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Mario Kart 64 (released in 1996) is a racing game for the Nintendo 64 and the sequel to Super Mario Kart. The game is the first game in the series to be in 3D, and allows up to four players to play.

New items were introduced to shake things up such as triple shells, triple mushrooms, banana bunches, and the infamous Spiny Shell.note  The game would be the first to introduce "Extra", the original name for Mirror 150cc where tracks were flipped horizontally.

Oh, and the formula is all but unchanged from the original.

Every track from this game with the exception of Wario Stadium has shown up in one incarnation of this game from Mario Kart DS onwards.

This game would be re-released on the Wii Virtual Console in 2007, and later on the Wii U in 2016. It was also one the launch titles for Nintendo Switch Online's library of Nintendo 64 games.

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The game features examples of these tropes:

  • Action Bomb: Players who have lost all of their balloons in battle mode turn into a Big, Bulky Bomb called the Mini Bomb Kart. Even though they officially already lost, they can still drive around run into one of the other remaining racers to make them lose a stock of their own.
  • Always Night: Wario Stadium, Bowser's Castle, Banshee Boardwalk, Rainbow Roadnote , and it's always sunset at Toad's Turnpike.
  • Amazing Technicolor Battlefield: Rainbow Road, complete with the neon characters in the background and of course the road.
  • Anti-Frustration Features:
    • If you get any place lower than 4th, the game will allow you to retry the course again with no penalty. This is extremely helpful in beating the 150cc races.
    • The game is programmed to give better items to stragglers than to those in first place so that you can make a comeback if you're falling behind.
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  • Artificial Stupidity: Somehow, CPU characters in Grand Prix races sometimes find a way to spin out on their own banana peels before they even throw them. Example: Luigi at about the 0:55 mark in this playthrough video.
  • Ascended Glitch: The official Player's Guide shows off a number of "glitch" shortcuts that involve jumping over walls or tricking the game into thinking you've gone through more of the course than you really have.
  • Astral Finale: Rainbow Road, the last track of the game, takes place in space — complete with character-themed constellations.
  • Banana Peel: Now with the probability of getting a trail of five bananas.
  • Big Boo's Haunt: Banshee Boardwalk, although there are just bats and giant Cheep Cheeps as hazards
  • Bland-Name Product: The Japanese version contains parodies of real life products, such as Mobil 1 oil, Union 76 gas, and Goodyear tires. These were all changed to be more generic outside of Japan, likely due to legal reasons.
  • Bleak Level: Bowser's Castle and Banshee Boardwalk are quite Darker and Edgier compared to the others.
  • Bonus Feature Failure: Time Trial ghosts. First, any major crash, enemy collision, course-out, or even pausing will disqualify your ghost from being recorded.note  Second, a single save for ghost data (which nets you two ghosts) takes up 121 pages on the 123-page Controller Pak, meaning that the only other thing that will be able to fit on your Controller Pak afterwards is a single small-size file for another game. Third, in the Virtual Console re-release, the ability to save your ghost is disabled entirely since the Wii's N64 emulator doesn't save Controller Pak data. This remains true for the Wii U Virtual Console version and even the Nintendo Switch Online version.
  • Bottomless Pits: Due to limitations in the game's engine, there were no true Bottomless Pits; every hazard that would force Lakitu to be summoned and respawn the player onto the track would be some form of liquid (water, freezing water, or lava) or a solid surface (such as the bottoms of Yoshi Valley and Rainbow Road, which take forever to recover from if you fall in since it's a long way down)
  • Bowdlerize: In the Japanese version, there's an ad that parodies Marlboro cigarettes. It was changed when the game released outside of Japan. The ad was removed in the Nintendo Switch Online version.
  • Bragging Rights Reward: Get first place in all tracks in Grand Prix mode to get Mirror Mode, which also comes with a nice new title screen.
  • Butt-Monkey: Toad is often seen as one in promotional renders for the game.
  • Car Fu: Battle Mode. Each racer starts with three balloons, and damage or falling off makes them lose one. Who ever loses all three balloons is "out" but still turns into a Mini Bomb Kart, which can be controlled as a hazard.
  • Cave Behind the Falls: Koopa Troopa Beach's shortcut, which requires either a lightweight racer with good jumping skills or a Mushroom to reach.
  • Cherubic Choir: In the credits music, the Toad's Turnpike theme and the Bowser's Castle theme.
  • Comeback Mechanic: The Spiny Shell (a.k.a. the Blue Shell) makes its introduction here, a powerful item reserved for stragglers that screams through the track to hit the racer in first place and anyone unfortunate enough in between, becoming the bane of veteran Mario Kart fans everywhere. Thankfully it's only seen in human vs human races and is not programed to be used by computers.
