Do you remember 1997? It was the year we all embraced our inner hypochondriac with WEB MD going online for the first time. You might remember “The Lost World Jurassic Park” and “Men In Black” fighting for box office supremacy. It was the year the IBM Super Computer Deep Blue beat then chess world champion Garry Kasparov in the classic duel of man vs machine. Out of the 365 days of that year there is one particular day I want to focus on: February 10 1997. Many of you backyard astronomers will of course point to the comet Shoemaker-Holt 2 that passed within 1.9245 AU of earth on that day as the pinnacle moment to which I refer. Alas no my dedicated readers I am actually referring to the grand North American release of Mario Kart 64. The game to this point has sold over 9.87 million copies world wide, which means at least half that number in friendships have been ruined. That astonishing number of sold copies places it just above Golden Eye, and just behind Super Mario 64 for all time game sales on that system. Not bad for a quirky racer, am I right?
So what made the game so unique? Everyone remembers grabbing that bulky N64 controller and sitting down to play a match of Mario Kart 64. The game truly was evolved from the 2D racer to the sleek 3D classic that in many ways stands above the rest. For the N64 era the graphics were crisp and colorful taking full advantage of the advanced processors. It went further than vibrant 3D polygons as the game code now featured a new dynamic. The ability to go vertical. If you recall the original featured a flat track with color drawn barriers and item boxes that were little more than 2D imprints on the ground. Now we could ride up steep hills, transverse narrow bridges, or if you were like me fall off of large cliffs. Yoshi’s Valley anyone?
Originally called Super Mario Kart R while in development, the game was scripted to be a launch title. However with Super Mario 64 falling behind in development Shigeru Miyamoto made a tough decision. Super Mario 64 was the priority, and he pulled several developers off the game to work on the flagship title. This caused the delayed release for the game our beloved racing game. I know you are shocked to hear a big name Nintendo title was delayed however like most fans I know a great game is worth the wait. During this development process several ideas were scrapped and concessions had to be made.
One of these concessions caused the rise of the legendary Blue Shell. Yes it was in Mario Kart 64 that the great equalizer made is first appearance. Not only did this immediately rebalance the game track by taking out your older brother who was about to cross the finish, it had a practical purpose. The Blue Shell was effective at limiting the amount of Karts on screening cutting down on processing power needed on rendering. Other short cuts were things like Thwomp’s laughter which was just a slowed down version of Wario’s laugh. Another shared use was the engine sound replication. Bowser and Wario’s Kart share the same engine sounds, while Yoshi shares that of Peach, and Mario with Luigi. Only Donkey Kong and Toad have a unique sounding engines. These creative programming techniques could prove essential in saving space and time on already delayed game.
Originally they toyed with the idea of vertical screens, and even had Kamek the Magikoopa planned as a playable character. I personally would love to see that mischievous magician and his broom in the next installment of the series. However for the N64 version it was not to be, and he was replaced by with Donkey Kong. Fun fact Donkey Kong had a hand in inspiration for the original (I’ll save that story for another time.)
Looking back N64’s Mario Kart, we can see it was a very different game to play then the casual Party style of todays game. The unforgiving precise controls, and limited items made for a much more competitive match. We can see there was something very right about that formula. So popular that even today If you want to buy the game it will cost you at least 20 dollars. Yes 20 bucks, and thats for previously owned, no packaging included cartridge. Not bad for a game older than this years high school graduates. So if you have an old 64 sitting up in grandma’s attic with a couple of controllers I cant recommend it enough. Pro Tip: Don’t forget to blow on the cartridge before you put it in the system… Its science.
How do you think Mario Kart 64 stacks against the rest of the series? Were you a pro, or a scrub? Have you severed friendships over a race gone wrong? Share your thoughts in the comment section down below, or you can discuss in our wonderful forums.
Some say he is a leaf on the wind, others say he is the wind beneath their wings. Either way he is a huge Nintendo fan and has been gaming since the age of 8. One part Jedi Master, and two parts Starfleet Redshirt he has been known to quiet the ocean and make mountains sit. He comes to you now to share in all things Nintendo.