Vol. 2-1: The Mushroom Cup
After the success of Super Mario Kart back in 1992, a sequel was inevitable for Nintendo. Taking what they had accomplished with the original game, and building on it to an extensive degree, the franchise was brought into the realm of 3D gaming as well the fifth generation of the industry, and lo and behold, Mario Kart 64 was released worldwide throughout 1996 and 1997.
Mario Kart 64 introduced a number of new features to the series, which would prove to be stable elements, such as 4-player compatibility, the Mirror class and the dreaded blue shell item, that has since continued to haunt many a-player over the years. Critics commented that the game provided one of the greatest multiplayer experiences on the Nintendo 64 overall, and the game has since been placed at number 17 on Official Nintendo Magazine’s top 100 Nintendo games of all time. It also went on to sell almost 10 million copies as of last year, placing it as the second best-selling game on the Nintendo 64.
The developers took the track designs of this game in a multitude of different directions; worlds apart from what had been seen in the previous game. No longer were the courses merely different variants of recycled themes, but most individual courses had their own themes, making it easier to differentiate from one another, as well as offering a greater level of visual diversity within the series in general. This episode takes a look at the first tournament of the game; the Mushroom Cup. By this time, the Mushroom Cup had been established as a natural introduction to players of the games as a mostly simplistic experience overall, but still having a certain degree of charm to it, impressing players early on, and compelling them to progress even further to find more gruelling challenges later.
The Mushroom Cup in Mario Kart 64, despite the fact that all tournaments now had 4 races instead of 5, is in my opinion still much more impressive than it’s predecessor for a multitude of reasons.
Presenting the game at its most basic structure before moving on to more advanced track designs, Luigi Raceway features no particularly testing or harrowing obstacles, featuring an even more basic layout than the original Mario Circuit from the previous game. It’s most prominent features in terms of conceptual design include a huge green cap atop a stand full of fans at the starting line, as well as a huge balloon with a portrait of Luigi on it, that descends and ascends overtime, complete with an item at the bottom that can be acquired if the player is able to reach it. The most interesting thing about this course in my opinion is the fact that in France, it was named Luigi’s Motordrome, as were the other two tracks designed similarly to it; Mario Raceway and Royal Raceway.
A motordrome, or as it’s also known, the wall of death, is actually a carnival sideshow involving participants riding in either motorcycles, or small cars, round and round within a barrel-shaped wooden cylinder, travelling along the vertical wall. The long, and almost vertical turn in Luigi’s Raceway would seem to be a vague reference to this sport. It’s elements like this in their games, which make me laugh every time I people try to tell me that Nintendo is only suitable for kids. As for the soundtrack, it does do a very good job of establishing the basic premise of the game, as well as being pretty catchy. It’s certainly as good as the soundtrack for Mario Circuit, if not better, and would also go on to be remixed for use in Super Smash Bros Brawl. As for it’s level of challenge, however, though it needed to be easy, I cant help but feel the developers could have added at least a little bit more, since of course, players weren’t going to stay beginners forever, and would eventually come to realize that the level of simplicity becomes a bit more obvious than they would have perhaps liked it to be.
Design – 3/5
Soundtrack – 4/5
Level of Challenge – 1/5
Moo Moo Farm
Being another relatively simple course, and clocking in at a mere 527 meters, Moo Moo Farm is statistically the shortest course in the entire game, but nevertheless, it peaked my curiosity the first time I saw it, due to it’s conceptual design. The idea of a farm had never been seen in a Super Mario game before, and would interestingly go on to make an appearance in other Nintendo 64 games, such as Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and if it had been released, EarthBound 64.
It was yet another indication to me that Nintendo were never afraid to try new conceptual ideas in their games, even it at point, it was exclusive to a spin-off series, and I don’t think shouldn’t be considered quite as generic as other fans may think at first glance. The soundtrack is even more impressive, being one of my favourite within the game, as well as fitting in with the atmosphere of the course flawlessly. The only aspect I can’t wax poetic about, however, is it’s level of challenging, being only fractionally higher than Luigi Raceway, having a few obstacles thrown in here and there in the form of the returning Monty Moles that can slow player down if ridden over (giving the track a small Donut Plains influence), and a bridge at the end that players can crash into if they’re not careful.
