N64th Street

Mickey’s Speedway USA

Posted by: Kevin C. on: August 22, 2013

One of the biggest internal issues that I have here is choosing what games to review and when. It’s not just because I’m trying to find new and creative ways to put off reviewing Acclaim’s Quarterback Club series, either- I want to make sure that there’s a fair break between genres and companies. Not just so I don’t have to end up reviewing the whole Quarterback Club series last, likely as part of a literary quagmire explored the course of 7 months and promptly given up on after 2 entries, but also because I’d risk just playing games from companies I actually like instead of giving you the definitive “Track It or Sack It” ruling you’ve been waiting for about your favorite entry that had Brett Favre on the cover. You wouldn’t want that.

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Oh, there’s also another reason – it seemed to be Nintendo’s policy that there be an average of at least one new racing game every single month of the Nintendo 64’s existence between 1997 and 2000. Mickey’s Speedway USA seemed like it would pretty much be just another not-terribly-notable one to space out among the rest of the genres, were it not for a pedigree you might not expect:

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This may also be the prettiest their logo ever looked.
Someone should probably get to the bottom of this.

Rare, at the height of their power, was responsible for this. It’s also surprisingly quite good, for a game that we can almost certainly rest assured has never followed anyone’s statement of “Rare made all my favorite N64 games, like…” Imagine, if you will, Diddy Kong Racing.  This is Diddy Kong Racing without jets, hovercraft, a world map, collectibles, tiered items, boss fights… actually, just imagine Mario Kart 64’s single-player campaign mixed with Diddy Kong Racing’s graphical and gameplay stylings. Graphical up to the point of the game’s engine, in any case- there is neither a Kong nor a stupid smug-ass clock that can pretty much go to hell to be found here, as we’re firmly in Disney’s worlds and/or lands. What you may not expect is that the touch of Disney magic even extends to the menu. Check out how badass this is:

menu

It’s just like your room as a kid, maybe? I dunno, I sure thought this was neat

In most games, this would be the screen with the title overlaid and “Press Start” underneath. Instead, it’s this meta-sorta-kinda game room type thing that’s a bit more gentle in suggestion. The rest of the menus more or less explore this room, which is a lot cooler in practice than you’d ever reasonably expect. It’s also surprisingly navigable and efficient for something that isn’t the standard boring-yet-functional list-based menu. I’ve been floored by great-looking menus before, but short of maybe Tie Fighter and Brutal Legend, I can’t think of many that pull off a fairly unique (by menu standards) concept so well. Sometimes Disney magic comes in weird places. Also, please don’t ever make that last sentence the tag line of a Little Mermaid slash fanfic, thanks in advance dudes.

windowsduckEspecially don’t write Little Mermaid fanfic if you’re running whatever Duckbergian OS 
they’re simulating above. That stuff traces right back to home. 

The game itself breaks down into the standard Mario Kart formula of having 4 cups, each with 3 tiers of challenge. There’s actually a fifth cup as well, unlockable through collecting the game’s 4 collectibles. That’s not as in Rare “4 collectibles, collect 5-500 of each in every world!.” 4 items total. It’s Rare at their most restrained, even so much as to not hide those items in places no human being would ever even think of driving in order to make sure the game still takes 100+ hours to completely finish.

seattle

Look, it’s how Seattle is depicted! 
(I pretty much have to do this every time Seattle shows up in a game, apologies in advance)

Character selection is a bit slim- only 6, the standard Kart archetypes, and half of them have literally identical stats to the other half. There’s only a few unlockable, and majority are named Huey, Dewey, or Louie.  Huey may be the best of the bunch, but perhaps not coincidentally is the most inconvenient to get. This game is one of the fabled few that has Transfer Pak support, and getting the Game Boy Color version of this game for basically free plus shipping off of Amazon is actually what made me play this game in the first place. In case you’re curious, it’s a pretty nifty RC Pro AM sequel-that-never-was, straight from Rare themselves. And if you get a trophy in any of the Game Boy cups, put that thing in your Transfer Pak ASAP and unlock that duck kid who wore red. He pretty much will win you every race once you learn the courses, at least in my  play experience.

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This is how Chicago is depicted. It’s only a sewer. It’s the only city level where you’re
only in a sewer. I guess Rare took the city’s description as a criminal cesspool a bit literally.

Tracks are a bit more complex in structure than I recall Diddy Kong Racing’s- mostly in that it’s no longer mostly flat. DKR had some height here and there, but typically it required the airplane to see much of. Here, courses can have far higher peaks and far lower valleys, sometimes involving alternate routes through stages. On the whole, I can’t really say whether the tracks are better or worse than its kinda-sorta prequel, but they’re almost certainly more complex both in design and minutiae. They’re definitely worth checking out as a graphical showcase if nothing else, especially considering there’s no Expansion Pak required.

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This game was made when Vegas was still in that weird period of time where they were trying to
advertise it as a family friendly destination before realizing that was completely ridiculous.
So having Disney characters plow through in Karts was pretty plausible then, I guess.

One big change from DKR is the complete removal of Rare’s need to sew collectables into every possible fabric of the game experience, aka the 3-level weapon pickups that made getting things like homing missiles take a little more finesse than your average kart game. Instead of having to collect the same color of powerup multiple times just to get something decent, it’s back to the traditional random item box that’s been used in everything from Mario Kart to Snowboard Kids. There’s only a small handful of weapons and it’s nothing that’s particularly new or innovative, but they’re at least dolled up a bit into things like a remote control plane instead of your standard homing missile.

plane

I’m kind of of conflicted about the message this sends to children about how
cheap and inexpensive remote control airplanes are because holy heck I
could see some really mad dads resulting from emulating this behavior.

While the music is nothing to write home about, the amount of voice acting is actually pretty decent for a N64 cart. It’s not your standard Kart game where you’ll hear the same 5 or lines of dialogue from every character roughly twice per race. Instead of just having a small pack of general purpose lines, there’s usually a decent handful that are one specific character talking to another specific character.  It’s a small touch, but it adds a tons of character.

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JUDGEMENT CORNER

As a complete package, Mickey’s Speedway is a bit light on content if you’re expecting another Diddy Kong Racing single player timesink. If you’re expecting a Mario Kart single player timesink, you’re pretty much on the mark. There’s enough to see and do that it will definitely keep your interest if you’re looking for a solid new Kart game to experience. I guess I should have expected as much given Rare’s pedigree and also the fact that Tigger’s Hunny Hunt wasn’t a total turd. If you find this one relatively cheap, or are a dirty pirate and have an afternoon to kill… well, there’s far worse ways to kill time. Coathanger fights, for example.

Snap it or Trap It?

Snap it up if you’re looking for a solid set of 20-odd Kart tracks for a change of pace from your usual game.
Trap It and toss it if you hate Disney magic in any form. It’s got a lot of that kind of thing going on.

 

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