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Who doesn't love Mario Kart 64? That's a question that could only be answered with sincerity by the most cynical, jaded, dark-hearted human being to ever walk the planet. A timeless classic and an ageless wonder from the era of the N64, Mario Kart 64 is a kart game that still holds a near and dear place in the hearts of gamers the world around for a number of reasons, and this list kind of rolls them all out for those of stricken with a bit of nostalgia, or those of us eagerly awaiting the release of Mario Kart 8 for the Wii U, which is due out this May.
There's no sense in wasting time, let's get to the nitty gritty and rekindle some of our love for one of the Nintendo's greatest games ever, and easily one of the best kart racing titles that the company has ever produced throughout the long and illustrious tenure as one of the greatest game makers out there.
Great HandlingMario Kart 64 has been known the world around for a couple of great features... well, technically, many great features. The one feature that stands out for the game, even to this very day, is the excellent handling. Back in the 90s it was rare to find a 3D arcade racer with solid handling. Even classics like Crusin' USA and San Francisco rushed suffered from what I like to call the cardboard box on butter syndrome, where the vehicles felt as if they were floating over butter instead of gripping the track. Nintendo found a way around this problem with Mario Kart 64 by using multi-directional sprites instead of 3D models, to help give the game a solid feeling of physical handling and grip, and it's probably one of the best designed arcade physic systems for a kart racer.
Pick-Up and Play GameplayNowadays there are a lot of games you can't really pick up and play just for the sake of it. Some games require a sound understanding of the mechanics and controls. For instance, no one can pick-up and play DayZ. Heck, even with a newbie guide you're still likely to get your butt handed to you 10 minutes after landing in Cherno. Assassin's Creed is another game series where the pick-up-and-play methodology just doesn't work... there's too many darn buttons you need to memorize. Mario Kart 64 found its way around this problem by keeping things as simple as possible. 'A' is to go, 'B' is to brake and button mashing anything else usually resulted in the game doing what you wanted it to do. It was brilliantly easy for anyone, casual or core, to pick-up and play Mario Kart 64, and it's one of the reasons it has become such a classic gem over the ages.
Two-Player Co-opCo-op these days is still an often ignored feature in games where it seems like it should be standard, sort of like with the upcoming PS4 exclusive The Order 1886, which isn't fond of people playing together. Mario Kart 64 was one of the few games back in the day where you could do two-player co-op and unlock new tracks and content. It was like Nintendo actually wanted people to play together. Imagine that? The trend has been consistent throughout most other Mario Karts except for the one on the Wii, where the two-player co-op was removed. Hopefully they bring it back for Mario Kart 8, as it could then become eligible for legendary status just like Mario Kart 64.
Four-Player Split-ScreenNow here's a rare feature often ignored in a lot of competitive games either due to screen real estate, processing power (or the lack thereof) or laziness. Nintendo went the extra mile and offered friends and family the opportunity to pick up and controller and dole out the fun with up to four people competing in a variety of modes and activities across an ample selection of maps. Ever since Mario Kart 64, the four-player feature has become standard with each new console release. This staple feature, however, still makes Mario Kart 64 highly enjoyable even to this very day, as you can invite over a few friends and a have a ball just rocking turtle shells at each other on one of the many memorable tracks.
Battle and Race ModesSome games only give you one option or the other; the ability to either beat the crap out of your friends or foes or to race the crap out of friends or foes. Few racing games out there offer players the ability to engage in both race modes and battle modes. Although, the inclusion of versus and battle modes have become a popular feature in Sega's All-Stars racing games, mostly in a bid to competently compete against Nintendo and their long-running Mario Kart series. Nevertheless, having the option to battle over balloon lives in the competitive arenas offered a nice alternative for those who may not have been so great at tearing up the tracks at 150cc. Likewise, the race mode offered those less skilled at planting down turtle shells and bumping opponents into a wall a nice way to show off skilled sportsmanship by burning rubber and leaving opponents in their dust.
Memorable StagesTo this very day, Mario Kart 64 has managed to set itself apart from every other arcade kart racer throughout the history of video games for its unforgettable and highly memorable selection of race tracks and battle arenas. The LEGO-style block arena was always a favorite when it came to to the versus modes and the competitive (or cooperative) racing saw a variety of tracks stand out as absolute fan-favorites. Heck, even Nintendo knew just how important many of the tracks were from the game and have continued to recycle them throughout the newer Mario Kart games, so gamers of any age can experience some of the classic levels that helped shape this first-party gem on the N64.
Toad's TurnpikeToad's Turnpike... oh man... Toad's Turnpike. Is there any other track in the history of Mario Kart games that challenged the status quo more than Toad's Turnpike? This wasn't just a marvel and technical feat for the likes of Mario Kart, it was an amazing and monumental milestone in arcade racing games for home consoles. Previously, there was no other game that offered multiplayer road racing with vehicles filling up the track from one lane to the next. The track is incredibly difficult and undeniably fun to boot. The only stage that seemed to rival Toad's Turnpike in complexity was Rainbow Road... but even then, that stage is remembered more for its music than the hair-splitting skill required to drift through turns while squeezing between two semi trailers.
Unlockable ContentBack in the day there was this thing called unlockable content. Yes, this was before we had egregious things like disc-locked content and timed DLC cheats. Back in the day a lot of games used to have unlockable content that required you to actually play the game to unlock stuff, and there were few games that could match the excitement of unlocking new things than Mario Kart 64 (unless you count Midway games, which were notorious for tons of unlockable goodies). Still, Mario Kart 64 had enough goods to unlock that it always left you wondering if there was more just waiting, hiding behind just one more championship win? That's the mark of a great game... getting gamers to keep playing, thinking there's something else to acquire even when there's nothing else left unlock.
Awesome Cast Of CharactersYou can't really beat the line-up of Mario Kart 64. To this day, the game still marks itself out on having a nice, varied cast of awesome characters that fit the highs and lows of kart racing. If you want someone strong, big and burly, you have your Bowsers and Donkey Kongs; if you want someone light and fast you have your Toads and Peaches; and if you want someone right down the middle you have the Mario brothers and Yoshi. The different character stats offered changes in gameplay for both the races and versus modes, requiring players to think differently about how they approached a strategy for victory depending on who they were playing. Unfortunately, this sometimes created a bit of a fight over who played who when doing split-screen modes, but it's better to fight over awesome characters than to scoff at a piss-poor selection all the around... like vehicle line-up in Beetle Adventure Racing.