- Original release year: 1996
- Consoles: N64 (later: Wii, Wii U)
To me, Mario Kart 64 is the most important release in the franchise ever. Hear me out. You see, the way that I see it is, this was a transition game in the franchise. This is the game that transformed Super Mario Kart from the tough, more hardcore oriented, arcade racer that it was on the SNES, into the more party oriented, social multiplayer favourite that it is today. The good thing though, and the reason why it was my favourite Mario Kart game until recently, is it was before they went a little bit too far with the ‘gimmicks’ and over-the-topness. Unlike Mario Kart on the Wii, for example, you are less likely to just accidentally find yourself in first place, because you picked up a bunch of unfair, ridiculous items, by chance. Mario Kart 64 was fun, addictive and great for multiplayer sessions (there’s a great drinking game you play too, called ‘don’t drink and drive’…), but it also wasn’t too random and unfair. That’s what I like about it.
So, this was the first Mario Kart game in 3D and just like all of the Nintendo’s franchises that moved into the third-dimension with the N64, it did so brilliantly. Now you could race up and down glorious hills and mountains, you could go through tunnels, fly off ramps, find secret hidden paths, travel across bridges and race through Bowser’s Castle, all in glorious 3D. It looked amazing at the time and the level design is still brilliant to this day. I still consider tracks like Bowser’s Castle, DK’s Jungle Parkway , Kalimari Desert and Sherbert Land to be classics to this day.
Mario Kart 64 added one key innovation that ultimately made it twice as amazing. It added 4 player support, which helped pave the way for the franchise to grow into a multiplayer, juggernaut of a social experience. If you haven’t had at least one ‘Mario Kart party’ in your life, you haven’t lived (or you’d just rather go out and meet women instead, which is fair enough now you mention it). It’s this advancement that really made the series what it is today.
The only thing left to cover (I think, anyways), is the awesome ‘Battle Mode’, which was great here. Unfortunately, it has got crappier with most entries in the series since, but it was great in Mario Kart 64. The level design in the Battle stages was just top notch.
So with that all said, all there’s left to say is, do you want a Mario Kart game that is fun, addictive, has awesome tracks, isn’t too unfair and has good weapons that aren’t too unbalanced? Then, besides a certain other Mario Kart game that came after it, this is the Mario Kart game for you.