Following up on the success of the classic Super Mario Kart for the Super NES, Nintendo released the Nintendo 64 upgrade, Mario Kart 64, in 1997. The game brought Mario and friends into the realm of 3D race courses, adding hills and valleys to the roads. New items, new obstacles, and a new character added to the fun of this gaming classic.

All of your favorite racers have returned (minus two). Back for the races are Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Toad, Bowser, Donkey Kong (replacing his son, Donkey Kong Junior), Yoshi, and Wario (replacing the fan-favorite Koopa Troopa). Early versions of the game featured Kamek the Magikoopa from Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island, however he was dumped in favor of Wario. Players choose their favorite character and dive into different modes of play: GP (1 or 2 players versus the computer; this is the main mode of the game), Versus Mode (2-4 players race each other), Battle Mode (2-4 players battle it out in special arenas), and Time Trial (1 player versus the clock). These modes are further divided into different engine classes: 50cc, 100cc, and 150cc. While the characters themselves are "mere" rendered sprites, the courses themselves are assembled with a multitude of polygons, making for a rapid racing experience. The music is quite catchy and memorable, and Nintendo released a promotional CD of the soundtrack when the game was released.

The game features all new race tracks that are divided into groups of four to make different Cup Classes. The levels and their classes are...

  • Mushroom Cup
  • Flower Cup
    • Toad's Turnpike
    • Frappe Snowland
    • Choco Mountain
    • Mario Raceway
  • Star Cup
    • Wario Stadium
    • Sherbet Land
    • Royal Raceway
    • Bowser's Castle
  • Special Cup
    • D.K.'s Jungle Parkway
    • Yoshi Valley
    • Banshee Boardwalk
    • Rainbow Road
  • Battle Tracks
    • Big Donut
    • Block Fort
    • Double Deck
    • Skyscraper

Each course has its own unique share of hazards. Monty Moles pop out of the ground in the Moo Moo Farm, a massive Yoshi egg crushes players in Yoshi Valley, and Miyamoto's Penguin bashes into drivers in Sherbet Land. Some hazards can be defended against with items obtainable from question blocks...

  • Green Shell - can be fired straight ahead or straight behind as a flying hazard plus it can be dragged behind the kart for protection
  • Red Shell - locks on to and seeks out the driver immediately ahead or, like the green shell, can act as protection
  • Three Green/Red Shells - Acts just like their singular counterparts, except they come three to a set and act as a shield until fired
  • Mushroom - provides a quick speed boost
  • Three Mushrooms - just like a Mushroom, but comes three to a set. Time Trial mode players begin with this item
  • Super Mushroom - provides unlimited speed bursts for several seconds
  • Blue Shell - Seeks out the driver in the lead and smashes him/her
  • Lightning Bolt - shrinks all drivers except the person who activated the item in the first place
  • Starman - provides temporary invincibility
  • Fake Question Block - a decoy item block that causes drivers to blow up
  • Banana Peel - drop it on the track or toss it ahead to slip up other drivers or can be used, like the green shell, for protection
  • Banana Peel Trail - Five banana peels follow your kart in a line to be dropped at your leisure (or can be smacked by a flying turtle shell, causing it to leave a massive mess on the track)

It should be noted that the coins that were found in Super Mario Kart (and the later Mario Kart Super Circuit) were eliminated from this game, thereby turning off many fans due to the lack of this element of strategy.

When Mario Kart 64 was released Nintendo Power held a contest to challenge players to score the fastest time they could on the Mario Raceway. The prize: a golden Nintendo 64 controller. By pressing the R Button on the title screen, the top time on the Mario Raceway appears onscreen for easy photography. However, many players found ways to cheat on the level by flying over walls and clipping around corners, thus leaving those players who chose not to cheat in the dust. For all the attention the contest was given in the magazine at the time, to my knowledge a winner was never featured. Perhaps the contest was declared void when the rampant cheating was discovered.

Mario Kart 64 was an amazing game for its time and still continues to be a popular multiplayer game, especially in Battle Mode. The game is still readily available in used game shops and online auctions. For those wanting complete maps of the courses, a Nintendo Player's Guide is available for the game (complete with bonus bumper stickers). The popularity of this game led to a sequel for the Game Boy Advance - Mario Kart Super Circuit - and the Nintendo GameCube's Mario Kart: Double Dash!!.

Playing the game
Nintendo Power issues from the era

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