  • Company Cameo: Some tracks feature Nintendo's logo printed in advertising walls, indicating that the company sponsors the races in-universe.
  • The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard:
    • When a player is in 1st, drifting or not, there will usually be one or two CPU drivers that trail behind the player, ready to take the lead once they wipe out. It becomes jarring when the player plays as a lightweight and has a heavyweight in either the first or second CPU positions who are able to reach speeds they otherwise can't achieve without drifting.
    • If you have a cheat enabled that allows a human player to be controlled by a CPU, you can see that the computers get almost permanent drafting bonuses while they drive, and the ability to use Bananas, Fake Item boxes, Boos, Stars, and Thunder without driving over an Item box (in fact, players must manually trigger a CPU-controlled human's item box if they obtain an item).
    • On 100cc and 150cc, you'd better not let the first CPU driver get too far ahead, or else they speed up so quickly that you'll never have a chance of catching up, short of very fast corner-cutting or Lightning.
    • If off-screen, the CPU-drivers appears to recover from falls, obstacles and weapons faster than any human player can.
  • Continuity Nod: Royal Raceway is home to Peach's Castle, which looks nearly identical to its appearance in Super Mario 64. You can drive into the courtyard of the castle which is also a dead end; causing it to be barricaded off in the Mario Kart 8 version of the track.
  • Convection Schmonvection: There's no problem driving around Bowser's Castle and the Big Donut battle stage despite featuring lava. The former of which is surrounded by the stuff.
  • Damn You, Muscle Memory!: Extra Mode mirrors all the courses horizontally, which will screw you up at least once. Once you tackle Toad's Turnpike in Extra, now you have to face oncoming traffic rather than following it.
  • Death Activated Super Power: In battle mode, defeated players turn into bombs (if there are more than two players) and can proceed to drive into an opponent to remove one of their balloons.
  • Death as Game Mechanic: Losing all your balloons has you transform into a mobile bomb, allowing you to get revenge on the player who eliminated you or blowing up someone else out of spite. Players who are bombs can interact with item boxes, but they cannot use them.
  • Death Mountain: Choco Mountain (a brown canyon based on Chocolate Island from Super Mario World) and Yoshi Valley (a maze-like track set within a canyon whose pits are several meters deep). Yoshi Valley returns in Mario Kart 8 and its Updated Re-release 8 Deluxe, while Choco Mountain returns in the latter as part of the Booster Course Pass, as well as previously in Mario Kart DS and Mario Kart Tour.
  • Death-or-Glory Attack: The "Leap of Faith" shortcut Rainbow Road. Driving off the left side of the track just after the start at the right speed and angle will allow you to land on a lower tier and bypass 2/3rds of the track. Pulling this off will give you a near-insurmountable lead vs. AI racers. Miss the jump and you might as well restart.
  • Digitized Sprites: The race tracks are in 3D, but the items and racers are sprites.
  • Early Installment Weirdness:
    • While this is the point where the series largely evolved to its final format, Nintendo was still working out some of the gameplay mechanics. The lightweight characters (high acceleration/low speed) are actually faster than the heavyweights (high speed/low acceleration). Using the lightweights (Peach, Toad, and Yoshi) properly can make them potential Game Breakers, as not only are they faster and can pick up quickly after crashing, they can also drive off-road better than the other drivers. The only advantage that the heavyweights in this game (Bowser, Wario, and Donkey Kong) have is that they can bash the lightweights and the middleweights off the road or make them spin out. The original advantages and disadvantages that were present in Super Mario Kart for each weight class were reverted back in later games, starting from Mario Kart: Double Dash!!. And on another note, like Super Mario Kart, you still can't advance to the next race if you place 5th or lower (though at least there's no lives system anymore, so you can't Game Over per se). Visually, it's the only Mario Kart game to run at 30 FPS, and that's with the Sprite/Polygon Mix that has not been seen in subsequent proper-3D Mario Kart games.
    • Rainbow Road in this game is not the infamous contorting final obstacle course that Mario Kart players are accustomed to, but instead a long, flat, leisurely breather course which is fully guide railed and only has the occasional incoming Chomps as obstacles.
    • Tracks that jump over themselves, such as Wario Stadium, are favorites of players who enjoy sabotaging jumps with banana peels and fake item boxes so the computer falls down and has to repeat a chunk of the course. Later installments with such jumps, including Retro Track versions of the courses in this game, instead have Lakitu swoop in and help the racer over the jump.
