Welcome back to Throwback Thursday, where we take a drive down memory lane and reminiscence in the fond memories of ruined friendships. This time, as Mario Kart 8 is coming upon us, we take a look at the Mario Kart game that jump started the series into what it has become today: Mario Kart 64.
Even though the first Mario Kart game was technically on the Super Nintendo, it was the second outing that made the series what it is today due to the battle mode and infamous Rainbow Road. The game utilized the four player co-op that the N64 had going for it, which, in combination with the analog stick, helped skyrocket the series.
As the game is a racing game, it makes sense that it would have no plot. The eight playable racers were your standard Mario fare for the day, except for Wario, who wasn’t the most well-known character at the time. In addition to the greedy bastard, Mario Kart 64 had Mario, Luigi, Peach, Toad, Yoshi, Bowser, and Donkey Kong, which were all fairly recognizable and regular at the time. Because each one had its own handling style, it was great to play with all of them, something that wasn’t too popular with racing games at the time.
The tracks are instantly recognizable; from Luigi Raceway and the drive by Peach’s Castle to the inside of Bowser’s Castle and the twisted Yoshi Valley. They contain certain staples of the series like Banshee Boardwalk, Toad’s Turnpike and, of course, Rainbow Road. Even though there were only 16 raceway tracks, they had an amazing variety of twists, enemies, and different styles of track.
The musical score fits the tracks perfectly, although I would fix the sounds of the carts, but we are talking about the N64 here. Bowser’s Castle had an ominous tone to it, while brighter tracks like Luigi’s Raceway were upbeat and, to this day, gets me pumped up for the race that comes up.
My mood would quickly change if someone were to get that one blue powerup of the shell variety. Yes, the Mario Kart series is notorious for its powerups, and this is the game that brought these out. When some of these are brought out at the right time, entire friendships can be broken. While the bananas and green shells are not that aggravating, it is the red shells, lightning, and infamous blue shell that brought out hidden anger. “I swear that I would have won that race if it wasn’t for that one blue shell!” This statement was said at least ten times during my childhood, as well as words that I should not have known at that age.
As this game has more emphasis on powerups, the battle mode was an obvious inclusion. While there were only four battle tracks, there are all great in their own right. From the block fort to the dreaded skyscraper, these places gave me and my friends a way to settle our differences–not on the racetrack but on the battlefield in the most PG way possible. Again, friendships were destroyed and bad words were said. Many timeouts were had as a result of this game.
That is what Mario Kart 64 had going for it: a game for people to play with friends. Alone, the game isn’t that fun, although it isn’t horrible, but with friends, the game is almost irresistible. The graphics may not be as great today, but the fun balance and imaginative tracks more than make up for it. As well as being a staple at college parties to this day, it is a game that any N64 owner had up on the shelf, waiting for a petty squabble or just a chance to ram some poor fellow off of Rainbow Road.