Design – 4/5
Soundtrack – 5/5
Level of Challenge – 2/5
Koopa Troopa Beach
As homage to the then-discontinued character from Super Mario Kart, as well as the variant of track in the original game, Koopa Troopa Beach is my personal favourite course in the Mushroom Cup. It’s general design is pretty interesting, featuring a huge Koopa-shaped mountain formation midway through it, as well as some particularly impressive water physics for the time, which I’ve personally always been a sucker for throughout the years. I’ve also always been able to draw comparisons between this level and the entire Dino Domain tournament in Diddy Kong Racing, since their respective basic designs are somewhat similar. The soundtrack is also fairly catchy, but it does a better job of adding to the course’s serene atmosphere in my opinion. The sound effects of passing seagulls and when driving through water are also pretty impressive for what sound quality was possibly on the Nintendo 64.
But more than any of this, I’ve always been impressed by the level of challenge this course has to offer, which is why it’s my favourite. Unlike the previous two tracks, there are a lot of legitimately testing shortcuts that players can exploit in order to gain a great advantage, but these shortcuts require precision driving on an unprecedented scale for the time. Not only that, but there are also even more obstacles to overcome than in Moo Moo Farm, adding even more challenge to it. With all this present, it provides a stern test for both amateurs and professionals, and can be seen as a curve ball to new players if they haven’t adapted well enough at this point.
Design – 4/5
Soundtrack – 4/5
Level of Challenge – 4/5
Perpetuating the many levels set in sandy landscapes in previous Super Mario games, Kalimari Desert may not be the best track in the Mushroom Cup overall, but is by some distance, the most conceptually fascinating. Of course, the tracks name is a variant on the Kalahari Desert in Southern Africa, and it also features two huge trains that cut through two parts of the course, also giving it a strong wild west feel to it as well; which is also perpetuated by the fact that the course is called Wild West Desert in Holland. Desert-themed tracks would also go on to become an often-recurring thing in the entire series after this, appearing in instalments such as Mario Kart DS, Mario Kart Wii and most recently, Mario Kart 8. However, there is an air of mystery about this course, making it the most interesting in terms of conceptual design.
When Mario Kart 64 was re-released on the Wii Virtual Console back in 2007, the wheels of the train went from being coloured red to black, and no one to this day knows why; however, I have my own personal theory as to the reason this may have happened. In Japan, the track was named Kara Kara Sabaku, meaning Crispy Desert. However, the word kara is also Turkish for black; and Turkey has an extensive amount of locomotive history attached to it. Notably, one of the original endpoints of the Orient Express, created back in 1883, was Istanbul in Turkey; the other being Paris, France. It’s only a loose theory, and as yet unconfirmed by Nintendo, but I found it interesting nonetheless. The soundtrack of the level, on the other hand, is considerably less interesting, only doing so much as adding to the tracks atmosphere, and not being particularly catchy to any great extent. The level of challenge, however, is a little more intriguing, since it is possible to make a very advantageous shortcut with the use of a star, and travelling into the tunnel where the trains enter and exit. Other than that, however, avoiding the oncoming train normally only requires the use of common sense and better judgement, and shouldn’t trouble experienced players to any great degree. By rights, it should even trouble the relatively new after a short space of time.
Design – 5/5
Soundtrack – 2/5
Level of Challenge – 3/5
Overall, the Mushroom Cup, whilst having some pretty interesting elements here and there, is in my opinion, the worst tournament in the game in terms of challenge, since it was only designed to introduce players to the game. But that’s not to say that it’s a bad Mario Kart tournament at all; not by a long shot. It has its cultural and artistic value, and did an extremely good job at telling players that the game is worth continuing on with, and playing to it’s very fullest. Join me next time, when I will be looking at the next tournament; the Flower Cup.
Scouse Gamer 88