|Mario Kart 64|
North American box art
Mario Kart 64[a] is a kart racing video game developed and published by Nintendo for the Nintendo 64. It is the successor to Super Mario Kart for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, and the second game in the Mario Kart series. It was released in Japan on December 14, 1996, and in North America and Europe in 1997. It was later released as a Virtual Console game for the Wii and Wii U in 2007 and 2016, respectively.
Changes from the original include the move to polygon-based true 3D computer graphics for track design, and the inclusion of four-player support. Players take control of characters from the Mario franchise, who race around a variety of tracks with items that can either harm opponents or aid the user. The move to three-dimensional graphics allowed for track features not possible with the original game's Mode 7 graphics, such as changes in elevation, bridges, walls, and pits. However, the characters and items remained 2D pre-rendered sprites.
Mario Kart 64 is a kart racing game in which the player controls one of eight selectable Mario characters who race in karts in different race tracks that vary in shape and theme. During a race, the players can obtain random items from special boxes placed in different areas of the track that are used to impede the opposition and gain the advantage. For example, shells and bananas allow the player to attack opponents and slow them down, and Mushrooms grant the player a temporary boost in speed and jumping ability. In a change from the previous installment, players can carry more than one item at a time. Mario Kart 64 has 16 race courses and 4 battle courses.
There are four different game modes available in Mario Kart 64: Grand Prix, Time Trial, Versus, and Battle. Grand Prix mode supports both single-player and competitive multiplayer gameplay, while other modes only support one or the other.
- Grand Prix – This mode has one or two players participate in four consecutive three-lap races, each on a different course, on one of the four selectable cups (Mushroom, Flower, Star, or Special) against seven (or six) computer players. When the player completes a race, points are awarded based on the rank he or she finished. If the player ranks 5th or under, the player must restart the race. Unlike the first Mario Kart game, the player can restart an unlimited number of times, instead of only being allowed three restarts. After finishing all four races, trophies are awarded to the players who scored the highest accumulation of points: bronze for third place, silver for second, and gold for first. Difficulty level is measured by engine size: 50, 100, or 150cc. There is an additional unlockable difficulty called 'Extra', which allows players to race at speed 100cc on tracks that are inverted left-to-right. This is the first game in the series to provide this feature. Later installments call this feature "Mirror Mode" or "150cc Mirror Mode."
- Time Trial – This is a single-player-only mode where the objective is to complete a three-lap race on the selected track in the shortest total time possible. There are no opponent racers or item boxes, though the player will always begin each race with a Triple Mushroom in reserve. For any given course the top five shortest total times are saved, and the shortest single lap time of any race is also saved. The player can select to race against a ghost character who will mimic the movement of the player from a previous race. Ghost data for up to two different courses can be saved permanently only on a Controller Pak device. However, the Virtual Console version of Mario Kart 64 released on the Wii is incompatible with the device and is thus unable to save ghost data.
- Versus mode – Two to four players compete in single races on any track without any computer players. With two players, the total number of wins for each player is tracked, and in three- or four-player matches, the number of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place wins is tracked for each racer.
- Battle Mode – This mode, supporting two to four players, has a last man standing objective where the players attack each other with items inside one of four selectable arena courses. The players begin a match with three balloons attached to each of their karts. A player will lose one balloon each time their character is damaged by coming into contact with one of the other players' offending items, and is eliminated from play upon losing all balloons. The match ends when one player remains, who is then declared the winner. In three- or four-player matches, the first two players' characters to lose all their balloons will transform into mobile "Mini Bomb Karts" and forfeit the ability to win the match. The Mini Bomb Kart is still maneuverable by the player and can collide and inflict damage on another player only once, after which it can no longer participate.
Mario Kart 64 features eight playable characters. Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Toad, Yoshi, and Bowser appeared in Super Mario Kart while the remaining two characters, Wario and Donkey Kong, are new to the series replacing Koopa Troopa and Donkey Kong Jr. The characters are divided into three weight classes: lightweights, whose karts have highest acceleration; heavyweight, whose karts have low acceleration and high top speed plus are able to knock around other players; and middleweights, who have normal acceleration and normal top speed.
