Mario Kart 64: Nostalgia Review

I’m a Gonna Win

Mario Kart 64
Nintendo 64 | Nintendo | February 1997

Nostalgia Reviews look back and highlight the greatest games of previous generations. The review is rooted in fond memories and appreciation of the game during that era. There are times when memories differ from reality or modern techniques are superior to earlier design.

MK MarioVideogame’s favorite everyman returns to racing glory. Mario is a successful doctor, can play golf, baseball, tennis, throws amazing parties, smashes bros and is the best platformer by a mile. But one of his surprise abilities that fans continue to clamor for is his racing prowess.

Mario Kart 64 is the second, not sixty-third, entry into the franchise. As with all installments, players can compete in a cup which consists of four races. During the races players will fight for position with computer controlled and couch co-op players across the Mushroom Kingdom’s varied landscape. The game adds to the racing challenge by introducing power up weapons which can be used offensively and defensively. MK64 balances the weapon selection, diversifies the racetracks and expands upon the battle mode from its successor making it the best entry in the series.

What is a Critical Hit!

There are eight playable characters separated into three different weight classes. Heavy’s, such as Boswer, Donkey Kong and Wario, have the greatest top speed and can push smaller racers around, but are handicapped with a slow acceleration stat. Light drivers, like Yoshi and Toad, can accelerate noticeably faster and aren’t hampered by driving through the mud or grass as much as others. Unfortunately, they have a slower top speed and can be pushed around. Mario, Luigi and Peach make up the middle weight class, and are a mixture between the two. The characters are balanced and players will gravitate towards a class which suits their style, more so than a clear distinct winner (but seriously, Yoshi is the best).

The Mushroom Kingdom comes alive throughout the tracks and Mario themes ooze into every aesthetic of the game. Weapon boxes are question blocks, the courses are MK Charactersbased off popular Mario levels, the cups are named after powerups and the victory party takes place in Peach’s castle, from Super Mario 64. MK64 is amazing fan service to the Nintendo faithful and anyone who is familiar with the Super Mario franchise will recognize the chain chomp in the background, green pipes as obstacles or Lakitu fishing players back to the track.

Players compete in 50cc, 100cc, 150cc and an unlocked mirror mode, during the Grand Prix. Each cup consists of four races, each with three laps. The levels are named after Mario franchise characters and vary in music, obstacles and feel throughout. Boswer’s Castle will challenge players with a variety of turns, lava pits and whomps that follow the player. Toad’s Turnpike has cars on the road alongside the kart racers, and is one of the more challenging courses on mirror as players fight oncoming traffic. Frapee Snowland has players driving through snow and ice while dodging sliding penguins, changes in the terrain are felt in the vehicle as the kart’s slide across the ice. If players are able to best the competition and earn first place, they will be treated to a small victory scene and a gold trophy. As an example of the Nintendo charm, instead of a simple game over screen, when players don’t place they will watch the festivities from a distant hilltop and remember their failure,

The Mario paint coat not only makes its way into the music, sounds and aesthetics but the weapons. When players drive over the question blocks a randomly generated weapon is available. Green turtle shells shoot straight, their red brethren arc like a homing MK Attackmissile and the dread blue shell destroys whoever is in first place. A lightning bolt shrinks all other players, allowing the user to squash over them. The game provides weapons based upon what place the player is currently, allowing eighth place a chance to level the playing field with a well timed invincibility star. If you are in front the entire race, you will constantly earn banana peels and fake blocks, which can be drug being the kart for a defensive shield.

For players who want to skip the racing and just use the powerups, MK64 packs in an impressive battle mode. Players compete in a last man standing event where their life bar is represented by balloons on their back. If a player trips over a banana peel, is hit by a shell or falls off the arena they lose a balloon. Once all three balloons are removed the player loses, but has an opportunity for revenge as a slower maneuvering kamikaze ba-bomb kart. While battling, racer selection takes another turn as a full speed heavy is capable of removing balloons from lighter characters just by ramming them with their kart. MK64 offers the most memorable and well balanced levels in the series, with fan favorites like Block Fort or Donut.

What is Not Very Effective…

MK64 is setup in such a way that players will never have a commanding lead. If you are in last place, players will quickly catch up to the other racers. Even when in first and driving perfectly, one slight mistake can see a second place character who fell off the MK Battle Stagesmap pass you. The rubberbanding effect works for the AI as well and can help players during bad opening but is also a deterrent when a barrage of blue shells and lightning bolts cause a near flawless first place turn into fifth.

The Nintendo 64 controllers were fragile and the thumbstick could be worn out quickly. If the game is booted and the control stick is not firmly perpendicular, the racers will drive with a continual lean. This issue does not exist on virtual console versions of the game and is a problem with the N64 hardware itself and not the game, but can impact a fan’s enjoyment when playing on old equipment.

Status Summary

MK64 is an excellent racer with tight controls, sliding mechanics, interesting levels and varied drivers. The game is vastly improved by the Mario franchise soundtracks, level design and characters incorporated into every aspect of the experience. MK64 sports iconic racing levels such as Rainbow Road and DK Jungle Parkway, but is also a series high with its battle mode.

If you enjoy Nintendo games, racers or amazing couch multiplayer experiences than this game is a first place finish. If you are not a fan of the racing genre or prefer a more serious tone than this is one game you should let pass you by.


Score: 10 /10
+ Battle Mode
+ Mario Franchise Charm
+ Rich Varied Courses
+ Character Taunts
+ Useful Powerups


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