    • Tracks in this game are generally a lot bigger than later examples. Rainbow Road is the obvious example as an intentional Marathon Level, but then you also have the likes of Toad's Turnpike and Wario Stadium, both of which are deceptively long in terms of race length. In this case, it's largely because the tracks are quite oversized in comparison to your karts, and later games that bring back these tracks as retro courses often shrink them down to better match the scale of the players.
    • This is the only game in the series to make use of Written Sound Effects that would appear from your kart in response to certain things. This is an oddity even within the wider Mario series, and it's never seen in Mario Kart again.
  • Earn Your Bad Ending: Finishing off the podium at the end of a Grand Prix is actually more difficult than finishing on it, as you have to actively try and finish in 4th as much as possible.
  • Exit, Pursued by a Bear: If you fail to make the podium, a bomb goes after your character as they drive away.
  • Fragile Speedster: Peach, Toad, and Yoshi are the fastest, but can be easily knocked around.
  • Franchise Codifier: The Mario Kart series started in 1992 with Super Mario Kart, but its numerous traits of Early Installment Weirdness make Mario Kart 64 the true architect of the series and the one which drew the blueprint for the elements, presentation and structure that came to define all subsequent elements (including Mario Kart: Super Circuit, which otherwise borrows many aspects of the SNES original).
  • Gimmick Level:
    • "Toad Turnpike" features live traffic that racers must avoid, along with said traffic having several different configurations that are randomly chosen each time you load up the track.
    • "Yoshi Valley" hides both your mini-map and the positions of racers. The track features multiple splintering and winding routes, which makes it difficult to judge who is ahead until you're approaching the finish line.
  • Go-Karting with Bowser: Mario and the Princess don't seem to mind a friendly round of kart-racing with the jerk who just kidnapped her last week.
  • Gravity Barrier: Plenty, but Rainbow Road has a nice steep drop at the beginning.
  • Green Hill Zone: All of the "Raceway" tracks (known as Circuits in Japan), as they feature no significant hazards besides some easy-to-avoid Piranha Plants (in Mario's) and a lake (in Peach's). Moo Moo Farm is another track in this setting, being literally a bunch of green hills in a rural field, though the Monty Moles from underground can give some trouble to unsuspecting players.
  • Helium Speech: All the racers on the receiving-end whenever Lightning is unleashed speak in high-pitched voices. It can be particularly hilarious to hear Mario screaming his tiny head off, or if crossing the finish line hearing him cry his victory dialogue.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Happens any time a racer spins out on their own banana peel or gets clobbered by their own Koopa shell. Particularly funny when it happens to a CPU racer.
  • Home Stage: Every one of the playable racers have a course named after them. The exception goes to Peach, who doesn't have a track specifically named after her (not in this game) but still has a home track with Royal Raceway. Princess Peach's Castle can even be reached off of the road.
  • Incredible Shrinking Man: The Lightning makes its debut in this game. It is an item that is often received by players who are lagging behind. When used, it zaps everyone but the user with a bolt from the skies, making them spin out and drop any items they have. When shrunken, drivers' top speeds are reduced, and they're vulnerable to being Squashed Flat if a normal-sized driver runs over them, cutting their speed as well.
  • It's a Wonderful Failure: The player who ends up in 4th place or lower at the end of a Grand Prix gets to watch the top 3 take the winner's podium and gets chased by a bomb.
  • Jump Scare: During the portion of the credits pertaining the Banshee Boardwalk (fittingly one of the two tracks with a spooky theme), the camera pans up to the front of the abandoned house, then quickly zooms in on the right-pointing arrow, filling the screen with bright (bloody?) red; it can be a bit jarring if it's unexpected, especially since up to that point it was just the camera slowly panning around views of the game's prior tracks.
  • Jungle Japes: DK's Jungle Parkway takes place in a jungle, as the name implies. If a driver is off the road, they'll be hit by coconuts from unseen monkeys.
  • Kingmaker Scenario: In Battle Mode, anyone who runs out of Balloons when there are still 2 or more players left becomes a Mini Bomb Kart. They've officially lost that match, but can drive right up to any remaining players and explode in their faces.
  • Lethal Lava Land: Bowser's Castle is surrounded in a sea of lava.
  • Letting the Air Out of the Band: Placing lower than the top 3 at the end of each Grand Prix nets one in the award ceremony, where it airs out a bit when it shows your character driving away from the courtyard of Peach's Castle, then finally stops when the Bomb Kart arrives to further humiliate your character.
