Console Wars, Which Mario Kart Game Is the Best? N64 or Wii

This article is a debate between which old Mario Kart game is the best. I’ve been playing a lot of retro games lately, and that’s got me thinking about how big a part of gaming the Mario Kart series has been for me.

Even so, we’re leaving Mario Kart 8 out of the mix for now—this is a retro review, after all. For us, the decision comes down to 1996’s Mario Kart 64 or 2008’s Mario Kart on the Nintendo WiiThen we will discuss if the series is still fresh after all these years.

Why the Nintendo Wii Mario Kart version is better:

To start with, you have all the advantages of a more modern game – greater configurability, more battle modes, more playable Nintendo characters,Mario Kart Wiimore vehicles, better track designs, more advanced graphics, etc. But of course none of that matters if an argument can’t be made for the core gameplay (which is why so many of us continue to go back to older games despite dated graphics and control systems and such – if the game is good, it’ll be fun despite that stuff).

The core gameplay in Mario Kart Wii is great

So many early Wii games failed to deliver on the promise of the system for motion-based gaming, but Mario Kart gets it right. I’m not a fan of the wheel itself, but I find it so hard to go back to racing on any control stick- or D-pad-based system after playing with the Wii Remote.

I love the nuance I can put into the handling and the fun of basically being able to drive as if I have a steering wheel in my hands. It puts a smile on my face to yank up on jumps to get the speed boost, or to yank up more frantically when the POW appears above my head, so I won’t lose as much momentum when it goes off.

I’m also a fan of the wider variety of character/vehicle combinations

My personal preference is Funky Kong on a Standard Bike L because he can still throw his weight into other racers like a large character, but the bike makes up for the handling tradeoff that comes with large characters (and for some reason, Funky seems to handle better than Donkey Kong or other large characters) and I like the wheelie speed boost on bikes, too.

Mario Kart 64 doesn’t have Funky Kong – it doesn’t even have Waluigi! I love hearing Waluigi’s moral code collapse after a single sixth-place finish: “Everybody cheated. Next time…I cheat!” Also, the courses are more detailed on the Wii, even those classic courses pulled from previous versions of the game.

When I went back to the Nintendo 64 version

After playing the Wii for a while, I missed all the new challenges the Wii versions of the Nintendo 64 tracks had added. I do have to concede, though, that most of my recent Mario Kart 64 playing has been through the Virtual Console, not on an actual 64, and the Virtual Console version seems to have some weaknesses that snuck in during the port. Playing Mario Kart 64 on the N64 gives you more control over the handling, I think.

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Related Article: Super Nintendo vs Nintendo 64: Who has the Best RPG Games

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On a final note, I will never until the end of my days understand why Nintendo never put out a second map pack for the Nintendo Wii version of the game …the best-selling racing game of all time. It seems to me that selling an additional 32 maps for $30 or $40 or whatever would have been a pretty easy way to make several dozen millions of dollars while making fans happy. How hard would that have been? Why didn’t this happen?

Why the Nintendo 64 Version of Mario Kart is better:

Mario Kart N64First, in response to your question about a Wii Map Pack, I think you might be underselling how large a percentage of time in a Mario Kart development cycle is based around crafting their maps. I think a map pack, if it were to be created, would have to be packaged basically as Mario Kart Wii 2, which doesn’t fit with Nintendo’s style. Except for Super Mario Galaxy 2, Nintendo doesn’t really release sequels, y’know?

This is an oversimplification

But the Super Nintendo, Nintendo 64, Game Boy Advance, GameCube, Nintendo DS, Wii, and the Wii U all have one Mario Kart each, so I don’t expect that to change with the 3DS or the Switch. 

I’d like to admit, before I start talking up Mario Kart 64

I have some pretty big blind spots when it comes to my knowledge of previous Mario Kart games. I’ve never played much of the original courses from Super Mario Kart, I only recently played double dash for the first time, which seems to be a fan favorite from my cursory glances of online play, and I unfortunately do not have the time or money to justify buying a Nintendo Switch so the reportedly superb Mario Kart 8 is beyond my reach.

Not only that, but I’ve played the crap out of the Mario Kart 64, Mario Kart: super circuit, Mario Kart DS, and Wii entries in the Mario Kart series, I keep coming back to is the N64 version. It’s the version I have the most fun playing, as it really has some great tracks. The Wii’s motion controls always seemed to be at best non-intrusive, and at worst frustration shout worthy when my character veers the wrong way due to my exaggerated movements, so that’s not a selling point for me.

