the challenge! Unlike all of the other game modes, Battle takes place away from the race track, in four different arenas titled Big Donut, Block Fort, Double Deck and Skyscraper. Much like VS mode, Battle applies to the 2P Game, 3P Game and 4P Game options.
Now, once you select your game mode on Mario Kart 64 there are a number of steps to follow before you actually get in to the game. First you must select which class you want to race in (this applies to just the Mario GP and VS modes), either 50 c.c. (Easy), 100 c.c. (Medium), or 150 c.c. (Hard). After this is done you then select the character you want to race with, there are eight in total including Mario, Luigi, Peach, Toad, Yoshi, Donkey Kong, Wario, and Bowser. The final task it so select which circuit, race track, or arena you want to complete at, depending on whatever game mode you've chosen to play. Once this is done you are then taken away to the game action!
Once out in the game there isn't all that much to look out for. There are environmental objects to be aware of like jumps and ramps (some are man-made, others are natural), chasms, bodies of water, etc. There are also enemies outside of your fellow racers to be aware of, such as exploding bombs, ghosts, porcupines, chomping bullets, giant eggs, etc. The thing you need to be most aware of though are the item/weapon pickups, which take the form of rainbow coloured diamonds with a question mark on them, which appear at certain intervals around each race track. When you pick one of these up an item or weapon will randomly be generated for your use. These items include a banana (drop behind you for people to slip on), bunch of bananas (same as before, only more), green turtle shell (launches ahead of you like a missile, but in just a straight line), red turtle shell (launches ahead of you like a missile, with homing capacity), three green turtle shells (same as the single green turtle shell, but instead there are three of them and they will at first circle around your kart offering a shield of sorts, before you choose to fire them), three red turtle shells (same as the single red turtle shell, but instead there are three of them and they will at first circle around your kart offering a shield of sorts, before you choose to fire them), spiked blue/purple turtle shell (this shell, when fired, will lock on to the racer in first place and take them out, also destroying anybody who gets in it's path along the way), ghost (turns you invisible and allows you to steal other racer's items), red mushroom (gives you a single turbo boost), three red mushrooms (same as before but gives you three boosts instead of one), orange mushroom (gives you unlimited turbo boosts for a limited period of time), lightning bolt (blasts all other racers in the game and then shrinks them, causing them to be really slow for a short period of time), star (makes you invincible and faster for a short period of time) & item pickup diamond (these weapons drop behind you like a banana and blow up your opponent, but look exactly like a regular item/weapon pickup, so they are good for playing tricks on other racers and surprising them).
The game screen for Mario Kart 64 offers up a fair bit of information and can change somewhat, depending on the game mode you are playing as well as how many players are competing. In the Mario GP mode (single player), the top left corner contains a drop down chart showing icons of the four racers who currently occupy the top four spots in the race, and these icons change as the positions do. Just to the right of this display is the lap counter. In the top middle of the screen a window will appear whenever you pick up an item, displaying whichever item or weapon you are then equipped with. In the top right corner of the screen appears your total elapsed race time, while in the bottom right is a map of the current track, with moving dots indicating the positions or each racer. Finally, in the bottom left corner is a number indicating your current position in the race. When you play this game mode with two players the screen changes a bit. Along the bar that runs horizontally across the middle of the screen that separates each player's racing area, there will be icons for each racer in the game moving along the line, indicating what position they currently own. Also, the item/weapon window moves to the top left corner of each player's screen in this mode, while in the bottom right are the lap indicators. In T. Trials mode the lap indicator, race time and map are the only functions present on the game screen. At first the item window is as well as you start off with a few turbos, but once they are used up that disappears as there are no items to be found on the track in this mode. In VS mode each player finds his or her race position in the bottom left, the bottom right is the lap indicator, the top left is the item window, while the horizontal line separating screens shows the race progress as per it's moving icons. And finally, for Battle mode the bottom left holds the item window, while the bottom right corner contains the arena map.
Similar to the game screen, the pause menu varies depending on which game mode you are playing as well. For Mario GP you have two options: Continue Game, or Quit. For T. Trials you have the most options, which include: Continue Game, Retry, Course Change, Driver Change, or Quit. In both VS and Battle modes you have four options, as follows: Continue Game, Course Change, Driver Change, or Quit.
The controls are very basic and simple to use, especially for an N64 game! Now, I actually don't have this game for the N64, I downloaded it on my Wii, so I played it using the Wii classic controller (that's the default, the only way you can play it). This is what I will be basing my summary of the control scheme on. To steer your racer around the track use the left analog stick. The right analog stick is used to toggle through the three different on screen HUD configurations. To make your kart go, hold down the a button to accelerate, while the b button is used to brake and then reverse (in conjunction with holding down on the left analog stick). The ZR button is used to make your racer do a little jump, which can also be used to make tighter turns, while the ZL button is what fires your equipped item/weapon. Some weapons, like the single bananas and turtles shells, can be fired in the opposite direction of their natural tendency. To do so just hold the left analog stick up or down when you press ZL. Finally, the + button is what pauses the game.
The presentation behind Mario Kart 64 is really good, especially for the time it was released. The race tracks are greatly varied in the type of terrain they offer, with quite a palette of colours presented, and they are also well detailed. The characters too are rendered very well, with eight classic Super Mario Bros. characters designed to get behind the wheel of their very own karts! The sound is also well done, with some very catchy, instantly recognizable in game music that only Nintendo could have dreamed up. The music helps intensify the racing action when you're out on the track. Finally, the controls are nice and clean, very simple and easy to use, plus they respond just as they should. Overall this is just a very well put together game, it's got all aspects going for it.
As for pros and cons, the pros win the day on this title! First of all, the game is very well put together as I just went over. This all combines to give it a great score under the fun factor category too, as no matter how many times you race on this game the experience is always different, no two races are the same! I also like the fact that it can be played with three and four players, at the time that was a very big deal and made the game that much more appealing. The variety of game modes is also ideal, especially for multiplayer. Being able to both race and battle with three or four players involved is a pretty funny experience. As for the negative, the only thing I found detracting from this game was the lack of anything unlockable. There weren't any additional tracks or characters to obtain, no bonus material to discover. Basically what you see from this game is what you get.
In terms of tips and tricks I can offer, I do have a small number to contribute. First of all, start small. Begin on the 50 c.c. class and work your way up. The experience you gain on the lower difficulty levels is what will build your foundation of skill and prepare your for the final level. Also, get to know the tracks. The action is furious in this game, and the turns can be tight. Dropping off the side of the track in to a chasm can cost you precious time that you can't always get back. Knowing what's coming around the next corner and how to prepare for it is half the battle in this game. I would also suggest settling on a small number of characters that you prefer in the early going. Each racer has a varying degree of power, acceleration and handling that you might prefer over the others. Experiment and find your bread and butter, this will help you get the most out of your efforts. I also suggest getting to know each item/weapon intimately and the instances during a race where they might be most effectively utilized. Don't just fire your weapons willy nilly, save them and use them at the appropriate time or spot on the track, sometimes they are all that separate you from first and eighth. Finally . . . don't give up, especially later on in the game when the races get significantly harder. It doesn't take much to lose a race, an ill-timed turn or a last second weapon hit, but the same goes for winning a race. Don't give up and keep at it and you'll eventually succeed.
Overall Mario Kart 64 will go down as one of the best kart racing games not only of it's time, but in the history of gaming. It will also be known as an innovator, a title that paved the way for future generations of kart racing games. Does it have it's flaws . . . yeah, although not many in the grand scheme of things, but how good it was in all facets, especially considering the time in which it was released, will make it a well-remembered game for years to come. Another Nintendo staple!!