Production of the game began in 1995 under its original title Super Mario Kart R (the "R" stood for "rendered"), and was intended to be a launch game for the Nintendo 64, but more resources were given to Super Mario 64's development. Mario series creator Shigeru Miyamoto acted as producer and often consulted with game director Hideki Konno. Some brief early footage of the game was showcased at the Shoshinkai Software Exhibition in Japan on November 24, 1995. Miyamoto stated that the game was in fact 95 percent complete at the time of the show, but Nintendo chose not to display a playable version due to the difficult logistics of demonstrating the multiplayer features. The prototype featured the Feather item from Super Mario Kart and a Magikoopa as one of the eight playable characters, who was replaced with Donkey Kong in the final game.
The player's driving controls were designed to be similar to operating a radio-controlled car. While Mario Kart 64 features tracks that are fully rendered in 3D, the game uses billboarding to display the characters and items. Konno stated that, while rendering the characters as 3D models was not impossible, the limited processing power of the console would not have allowed all eight characters to appear on the screen at once. Instead, the characters are composed of pre-rendered sprites that show the characters from various angles to simulate a 3D appearance. Rare, developer of the Donkey Kong Country games, provided Donkey Kong's character model.
While rubberband AI was used to prevent all the racers from easily separating, the Spiny Shell item, which targets and attacks the player in first place, was added in order to keep each race competitive and balanced. The item was included in all subsequent Mario Kart games.
The soundtrack for Mario Kart 64 was composed by Kenta Nagata, which was his first work on a Nintendo game. The game's soundtrack was released several times in different formats including Compact Disc and audio cassette. Four different versions of the album were released: Race Tracks and Greatest Hits Soundtrack in North America; Original Soundtrack and Club Circuit were released in Japan. It was later released in a three disc collection, along with the soundtracks of Star Fox 64 and Super Mario 64.
In addition to the regular release in Japan, Nintendo released a "limited edition" which was simply the regular cartridge bundled with a black-and-grey Nintendo 64 controller. The Japanese release in December 1996 was followed by a U.S. release in February 1997. Asked about the difference in release dates, Nintendo of America president Howard Lincoln stated that in addition to the time needed for the localization, Nintendo felt that Mario Kart 64 was more critical to the Japanese market, as there were fewer Nintendo 64 games available in that market at the time.
Reception and legacy
Mario Kart 64 received divisive reviews, as critics were either wildly enthusiastic about the game or regarded it as a major disappointment. Peer Schneider stated in IGN, "Though the single-player mode is a bit of a step back from the Super Nintendo original, Mario Kart 64 still offers one of the best multiplayer experiences to be had on Nintendo 64." Trent Ward of GameSpot insisted that though the graphics and sound of the game are impressive, the gameplay is too easy and lacks depth. A reviewer for Next Generation instead counted the graphics as the chief fault, arguing that there is no functional difference between the polygon-based tracks and the Mode 7 bitmaps of the original, and that this, combined with the use of sprite-based karts and drivers, makes Mario Kart 64 "less a sequel than the same game with new courses". He also criticized the rubberband AI and the slowdown when there are more than two players, though he praised the large selection of courses. In contrast, GamePro's Dr. Zombie regarded the game as an essential purchase, citing the easy accessibility, excellent use of analog control, vibrant 3D graphics, abundance of tracks, variety of challenges, signature sounds for each driver, and catchy music. He gave it a perfect score in all four categories (control, funfactor, graphics, and sound). The four reviewers of Electronic Gaming Monthly gave it their "Game of the Month" award, with all four agreeing that though the game has some problems, particularly the smaller number of secrets as compared to the original, these are overridden by the sheer fun and replayability of the multiplayer racing.
In GameSpot's Virtual Console re-release review, the reviewer criticized its lack of ghost-saving, sound and graphics saying the latter had "aged rather poorly." The game placed 17th in Official Nintendo Magazine's 100 greatest Nintendo games of all time.
During the first three months of 1997, Mario Kart 64 was the best-selling console game in the United States, with sales of 849,000 units for the period. By 2007, Mario Kart 64 had sold approximately 5.5 million copies in the United States and 2.24 million in Japan. Game Informer reported in June 2014 that the game had sold 9.87 million copies worldwide, making it the second best-selling game on Nintendo 64.
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