A look back: Mario Kart 64
It should be no suprise to anyone that I’ve looked forward to the writing of this re-review more than just about any other. So many memories, so much time invested. Just looking at the box art gives me chills. (Man, I’m a geek!) I was a bit worried about if it would ever get written, because before I write these, I try to go back and play the game as if I’d just peeled the shrink wrap from the box for the first time all over again. I wasn’t quite able to do that to the fullest extent with this game however, because that would require deleting all the times I recorded in times trials. And I wasn’t about to do that! I for a long time said that if my house were burning down, my Mario Kart 64 cart would be one of the few things I would run in to save. I’ve invested that much in this game. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the original start screen from before you beat the Star Cup.
Mario Kart 64 was a siginificant game for me in many respects. It was the first game I bought the day it was released. I bought it solely on the recommendation of my friend Paul who said that it was going to be an outstanding game. I had played the Super Nintendo version before it, and had fun, but had it not been for Paul who really stoked the fire of enthusiasm, it may have been quite some time before I picked the game up, if ever.
It was also the first game I bought completely with my own money. Up until now, all the games had been gifts given to me. This time I went and picked the game out in the store, paid cold hard cash for it. And carried it out. I remember it being a good feeling, that I really earned it, and perhaps that helped me enjoy the game that much more.
Getting the game home is another quite vivid memory. I was proud. I waited patiently for the day the game would come out, and it was finally mine! I picked at the seams of the plastic wrap around the box and tore it away. Then pried open one end of the box, careful not to crease the cardboard too bad, but anxious enough not to be too timid. Our still new TV was situated on the west wall of our living room in Ingalls, and the piano was on the north wall. After I got the game out I propped the box up next to the TV as if to display my prize, popped the game in and watched the Nintendo logo spin and the sound zip from the left to right for the first time. It was just a short time that I had to enjoy the game though, because for some reason we all had to leave to go somewhere. I don’t remember where, but I remember not being able to wait until I got back home so I could play it again. This is perhaps my first moment, as a video game junkie.
This actually reminds me of something. Our first 27″ TV WAS NOT a Magnavox… The actual TV we opened on Christmas day 1996 was returned, because it wasn’t a stereo TV like dad or mom thought it was. That TV was taken back and exchanged (plus a few dollars I’d imagine) for the true stereo Magnavox that I remember so well, and that Mom still uses to this day I believe. Wow, what else is still stuffed up in that brain of mine?
I don’t recall if it was immediate, but sometime shortly after I started playing the game something about it resonated with me. The way the karts handled, and nailing powerboosts over and over in a single corner, it all was almost second nature to me. And right about the time I started getting into Time Trials I also started to get into a magazine called Tips & Tricks. It was my introduction to video game journalisim, and for a while had my hopes of being an editor of a gaming magazine. Each month after Mario Kart came out, they’d publish the best time they’d seen for for the Mario Raceway track. Folks would take pictures of their TV screens and mail them into their reader mail bag. I remember seeing a time of 1’24″XX and thinking “I can beat that.” And before the next issue came out…I did. Then seeing a better time of 1’23″XX and thinking, “Man, I dunno if I can beat that.” But eventually I did, and was so excited I went out and bought one of those disposable cameras, got the film developed and sent in the photo. Unfortunately it never did get published. Oh what I wouldn’t have given for digital cameras and e-mail back then! My current record for that track with no shortcuts is 1’21″63. Over 2 seconds faster than the time I thought I could never beat!
I’ve always said the best games are the ones that piss you off the most. I can remember getting so mad at this game. Running lap after lap and screwing up at the exact same spot, knowing exactly what I was doing wrong just for some reason I couldn’t make it do what I wanted it to do. Or doing it great 2 laps, but rendereing a perfect run useless on the final lap. Talk about frustrating! I didn’t often throw controllers, especially the N64 controllers as they were somewhat expensive. But I’d by lying if I said I didn’t throw a controller one or two times while playing this game.
Speaking of controllers, I effectively wore out 4 controllers with this game. The constant left-right, left-right motion wore these puppies out pretty fast. I ended up replacing two of them later in college, but have since thrown the others away, except for one that became a trophy (more on that in a later episode) and one that was a rear view mirror ornament in my car for sometime. I now only have two left and am reluctant to get hardcore into Mario Kart again for fear of not being able to replace the ones I have now. There’s supposedly replacement joysticks available, but I’ve been unable to read reviews on their quality. I hope someday to have 4 quality N64 controllers again for some great multiplayer action, old school style.
I hate to admit it, but my Mario Kart skills have since deteriorated. I’m still able to hold my own in the 150cc Gran Prix mode, but it’s a little sloppy, and Time Trials? Well forget about it. I can’t come close to any of my old times on any track. I’d like to think with a little practice it would all come rushing back, but honestly, until I get some new controllers, I’d rather not destroy the last two good ones I have! All I really have left is those crazy fast times left on the records on my cart. I don’t know if I’d run into a burning building to save it anymore, but I’d sure think about it!