Revisiting classic games on the Nintendo Wii U virtual console always provides that heavy kick of nostalgia we often crave, though many times a certain realisation can kick in, breaking apart those rose tinted glasses. They don’t quite look like you remember them doing, and there are certain issues with the game that you weren’t even aware of as a kid. But here they are, and it takes an extra push to get over this nostalgia breaking obstacle so you can continue to have a good time. Mario Kart 64 has the reverse effect though, offering something so well and truly right, it makes Mario Kart 8 feel well and truly wrong.
So, looking back at Mario Kart 64, a number of points quickly become apparent. The game is certainly not much of a looker these days, in fact it wasn’t much of a looker back in 97, opting for pre-rendered sprite racers rather than fully 3D models as seen in rival games at the time such as Diddy Kong Racing and Crash Team Racing. The famous N64 fog is ever present, and the lack of musical melodies in three-four player split screen sucks out a great deal of the atmosphere. Mario Kart 8 in comparison is one of the best looking games of the current generation, though Mario Kart had never really care for being a visual scorcher until recently. A stack of levels from Mario Kart 64 have even been lovingly recreated so you don’t have to go back to the past, so why bother?
The reason Mario Kart 64 is worth downloading, worth revisiting, and even worth pushing on your mates on games night, is because of the glorious battle mode. Mario Kart 8 takes race tracks from the main mode, sticks on a timer, then expects you to go about popping balloons like the old times. It’s no fun trying to hunt down the competition on these huge levels though, and boredom quickly steps in, slapping all the fun out of the way. Fans have been praying every night since release for a patched battle mode, but it seems they didn’t pray in the morning too, so no fixed up battle mode for all to enjoy.
Mario Kart 64 gets it though, with four specially designed levels which make hunting down and shooting friends to pop their balloons a real hoot and a holler. There are places to hide, but the scope of the levels means you won’t be hiding for long, making for an intense non stop thrill ride till the last player is left standing. No timer, three balloons each, and all the items you could hope for make Mario Kart 64 the perfect antidote to those Mario Kart 8 battle blues. Those who grew up with the game probably have vivid dreams about Skyscraper and Bloc Fort to this day, I know I do.
The actual racing has held up pretty well too, though try to explain the drifting mechanics to your friends. The days of stick wiggling drifting are long gone.