To say that the original Super Mario Kart was a huge hit for the Super Nintendo console would be a mammoth understatement. The game caught gamers by storm and kicked off a series that's still producing new titles some 17 years later. So when Nintendo released their Nintendo 64 console, gamers knew that it was only a matter of time before Nintendo would bring a new Mario Kart title to their polygon processing beast. Mario Kart 64 took all of the great game play ideas of the original and built a much more realistic and deeper game play experience to form a game that many Mario Kart fans consider the best the series has to offer. So how does the game hold up on the Wii Virtual Console nearly a decade later?
The basic game play design of Mario Kart 64 remains quite similar to that of the original Super Nintendo release. You still get to choose from a host of Super Mario characters and race each other around the game's many tracks. You'll get to choose from four different Cups, each with its own four unique racetracks to tackle. You can also select from three different engine sizes that vary the difficulty of the game.
The main mode of the game is Mario GP Mode. In this mode up to two players can race against each other and the six other racers in an all out Grand Prix series. Of course in 2-player mode, the screen is split in two as to give both racers the same perspective. You basically choose between one of the four Cups to race in and then take on the four tracks in an attempt to ultimately win first place and the Gold Cup Trophy.
If you'd rather leave out the other racers and just take on some friends, you can select the game's VS. Mode. This allows up to four players to race an individual track together. While the 2-player mode is once again split in two, if you choose to race three or four players, the screen is then split into four sections. This can be a bit tricky to try to focus on your small section of screen real estate, but it's ultimately the only way to give all four players the same perspective while racing.
The final two modes are the Time Trial and Battle Mode. Fans of the original should know what to expect with these two modes, as they remain basically the same as those found in the original Super Nintendo release. In Time Trial Mode you can choose your player and then race any of the available tracks in an attempt to score a good time. You can even race against your ghost in an attempt to beat your own last run around the track. But unlike the Nintendo 64 release, there is no controller pak support, so you can't save your ghost data or view a replay in this Virtual Console release. The Battle Mode is once again where your kart is covered with three balloons and you drive around one of the game's four available battle tracks trying to pop your opponent's balloons using the various power ups available around each track. The last player with a balloon left wins. It's pretty much the same as the battle mode in the Super Nintendo release and every bit as much fun.
Mario Kart 64 does bring a few new game play twists to the table and they ultimately do a good job of adding in some additional game play depth to the overall experience. This time around you can perform a slide using the "R" button. Using this slide is important because it allows you to take sharp turns without losing much speed. You can even perform an advanced move called the "Mini Turbo" that will allow you to wiggle the analog stick back and forth during a slide, which will turn your kart's smoke trail yellow and then red allowing you to release the "R" button and get a mini turbo boost out of the turn. It takes a good while to master this move, but if you want to beat the more difficult engine classes, you'll need to put in the time to master it.
As playable as the original Super Mario Kart release was, Mario Kart 64 just adds so much more game play depth that it's difficult not to fall in love with it. Couple the new game play features with some absolutely outstanding race tracks and you have what is easily one of the best Mario Kart experiences money can buy. The game just feels like it was the perfect fit for the Nintendo 64 console and it's just as much fun today on the Virtual Console as it ever was.
The visuals in Mario Kart 64 are obviously quite a bit more advanced than those of the 16-bit Super Nintendo release. This time around the tracks don't have to rely on fancy Mode 7 scaling and rotation to simulate the 3-D effects of racing around a track, instead they are drawn out with the polygon pushing power of the Nintendo 64. All of the various tracks have their own unique themes and each one has its own distinct layout and feel to it. The game is a huge step up from the rather basic look and feel of the original and puts the Nintendo 64's processing power to good use.
As if the visual upgrade wasn't enough, Nintendo still found time to give the musical score a fresh remix and added in a ton of brand new tunes in the process. Now there are still plenty of the original tunes for those looking for a little bit of a nostalgia factor, but the new tunes are every bit as catchy and do a solid job of carrying the theme and mood of each racetrack. Even the character voices are a nice touch to the overall audio experience.
As great as the original Super Mario Kart release was, Nintendo really managed to outdo it in just about every facet imaginable. The game play is deeper, the visuals are more detailed, and the musical score is as catchy as ever. If you've ever wondered why so many game fans hold Mario Kart 64 as the best of the series, you only need take the game for a spin on the Virtual Console to see what all the fuss is truly about. It's easily one of the best Nintendo 64 releases of them all and an absolute must-have for any Mario Kart fan.