Mario Kart 64 still shines in 2021 on Nintendo Switch Online, but Nintendo's legacy content needs work

Mario Dead Red
Mario Dead Red (Image credit: iMore)

Mario Kart 64 originally released on the Nintendo 64 on Feb. 10, 1997 in North America. It's probably sacrilege to say this, but... I was born in 1995. And because video games were hard to come by in the Caribbean growing up, I got my hands on it maybe once or twice as a small child. Probably less, because the game was "too hard for girls," according to my cousins.

Needless to say, Nintendo has finally given me a chance to experience this game as a self-aware adult with the Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack. Despite the issues some people have had, I'm happy I can experience these games without having to pay for them individually. While I would prefer a Nintendo 64 classic console myself, it doesn't seem like we'll be getting one anytime soon.

Welcome to Mario Kart!

Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack Mario Kart

Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack Mario Kart (Image credit: iMore)

I'm not the biggest fan of Super Mario 64. I played the Nintendo DS remake for a short amount of time, but couldn't get behind the strange control scheme that had to be implemented due to the handheld's lack of an analog control stick. When I played the game again in the Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection, the iconic plumber felt a little too slippery, which made judging distance difficult. So when I heard that Mario Kart 64 was coming to the Nintendo Switch, I was a bit apprehensive.

I was already familiar with many of the tracks, given that every game from Mario Kart DS onward included retro tracks in their Grand Prix courses. I expected to find the controls janky and unforgiving, like other retro games, but to my surprise, I had a blast. The controls came naturally, even if the drifting took some getting used to. I played through a couple of Cups in single-player before moving on to playing Mario Kart 64 online with a friend. There were some hiccups, but we generally made it through the Cup (I lost, but that's not important), laughing and having fun.

Our fun was not because of the high quality of the Nintendo 64 port, however, but in spite of its poor quality. Our experience playing online ended up being so bad, we had no choice but to laugh at the fact this was an official release. After the Expansion Pack's quiet release, I found out that we were unable to remap controls, despite modern controls being available in the Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection. When I played with my friend online, we experienced extreme input lag issues that made the game's music screechingly bad. For a company that's supposed to be an expert on its own products, it's frustrating to see it implement content that people are willing to pay for so poorly. If third-party emulators can get online play right, why can't Nintendo?

Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack Mario Kart 64 Time Trial Controller Pak

Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack Mario Kart 64 Time Trial Controller Pak (Image credit: iMore)

Nintendo's emulator didn't even account for features that were necessary back in the 90s but are irrelevant today. I won't get to experience things like adding Ghost Data to the Time Trials in Mario Kart 64 and have an authentic experience, simply because the game keeps looking for a Nintendo 64 Controller Pak that can't be inserted. The new wireless Nintendo 64 controller doesn't allow for even the original Controller Pak to be inserted, so I'm out of luck. Maybe I'd have liked to engage with the speedrunning scene on a modern console, or monitor and hone my skills, but now I can't. It's disappointing.

Is it Mario Kart 64 Deluxe enough?

Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack Nintendo 64 Multiplayer Mario Kart Gameplay

Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack Nintendo 64 Multiplayer Mario Kart Gameplay (Image credit: iMore)

You'll hear lots of die-hard Mario Kart fans claim that Double Dash is the best game in the series. A smaller subsection of those fans prefer Mario Kart 64, the series' first foray into the third dimension. However, now that both of these games, along with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, are on the Switch, I'd say they each have their place. Until the lag issues in the Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack are resolved, I'd recommend leaving online play to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. But for single-player and multiplayer experiences, Mario Kart 64 is still just as great as it used to be.

I may be alone in this, but I feel like Mario Kart 64's difficulty is a lot lower than Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. While drifting is a bit tricky at first in the N64 game, the sheer number of variables in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe means that there are a lot of opportunities to be at a disadvantage.

Each game has its place depending on the experience you'd like to have. Mario Kart 64 is good for light-hearted, local multiplayer, and while Mario Kart 8 Deluxe offers robust online play and more options.

Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack Mario Kart 64 Yoshi Driving (Image credit: iMore)

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Yoshi Driving (Image credit: iMore)

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If I had to choose, I'd say that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the definitive Mario Kart game. My Mario Kart journey started with Mario Kart DS, and then I moved on to the Wii and 3DS versions. Though I was one of the five people who owned a Wii U, I didn't buy Mario Kart 8 until the Nintendo Switch version, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. The original and retro tracks in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe are gorgeous in both handheld and docked mode. The backgrounds, character models, and music make the game a joyful, colorful experience that becomes even more fun when playing with friends. The addition of 200 CC also put my skills to the test — never did I think that I'd actually have to use the brake button in a Mario Kart game.