  • Level in Reverse: Extra Cups are aimilar to 150cc mode but the tracks are mirrored (e.g. where you originally turned left you now turn right). Given a nasty spin when it comes to Toad's Turnpike, as not only is the track layout flipped so is the direction of traffic — you now have to drive against all the traffic on the turnpike!
  • Marathon Level:
    • Rainbow Road. It takes about 2 minutes to complete one lap, and is the longest track in the series. Long enough that a controller pack usually doesn't have enough memory to save a track ghost. It can take up to two minutes to complete a lap. And you have to do three laps. When the track was brought back in Mario Kart 8, it was formatted as one lap divided into three segments.
    • Wario Stadium is a close second, with the manual itself stating that its length will make it tough for players to stay concentrated in the race. It has a near-labyrinthine layout that keeps the laps dragging on, taking roughly 4 minutes (5 in the lower difficulties) to race through without using glitches.
  • Master of All: Lightweights, who are the fastest, quickest to accelerate alongside Bowser thanks to the triple tap A, have no handling issues, and can even use their light weight to jump over the other cast members because there’s nobody lighter than them. Though the weight thing is more Difficult, but Awesome compared to the easier to utilize heavyweights ramming people aside, it’s far more abusable once you learn how.
  • Master of None: While Mario and Luigi were intended to be the Jack-of-All-Stats, their stats aren't middle of the road enough for them to qualify as jacks, and they even have the worst acceleration, losing even to the heavyweights. This is even mentioned in the manual, amusingly immediately after saying that they have average stats in everything.
  • Mighty Glacier: Bowser, Wario, and DK have bad acceleration and the worst off-road handling, but can shove lighter racers out of the way.
  • Minsky Pickup: At the start of the Moo Moo Farm theme (which is also used for Yoshi Valley). Koopa Troopa Beach has a different version.
  • Missing Secret: There is a Thwomp stuck behind a cage in the Bowser's Castle stage. A yellow light shines on it, making it appear green. It is the only Thwomp in the game to not slam down on the floor as an attack, preferring to hover in place indefinitely. Naturally, rumors about this supposedly green Thwomp spread like wildfire, both about what it could do if set free and why it's caged in the first place. There is still no official explanation for that Thwomp. It even returned when the course was brought back for Mario Kart Wii.
  • Mook-Themed Level: Banshee Boardwalk, which features many Boos lingering in the background of the track. Averted with Koopa Troopa Beach, because it's named after the Koopa-shaped rock formation that is located in a side of the coast (there are no actual Koopa Troopas).
  • Nintendo Hard: 150cc and especially Extra, mostly for the computer drivers.
  • Palmtree Panic: Koopa Troopa Beach, which is part of the Mushroom Cup. It's a sandy racetrack where the characters drive through the coastal perimeter of a rocky island. There's a cave that can be entered through a ramp, providing a handy shortcut to a later part of the track.
  • Parody Names: The Japanese version had billboards with parodies of real life companies like Marlboro (Marioro) or the Mobil 1 motor oil (Yoshi 1).
  • Poison Mushroom: This game marks the debut of Fake Item Boxes, which do about the same thing as Poison Mushrooms in other Mario games. Whereas the normal item boxes in this game spin and provide an item upon contact, a fake one will be static. Both blocks look exactly the same from a distance (the fake one changing when you get closer), but most players can avoid them by memorizing where real items boxes should appear.
  • Punny Name: "Kalimari Desert" (the infamous track with the train) is a pun on both "calamari"note  and on the real life "Kalahari Desert" in Africa.
  • Put on a Bus: Koopa Troopa was left out and replaced with Wario. The most common joke at the time was that Wario had stolen Koopa Troopa's kart. Nintendo Power published a piece of fan art that had Koopa Troopa on the phone with the police, confirming that "a fat man with purple overalls" stole his kart.
  • Railroad Tracks of Doom: Kalimari Desert has a train which spins you out of control if you try to cross the tracks at the wrong time. However, if you time it correctly and very carefully, you can also drive on the tracks through the tunnel in a valuable shortcut.
  • Riddle for the Ages: What do you think that green Thwomp in Bowser's Castle did to deserve the solitary confinement?
  • The Rival: In each Grand Prix, you are given at least two of these, and they will be the main abusers of Rubber-Band A.I. of that GP.
