Versus – 90’s Kart Racers

August 23, 2010

It’s time for the continuation of Versus, where I put two topics/games/pieces of hardware/etc. against one another in the most objective way possible. Okay, maybe not so much the objective part, but know that I will do my best to keep bias out of it, alright? I’m only human after all. So, let’s get this started, shall we? In this second edition, I’m going to take a look at the battle for the best kart racer of the 90’s, one of the more interesting plays for market share in the PS/N64 era. Are any of them worth playing over a decade later? If so, is there one in particular you should go out and play for yourself? Well, that is not for me to answer — just look at the facts for yourselves and make your own decision accordingly.

Versus: 90’s Kart Racers (Mario Kart 64 vs. Diddy Kong Racing vs. Crash Team Racing)

Today on Versus, we get insight into some of the best kart racing games of the 90's. One question on everyone's mind: Which one reigns supreme?

Background

There are many game genres out there that have had their little rivalries inside their own category. For example, gamers today continuously add fuel to the fire for the First Person Shooter rivalry between the Call of Duty series and the Halo trilogy. While the games themselves play in similar ways and have the same objectives, it can be argued that the two have very different audiences and fanbases. How about that ever famous genre of RPGs? Well, if you ask 10 different people what their favorite RPG series is, it is very likely that you will get a wide array of answers, if not getting 10 different answers. Just like the FPS games, the gameplay mechanics can have some striking similarities and have overall goals that are very much the same. Despite that, everyone has a say in which games and series are the best in a particular genre, and no one can truly be wrong in any of those arguments. After all, having competition in game genres always leads to better games for us, doesn’t it?

Particularly in today’s gaming culture, the battle for getting the casual gamer is one of high importance. It can be the make or break for a console’s sales and lasting impression for its audience. One way this is being done is through the use of motion control of games, creating a new genre for the “casual” gamer (Versus: Motion Control). However, there are other genres at work here in order to pick up a more casual gamer, one of them having always been the racing genre of games. No, I’m not talking about the simulator like racers like Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport, but rather the playful cartoon like kart racing games that have an audience of all ages. The mid to late 90’s had this same exact battle going on, as both Nintendo and Sony threw their own karting games into their respective libraries in hopes of expending an already large casual audience of both young and old. Just like today’s FPS rivals, these kart games had very little difference in their overall premise, and yet their fans were quite diverse for one another. Today’s Versus will highlight three of those kart racers fighting for audience interest in the late 90’s, all of which had different ranges of success.

Mario Kart 64

Mario Kart. The undisputed champion of kart racing according to many, with Mario Kart 64 being the general favorite of the series.

Mario Kart 64 was released here in the states on February 10, 1997, and was the first of these three games to have its official release. The thing going for Mario Kart at this time was the fact that this wasn’t even the first iteration of the series. Many Nintendo fans at the time, including myself, likely placed MK64’s predecessor, Super Mario Kart, very high on the list of best SNES games. Having already a solid base of fans through the Mario series and the previous Mario Kart game, Mario Kart 64 came out with some high expectations during the early stages of the N64 lifespan. The biggest change between Mario Kart 64 and Super Mario Kart had to be the move into 3D graphics, something that even at the time was different from the norm in the majority of games. Mario Kart 64 also added the possibility of having four players play at the same time rather than the two players that the SNES allowed at once. With four players available at any given time, Mario Kart 64 was one of the first “party” games of the era, further driving home the game’s foothold on the casual market of the generation.

View Here: Mario Kart 64 Gameplay

The game itself had four different modes of play available: Grand Prix for the single player story like experience, Time Trial and Versus for the pure competitive racing experience, and the return of Battle mode for the added party factor between human players. Of course the characters were well known, as all of them had come for previous Mario games and a good portion of them came back from the original Super Mario Kart. However, this character selection didn’t do much for the single player experience of the game, which just like the rest of series, is a bit lacking due to its extreme linearity of finishing well in specific cups to unlock more characters and cups. There is no doubt that the Mario Kart series has always been its best when you are playing with others, and Mario Kart 64 is no different. Its tracks and the music that went with them are still some of the best the genre has to offer, leading to their inclusion into future Mario Kart games on the Gamecube, DS, and Wii.

Diddy Kong Racing

Along with the release of Mario Kart 64, Nintendo released a racer for the Donkey Kong fans called Diddy Kong Racing. Many of the DK series characters seen in this game went on to their own games the following decade.