It also introduced a lot of strategy to the series, including weight classes, karts, wheels, and gliders that can affect your speed, acceleration, handling, among other things. I'd say the game is the most accessible it's ever been, with features like motion steering, auto-acceleration, and smart steering that help younger, disabled, or inexperienced players have fun. Smart steering is the only way I can make it through 200 CC, and that's OK! The more accessible a game is, the better.

The controls are simply tighter and there are 48 tracks to race on. While I do value local multiplayer a lot, the fact that Mario Kart 64's online play is, put simply, atrocious makes it a lot less attractive. The large roster and accessibility options in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe also mean that you're less likely to fight over who gets to pick Yoshi, and younger siblings won't get frustrated with the game. Accessibility and easy modes are important to a lot of players, and have never harmed a game, in my opinion. Mario Kart 64 is good for when you want to turn off your brain and experience some nostalgia, but that's as far as it goes.

Nintendo's lackluster legacy

Nes Classic Controller Mario

Nes Classic Controller Mario (Image credit: Nadine Dornieden / iMore)

Nintendo produces some amazing games. I don't think I'm wrong in saying that Nintendo, as a company, has instilled more nostalgia for older video games than any other video game company (sorry, Sega fans). However, its legacy content needs some work.

Right out the gate, retro games on the Nintendo Switch are super expensive. Gone are the days where you could purchase the retro games you wanted to play on modern systems for anything from $5 to $10, and keep them forever. Now you're locked into paying for an annual subscription to Nintendo Switch Online to have temporary access to a lot of these titles, which just isn't worth it for many fans of those games.

If third-party emulators can get online play right, why can't Nintendo?

The vast catalog of legacy content has been greatly reduced as well. If you want to purchase and play Game Boy Color, Nintendo DS, or Wii titles, you'll have to either purchase the original systems or head back to the last generation of Nintendo hardware. After only having access to a drip-feed of NES and SNES titles and much speculation about what's coming to Nintendo Switch Online next, Nintendo announced the Expansion Pack, which includes Nintendo 64 games, Sega Genesis games, and access to the Happy Home Paradise DLC for Animal Crossing: New Horizons. The pricing was the most jarring, increasing from $20 and $35 for the individual and family subscriptions to a whopping $50 and $80, respectively.

This isn't the first time Nintendo has done this. Super Mario's 35th anniversary, understandably, came and went with little fanfare due to it being smack in the middle of the pandemic, where people and companies were still trying to figure out working from home. When people saw the miniscule amount of effort put into Super Mario 3D All-Stars, they were crestfallen, me included. Nothing about the presentation suggested anything other than the title simply being rushed and ported over with little effort to update it for the newer console. It was the first time that Super Mario Sunshine was available on a console other than the Nintendo GameCube, and yet Nintendo only added GameCube controller support after fans begged them to.

It's a shame that we had to pay so much to learn this expensive lesson.

When I think back to Kirby's 25th anniversary, fans got Kirby's Dream Collection, a compilation of six classic Kirby games. While I do understand that porting 2D and 3D games are different kettles of fish, I can't come up with a good reason for Super Mario Galaxy 2's omission from Super Mario 3D All-Stars. There was no physical soundtrack, and no stickers, no manual; just a lone cart in a box, which, frustratingly enough, isn't available for sale anymore after Nintendo arbitrarily stopped production of both the physical and digital versions. Much like the 35th anniversary celebration, Mario Kart 64 and the rest of the Nintendo 64 games on the overpriced service are a slap in the face to fans. Voting with your wallet is important, sure, it's just a shame that we had to pay so much to learn this expensive lesson.

An oil change is in order

Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack Mario Kart 64 Win

Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack Mario Kart 64 Win (Image credit: iMore)

Something needs to change. While I was excited to experience these games for the first time in a legal way and without having to pay for old hardware that's incompatible with my television, I was left with mixed feelings. I can see potential, and there is so much of it in the Nintendo Switch Online legacy content. But I'm honestly considering cancelling my Nintendo Switch Online subscription because I don't believe in paying for a busted product. Nintendo has listened before, but will they do so again? I'm doubtful, but I hope so.

Nadine Dornieden

Nadine is a freelance writer for iMore with a specialty in all things Nintendo, often working on news, guides, reviews, and editorials. She's been a huge Nintendo fan ever since she got to pet her very own Nintendog, and enjoys looking at Nintendo's place in the video game industry. Writing is her passion, but she mostly does it so that she can pay off her ever-growing debt to Tom Nook. Her favorite genres are simulation games, rhythm games, visual novels, and platformers. You can find her at @stopthenadness on Twitter, where she'll more than likely be reposting cute Animal Crossing content.