Mario Kart: On Track (Vol.2-4 Mario Kart 64: Special Cup)

Volume 2-4: The Special Cup

Established as a series tradition from the very beginning, the Special Cup is the tournament whereby the game throws everything it has at the player in terms of challenge, suspense, and most often than not in my opinion, the pinnacle of it’s overall quality in terms of each aspect of judgement. Some of my favourite tracks of the entire series reside within the Special Cup of Mario Kart 64, and is also a key reason why I wanted to start writing this series in the first place. The majority of my all-time favourite tracks are from only two different Mario Kart games, and I wanted to revise my opinion. But nevertheless, the Special Cup races in this game will always remain classics, and here’s why.

 


DK’S Jungle Parkway

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The design of DK’S Jungle Parkway is unlike any other track in the entire Mario Kart series; let alone in the individual game. It pushed the boundaries of what the developers could possibly get away with in terms of design, as there have never been many elements present in other Mario Kart tracks as the infamous river jump. There’s also a small air of mystery fostered around this course, as the so-called natives, who bombard the player with rocks if they veer away too far from the track boundaries at certain points, are never fully identified in any way. The course’s soundtrack also adds to the atmosphere extremely well.

It’s not particularly, since it’s also extremely repetitive. It’s more or less the same tune every sixteen seconds on a continuous loop. There aren’t many other tracks that do something similar to this with the exception of Baby Park in Mario Kart: Double Dash, but in my opinion, the soundtrack in DK’s Jungle Parkway is far easier to listen to than that. In the way of challenge, this course did not fail to impress. As I alluded to, the riverboat jump can go many ways, but mostly bad ways if the player doesn’t complete it properly. Most infamously, even if the player makes the majority of the jump, but falls in water, Lakitu, forcing them to possibly lose several positions on the race, will still send them back to the start.

Design – 5/5

Soundtrack – 4/5

Level of Challenge – 5/5

Score

41/15 (4/5)

 


Yoshi Valley

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Whilst DK’s Jungle Parkway pushed the limitations of what developers could do in terms of design, Yoshi Valley pushed the limitations of what the developers could present in terms of challenge. But regardless, the design of the track is also extremely impressive. Whilst having very little to do with Yoshi’s character, as the game’s instruction manual alluded to, there have been very few courses like it to have come along throughout the series. The track has four distinct directions the player can follow in order to eventually discover which one provides the quickest route to the finish line. The course also uses the same soundtrack as can be found in Moo Moo Farm. Whilst it is course remains as catchy as it is, it doesn’t quite fit the atmosphere as well as it does in the former stage, unfortunately; so for me, the course loses one point in this respect over Moo Moo Farm.

Where it doesn’t lose points in at all, however, is its level of challenge. Aside from there being four different routes to take, adding an element of confusion for those who may be playing on it for the first time, the positions of every racer, including the player are also blanked out with question marks, adding even more suspense. For the longest time, I thought this was intentional on Nintendo’s part from the get-go, it actually turned out that this was interestingly due to the Nintendo 64’s 64-bit processor not being powerful enough.

Design – 5/5

Soundtrack – 4/5

Level of Challenge – 5/5

Score

14/15 (4/5)

 


Banshee Boardwalk

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Though the developers regressed to having a more simplistic basic track design for this course, Banshee Boardwalk remains the second best in my personal opinion. Like Kalimari Desert, the course has several different names designated to several different countries. In Japan, it’s called Haunted Lake, in Spain, its called Haunted Pier, in France, its called Lugubrious Pontoon (probably the darkest name out of them all), in Germany, it’s called Spooky Path, in Italy, its called Bewitched Boardwalk and in Korea, it’s called Boo Swampland. Alluding back to the French name of this course, there is certainly an element of lugubriosity about it, with a dark atmosphere, shadows around every corner, and even signs and arrows, which appear to be painted with blood; presenting a stark contrast to everything else that the entire Super Mario series is generally synonymous with.

The soundtrack of the level also suits the atmosphere perfectly. It’s foreboding, as well as wonderfully disturbing, without there being the need for it to be particularly catchy; again, in stark contrast to the rest of the game. It also makes use of a xylophone throughout, giving an eerily childish feel to it. It will have been especially effective, as it will have been mostly children who played this game back in its heyday. But whilst the track may be much simpler in design than the last two courses, the level of challenge remains the same, as there are many different obstacles and dangers to overcome throughout, including missing planks in the track for players to fall down into the sea from, flurries of bats to slow players down in the old abandoned shack in the middle of the course, and painfully sharp corners to keep players on their toes the entire time.

Design – 5/5

Soundtrack – 5/5

Level of Challenge – 5/5

Score

15/15 (5/5)

 


Rainbow Road

Rainbow_Road_MK64

After playing through the original Rainbow Road in Super Mario Kart, I was pleasantly surprised as a child to see it make a return in Mario Kart 64, and to my further delight, to find it bigger and better than the original. Like Banshee Boardwalk, it represents somewhat of a contrast to the rest of the game, but in a different way. Clocking in as the longest track in the history of the Mario Kart franchise, taking around 8 minutes on average to complete the Nintendo 64 version of Rainbow Road hearkens back to the original in terms of design, but with much more added to make it stand out; most visibly, the neon silhouettes of each different racer in the game, as well as other elements of the Super Mario series. Other elements would be added to future variations of the track but this was most definitely a massive step up from the first.

The soundtrack is also particularly catchy, as well as providing an element of tranquillity, which to me represents a contrast to the entire Mario Kart series, as for the most part, it revolves around suspense and a feeling of the player not knowing what dangers could possibly be around the corner. All this is presented throughout the track through it’s level of challenge, however. Despite the fact it may be a seemingly peaceful track, it certainly isn’t an easy one to win; especially on harder difficulty classes, of course. There are Chain Chomps embedded in the track to slow players down if they are unable to avoid them, and it is particularly easy for players to accidentally fall off the track, or knock each other off with a well placed hit with a shell or star man. There is also a particularly well-known glitch that players can exploit, that will allow them to skip the majority of the track from the beginning, but it is particularly hard to execute; especially three times in a row.

Design – 5/5

Soundtrack – 5/5

Level of Challenge – 5/5

Score

15/15 (5/5)

 

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In summation, the Special Cup of Mario Kart 64 remains to this day one of my favourite tournaments of the entire series, as well as it being the best tournament in the game. It asked the questions separating the men from the little boys in spectacular fashion, and Nintendo decided to carry on the tradition from there. The game propelled the series into even greater popularity than before, and has remained a big system seller for Nintendo ever since; and it was tournaments like this that were instrumental in establishing the standards of the entire series.

Join me next time when I will be moving on, and critiquing the course from the next game in the series; Mario Kart: Super Circuit.

Steven Tench

-AKA-

Scouse Gamer 88