One of the things that I'll tend to do when writing reviews of games is combining different titles into one. Now, like how Pokémon Trading Card Game's review slips a reference to its sequel in there, this review will go through pretty much the entire series, unless something strikes me to make more. OK, so I know that Mario Kart 64 has some flaws and very dated graphics, a relic in a popular franchise that's gone onto better-looking games, but hear me out...I think it's the best, and it still holds a high opinion among the N64 generation. I'm going to cover it primarily though I am going to cover the other Mario Kart games. First: the flaws. Not much to discover beyond the 16 courses and 8 characters, music doesn't seem to work in 4 player, lag when 4 player (but not much), annoying rubber-band AI...but it's a blast.
I could go into what makes each course special as well as old memories, whether it be Koopa Troopa Beach and its special shortcut, Kalimari Desert and the train, Royal Raceway and its annoying dropoffs, and Rainbow Road and its trippy neon-like images, but the other coolest thing about Mario Kart 64 is the Battle Mode, which was first introduced in this game. You have your choice of Block Fort, a three-tier area with bridges but fairly easy to navigate and find others, Double-Decker, a four-tier area that's much larger and meant for four players, Big Donut, a circular track around a lava pit that's a lot better than it sounds, and Skyscraper, a hectic, tiny track with lots of drop-offs. You have three balloons and you use items to screw over your opponents, and assuming you're playing with more than one other person, you have one last chance to play even though you've clearly lost: you'll be able to turn into a rolling bomb that's nigh-invincible and have one shot to exact revenge on a player. There are two cases where you cannot: if someone has a star and runs you down, or the two bombs in play (4 player only) crash into each other. This has happened to my cousin twice, one of which involved me ("Now, DON'T CRASH INTO ME") as we realized belatedly that we were intersecting each other at an angle.
While Super Mario Kart is mostly Mode 7 pseudo-3d graphics (see what I did there?) and won't be covered by this review, Mario Kart: Super Circuit was the third game in the series, and this I did play. It was owned by my brother, and he let me play it on the Game Boy Advance he had. Unfortunately, it was a bit limited as I never had anyone to link up with to play, and any time either of us had playing it was cut short when he left it on a bus. It was never repurchased, partially because it was a bit disappointing, but that was followed with Double Dash!!.
Mario Kart: Double Dash!! was the next in the series. Released on the Nintendo GameCube, November 7, 2003 in Japan and hitting America 10 days later, it was an interesting game in many aspects, including perfecting what was good about the series and was where much of the bad stuff started, including handling of the Kart and packing the series with characters. This also started a trend of becoming less skill-oriented and more "screwing others over with items". It included another gimmick: picking two characters for your Kart not to exceed a certain weight. It's kind of interesting, but it doesn't mesh well with the series as a whole. The unfortunate thing is that the courses seem rather uninspired, and the Battle courses are boring (plus, you don't turn into a bomb if you lose).
Mario Kart DS I never played. A shame, too, as it seemed to be one of the best Mario Kart games in the series, at least at the time. The graphics and gameplay resembled the N64 version while introducing new items. The game had a unique feature (making decals on the side of karts), and the Nintendo Wi-fi Connection let you play with anyone in the world connected at the time. Of course, by the time I got a DS, I was never able to get the wi-fi connection working as the DS did not have up to date Wi-fi encryption (no WPA) and the "transfer" USB stick was Windows only. I decided to skip MKDS regardless.
|RAINBOW ROAD! (source: Prima Games)|
Mario Kart Wii is when things went downhill. This one I actually own, but I rarely play. A number of reasons! This is where I'm going to rant and complain. Get ready.
First, the included "wheel" controller is garbage as it's hard to control and you'll need tiny hands to make it feel comfortable (it's best if you give this to a younger sibling/cousin, but it's okay, they'll lose anyway).
Secondly, the feel of the game is all wrong. No matter what you pick (karts, bikes, or whatever), it feels way too "floaty" and not like real racing at all (MK64 had semblance of that still and the "floatiness" was first introduced in MK:DD!. There's 12 players on the track, which is too much (causes chaos), they all bunch together in a pack, and they're all CPU players, so when one inevitably hits you, you'll be knocked back some 7 places. This all seems especially cruel in later stages. If you fall off a cliff (inevitable) you'll be placed BEFORE the cliff and you'll lose your item. They find a way to shoehorn the CPUs into everything--Battle is even messed up ("castrated" was a word I read in one review, that's a good way to describe it in fact) as they force the CPUs into it even if you're playing with another human (it's all points-based now instead of last man standing, so the "hunt and destroy" feel is limited). The bright and colorful Mario world is turned up to eleven as well, and that gets really annoying really fast. Released in Japan 4/10/08 and released to America 17 days later (Europe got it one day later) MKW gives rise to an old enemy rearing its head, the "kiddie console" image. It was bad enough that during this time, the Wii was continuing to erode away all but its core fans thanks to a (commercially successful) "casual" push, but MKW was still popular with the core fans but didn't resonate with me. If I want a good Mario Kart game, I play Mario Kart 64.
In the times since MKW, Nintendo released other Mario Kart games, each increasingly deviating from the original formula (fixing some things, breaking others), or so I thought. Mario Kart Wii was the sixth Mario Kart, and they went away from the subtitles as the next two installments were Mario Kart 7 and Mario Kart 8, at least proving Nintendo can count, which Windows cannot. Now I haven't played Mario Kart 7, but I did chance to play Mario Kart 8 which was the only Mario Kart that my cousin's wife wouldn't win at (which is why she disliked it). I gotta admit, it wasn't bad. One of the more interesting features is that it adds coins back in, which were present way back in Super Mario Kart, and gave an actual strategy instead of just the mad-cap item rush of MKW. I haven't played the Battle feature, so jury's still out on that. I guess I was relieved to hear from my cousin that Mario Kart Wii did in fact "kinda sucked", so maybe there is hope in the Mario Kart franchise after all.
|What determines how many train cars there are|
each race? I think it's random. (source: Mario Mayhem)
P.S.: I did, in fact, play somewhat of a variation on the "Mario Kart Drunk Driving", though it was only sips with a gin & tonic, not chugging. I'm not a Neanderthal.
Written over 2014 and finished sometime in 2015. I might trim down this review and write more if the inspiration strikes me sometime.
* It's not the Commodore-64, even if you thought that answer was funny. Either way, you lose.