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Related Article: The Best Multiplayer N64 Games You’ll Ever Play, Even Today

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The Wii version is shiny and pretty

The newly released Mario Kart 8 deluxe is even shinier, but I can get past how nasty the game looks on any TV larger than a desktop computer monitor because I think the game brings people together in a way no other series entry accomplishes. I’m talking about people roughly my age, so I’m going to ignore the kids entranced by the Wii’s motion controls in this argument. For people between the ages of 35 to 20 (there is no science to these numbers – I don’t peddle in facts)

The Conclusion

The N64 version has a degree of familiarity that encourages people unaccustomed or apathetic about video games to play a round or two. In the same way that someone who normally doesn’t play board games might enjoy a round of Apples to Apples with some friends, Mario Kart 64 (which we have for sale here) occupies an extremely welcoming place on the video game intimidation spectrum. That’s why I like Mario Kart on the Nintendo 64 the most. I can compete with other video game nerds like me, and I can still play with friends who don’t really know how to hold a controller correctly.  

It also helps that I’m really, fantastic at Mario Kart 64.

So what do you think? Have we overlooked major strengths or weaknesses of these games? Are we wrongly snubbing other entries in the series by focusing on these two? Which one of these Mario Kart games is your favorite and why?

With All this being said, is Mario Kart Still Fresh after All These Years?

At their best, Nintendo games bridge generations. “Super Mario Bros.”, “The Legend of Zelda”, “Metroid”, “Donkey Kong”—these games, and the colorful cast of characters that populate them, have made appearances on most Nintendo consoles, such was their enduring popularity.

Hell, even the “Super Mario Bros.” opening song has a place in the hearts of gamers young and old. (As evidenced by the many renditions performed over the years.) Occasionally that perfect hybrid would come along, a game that took classic characters out of their traditional worlds and placed them in a new arena. Nintendo Mario Kart HistoryThat’s what “Mario Kart” did. And it worked like a dream. The notion of battles, and races, and battle-races in souped-up go-karts manned by your favorite Mario character, well, it’s no wonder the game is currently on its 8th iteration.

But is too much of a good thing bad?

Or is too much of a good thing a really, really good thing? Here are a couple points to consider when deciding whether or not “Mario Kart” still has its great stuff.

Fan feedback

If you wanted to gauge fan feedback on “Mario Kart 8” (and you were in a particularly masochistic frame of mind) you could head to the boards and check out the opinions of the online commentariat. Doing so might alarm you, because you’ll see plenty of headers like “Is Mario Kart becoming stale?” and “Getting bored of Mario Kart.” Folks complain of, among other things, too little character variety and a track system that hasn’t changed all that much over the years.

What about the Negative comments

Which lead some to believe that Mario Karts best days are behind it, but that’s taking the narrow view and it ignores the positive reviews the game has garnered (“Mario Kart 8” enjoys a 9.3 community rating on IGN and we gave Mario Kart 8 a 9.0 in our review), as well as the game’s history. After all, it’s this history that will determine MK’s relevance in the future.

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Which Mario Kart Game Is the Best?

From Super Mario Kart, to the Wii U Version and now, to the Nintendo Switch

The genius of “Mario Kart” is how designers have tailored it to suit the console of the time. While the game was perfectly serviceable upon its 1992 release for the Super Nintendo, it wasn’t until later that it really came into its own. N64s four-player capabilities and 3D graphics were tailor made for Mario Kart, and the gameplay mechanics were a perfect fit for the hardware of the subsequent Wii. It’s for these reasons that great fanfare usually accompanied the release of next-gen Nintendo Consoles, and for “Mario Kart” in particular.

The verdict: Whether “Mario Kart” is still “fresh”

Likely depends on whom you ask. Certainly, there are those out there who are underwhelmed by the similar casts of characters and track design from one version to the next. But to reinvent “Mario Kart” completely (give it entirely new game mechanics, blow up the level design and start from scratch, etc.) would be to ruin what has allowed it to endure for 30 years.

The final analysis is that

“Mario Kart” still moves the needle and it likely always will, provided Nintendo continues to let the game evolve alongside its next-gen systems rather than start from scratch with each subsequent console. If the latter were the case, it would be a classic example of the tail wagging the dog.

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Thursday, 02 February 2023