  • Rubber-Band A.I.: If you're good at hitting shortcuts, expect the computer to be able to suddenly hit a top speed well beyond what any human could do. The most blatant instance is Rainbow Road in Mario Kart 64, which has a shortcut that can literally skip 40% of the course (and N64 Rainbow Road, as of the Deluxe edition of Mario Kart 8's release, is still the longest course in the series' history). Even if you hit said shortcut on all three laps and use perfectly timed drifting boosts throughout the rest of the course, the computer is still able to catch up to you by the last lap. By turning on the map-view, it's possible to watch opponents suddenly accelerate to unrealistic speed whenever they are outside of the game's draw distance for the player. Allow a single CPU driver to get too far ahead in 150cc or Extra and they'll reach the finish line in times no human player, even drifting experts, can finish in- especially in hectic courses like Toad's Turnpike and Bowser's Castle.
  • Sand Bridge at Low Tide: Koopa Troopa Beach uses this trope as a shortcut.
  • Sequence Breaking:
    • There exists the famous Rainbow Road shortcut. There's a steep hill at the very start, which allows you to jump over the rails by performing the hop that forms the first part of a drift... and if you make a leap of faith in the right spot, it's possible to land on a portion of track far below, cutting half the course. Given that Rainbow Road is the longest track in the game by far, this is quite an advantage, and pulling it off on all three laps is pretty much a requirement if you want to finish a time trial under the five minute limit for a ghost.
    • Wario Stadium in the same game also has a short hill at the beginning that, if used in the correct manner, allows you to skip about half the course from the very beginning. For added fun, this brings you to another area of the track which, with enough skill, can be skipped back to the very end of the course. This leads to a track that generally takes about four minutes to complete having world records of about fifteen seconds.
    • Choco Mountain has a skip where in the time trial, players could abuse the given mushrooms to drive up a wall near the start-finish line and tumble down right behind it, allowing players to finish a lap in less than ten seconds. 3-lap world records have fallen under 20 seconds due to this. It is harder than it sounds since the angle at which the player must drive up a wall is rather precise and making a mistake will have Lakitu carry you elsewhere. Only three people have done it three laps in a row.
  • Shave And A Haircut: One of the car horns does this in Toad's Turnpike.
  • Shifting Sand Land: Kalimari Desert, which is always played during sunset. Its main feature is a train that is being driven through looping rails, making it a dangerous obstacle as the racers' track intersects with the train's rails in two points.
  • Shortcuts Make Long Delays: The shortest route through Yoshi's Valley is a narrow, windy path with no railing, falling off will cost you several seconds of recovery time. The Rainbow Road shortcut, capable of giving you an irreversible lead (against humans) if executed properly, will also take forever to recover from if you failed. Same goes for a similar shortcut in Royal Raceway, which will make you fall into the water; the hard part is getting the game to register your landing in a way that Lakitu deposits you ahead of the section following the ramp and near the finish line, rather than back on the ramp.
  • Shout-Out: Sherbet Land is named after a world in the original Wario Land.
  • Slippy-Slidey Ice World: Frappe Snowland (in Flower Cup) focuses on snow while Sherbet Land looks like an iceberg track. The biggest threat in the former is snowmen, as collision against them is explosive and makes the driver waste too much time in recovering; in the latter, the driver has to watch out for penguins instead.
  • The Smurfette Principle: Once again, Peach is the only female racer.
  • Snowy Sleigh Bells: Sleigh bells ring though the theme playing in the frigid Frappe Snowland and Sherbet Land.
  • Sprite/Polygon Mix: The backgrounds and some objects are 3D, while the racers and most of the hazards are Digitized Sprites (which looks pretty weird when the camera pans around the parked characters in the award ceremonies). The reason they used this was because they wanted the game to maintain a consistent framerate while having all 8 racers on screen at once, which at the time would have much harder to pull off if they were all polygon models.
  • Suddenly Voiced: Luigi, Toad and Wario are voiced for the first time. The other characters stick with the same voices or vocal effects they had in the SNES era or Super Mario 64.
  • Title Scream: Done in two different ways depending on the version. In the Japanese version, a group of Japanese children is heard yelling "Mario Kart!", while in the overseas releases, Mario yells "Welcome to Mario Kart!".
  • Video Game 3D Leap: Since it's part of a racing series, the leap is only aesthetic.
  • Wacky Racing: Par for the course. The only rule in the competition is: Reach first place. The means are irrelevant. Many weapons can be used to attack other racers and get past them. And if they fall into water or a pitfall, Lakitu will bring them back to the course with no punishment (there are no Coins in this game) other than wasting precious time.

 
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Choco Mountain - Weathertenko

Mario Kart 64 speedrunner Beck Abney pulls off a special maneuver called the Weathertenko three times to finish Choco Mountain in 16.38 seconds.

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