Diddy Kong Racing had its release in the states on November 24, 1997, and was the second game on this list to release to the public. On the surface, this game appears to be a clone of Mario Kart 64 with the difference coming in the cast of characters. Now while the character list was a difference between the two games, they also had some other things that made them quite different from one another which I will hit on in a moment. But whatever those differences were, it didn’t make the sales of this game any less similar to the numbers that Mario Kart 64 picked up on its release. When Rare released the game, they sent out 800,000 copies of the game for the few weeks after its release that came in prior to the holidays. Those 800,000 copies picked up by the public prior to Christmas 2007 made it the fastest selling game in history at the time, even trumping its fellow console rival, Mario Kart.

View Here: Diddy Kong Racing Gameplay

DKR was the first game to spinoff of the much acclaimed series, Donkey Kong Country, and as was mentioned earlier, there were a few characters in here whose first appearance in this game led to games elsewhere. One of the big reasons for this might have been the inclusion of a more solid adventure mode that the Mario Kart series has never really embraced. In DKR, players traveled through Timber’s Island, in which they looked for the different tracks that the game’s villain, Wizpig, was looking to take over for himself. To unlock a new track, character, or other unlockable, you would have to collect different items such as amulet pieces found at certain tracks and gold medals given away to the winner of each track. Another difference between this game and Mario Kart is the availability of different types of vehicles to race with. In Mario Kart 64, you just had karts to work with, but Diddy Kong Racing brought in hovercrafts and planes for racing action as well, adding a more diverse track selection with it.

Crash Team Racing

Crash Team Racing was the conclusion of a 4 game project between Naughty Dog and Sony in the 90's. It highlighted themes and characters from the original 3 Crash platformers.

Crash Team Racing was released on September 30, 1999, and was the last game of these three to be released. The game itself was the conclusion of original creator Naughty Dog’s relationship with the Crash Bandicoot series that included three iterations on the Playstation console. The game was critically praised by the gaming media at the time due to its major jump in graphics and gameplay mechanics from the other Nintendo kart racing games. The sound for the game did not have the charm that Mario Kart or Diddy Kong Racing had however, and I would consider the soundtrack for Crash Team Racing to be the weakest of the three considered here. Despite its small flaws, the game did in fact have a major gameplay jump from its rivals, making it one of the best racers on a non Nintendo console and certainly placing it well with the Mario Kart games of the world.

View Here: Crash Team Racing Gameplay

Much like Diddy Kong Racing, Crash Team Racing involved an adventure mode in which you traveled through the landscape to take on tracks that had been “taken over” by the game’s villain, Nitros Oxide. However, there were a few differences in the way this adventure was taken on from the way it was handled in DKR. Just as Diddy Kong Racing handled its single player play, CTR broke up its world into separate areas guarded by area bosses. In order to advance to the next set of tracks (ala Mario Kart), you would need to collect all the trophies in a certain area and promptly defeat the area boss in order to gain their boss key to unlock the next available area of the game. However, unlike in DKR where you only had one objective of collecting trophies, silver pieces, and amulet pieces to unlock more areas, CTR added in longevity to its game by adding CTR Token races and Relic time trials into its single player. If Mario Kart 64 was at its best in its multiplayer, than I would argue that Crash Team Racing was at its best in its single player, putting in many of the usual multiplayer modes into its single player while keeping it interesting enough to play on your own without a buddy next to you.

Wrap Up

Make no mistake — all three of these games certainly have way more positives than negatives, and I would certainly encourage you to play all 3 of them if you have an opportunity to do so. Diddy Kong Racing and Crash Team Racing both received equivalent “Greatest Hits” awards, and both games also received the same sequel treatment that the Mario Kart series has always enjoyed. However, this is one of those cases where playing the originals are certainly the way to go. Mario Kart 64 and Crash Team Racing can be found on their console’s respective stores, while DKR has its own remake on the DS that included extra characters and a revamped graphics line. There is no doubt that the 90’s had some great single player and multiplayer success in its kart racers, which is maybe one of the reasons a good portion of those same players who played them back then struggle to get into the simulation racers of this decade.

Have any of you played any of these games? If so, is any one of them in particular better than the others? Feel free to hit on those questions plus add some comments of your own in the comments section below. Also, if you have any suggestions for me for future Versus posts, feel free to post those up as well. As always, thanks for reading MvG Viewers, and I will you see again for the next installment of Versus!


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  1. Lincolnlogpoo

    crash team racing was definitely the best out of the three.

    it was just too good. no comparisons!

    1. MAN

      Interesting… I’ve never actually played much of Crash Team Racing. Of the 2 I *have* played, I definitely preferred Diddy Kong Racing, since you could control to a degree what powerups you got. The enemy racing AI seemed a little less cheap, too.

  2. Elisheba

    I loved DKR, and now that I know it’s on the DS, I need to find that thing and go pick up the game XD

    Mario Kart was good, and I’ve never played Crash, but DKR would be my pick.

  3. dibokkiller

    I’d say Mario Kart 64.