Racing games once held a proud history of being contests that rewarded pure skill and precision. The victor was always determined by the player's mastery and memorization of any given racetrack. To win a race was incontestable proof that you had bested your peers. Then Mario Kart was released on the SNES, and all of that went right out the window. Yes, you were still required to speed through laps around a course, but when your opponents were constantly throwing turtle shells, banana peels and bombs in your path, it was hard to deny that this was a very different kind of game.
Mario Kart set a precedent in video games by transforming a conventional sports title into a frenetic party game. However, it wouldn't become a full-blown gaming phenomenon until the1996 release of Mario Kart 64. This four-player free-for-all was the smash hit that paved the way for the dozens of Mario tie-in games that have since been released. Mario Soccer, Mario Tennis, Mario Golf, Mario Curling (Okay, that one doesn't exist...yet.) were all green lit after the N64 racer's release. The popularity of these competitive Mario-Licensed games would eventually culminate in the madness that is the ludicrously fun Mario Party series. A line of digital board games where the rules change on a minute by minute basis. Where any notion of a fair, balanced game design gives way to total anarchy. But, I digress.
Today, I want to honor to the game that made all of these franchises possible. Mario Kart 64 was a game that sold countless N64s, and sparked even more childhood grudge matches. With every victory and defeat, the drive to crush your opposition only grew. And so players learned to win by any means necessary. Including, but not limited to, any number of "Shortcuts" on the race tracks. The following tips may not be the most sportsmanlike, however they were without doubt the most effective:
The Cave Shortcut
At the very start of "DK's Jungle Parkway", turn around and drive away from the starting line. The game will tell you that you're going in reverse, but you will quickly enter the cave at the end of the course. Once you're inside, you must carefully angle your car so that it is facing precisely where the left wall of the cave's exit connects to the main racetrack. If you drive full speed into this portion of the wall, while jumping with the 'R" button, you should glitch right through it and fall into some kind of pond. Fortunately Lakitu will fish you out, just as if you had normally gone off-road. However, if you've done everything right, he will set you down back inside the cave, but you will now have a one-lap lead.
The Wario Wall-Hop Shortcut
At the beginning of "Wario Stadium", try to reach full speed as you approach the first four short hills. Drive full speed into the left wall while cresting one of these hills and you should be able to use the 'R' button to jump right over it. You should now have a significant lead. There are actually dozens of areas in "Wario Stadium" where you can perform this trick, but this is the easiest location to perform it.
The Train Tunnel Shortcut
Most people know that it is possible to drive through the train tunnel in the "Kalimari Desert" level and bypass half the course. However it is very risky, since the train can barrel down on you at any second. What most people don't know is that if you activate a Star Power-Up just before entering the tunnel, you will not only be immune to the train, but your lap counter will increase by 1 as well.
The Snow Shortcut
This one is similar to "The Cave shortcut". At the start of "Frappe Snowland" immediately turn around and drive in the opposite direction. Near the end of the course there is a small bridge. If you drive to it and then turn back towards the finish line, it is possible to finish any lap in record time. All you have to do is make sure you don't actually touch the racetrack as you proceed forward. As you drive off of the bridge, press the 'R' button to hop over the racetrack and land in the snow on the right side of the course. Then just keep driving. Eventually Lakitu will decide you are out of bounds and pick you up. If you've done everything correctly, he'll park you back at the bridge but it will count as you completing an entire lap.
The Leap of Faith shortcut
This is probably the most well-known shortcut on my list, and with good reason. If you pull it off, it looks amazing. At the beginning of the final course, "Rainbow Road," there is a large, steep, downward slope. Just as you begin to crest that hill, press the "R" button to jump over the left guardrail. If you do this at the right angle, your kart will sail through open space for a good 5 seconds before slamming down much further along on the course, allowing you to skip half the lap.
Buy Mario Kart 64 Here
By now, it should be apparent that Mario Kart 64 players had a very liberal definition of "shortcut." Some might even call it "cheating." Yet anyone who took one too many blue shells during their final lap will tell you "All's fair in love and Mario Kart."
How many of you knew about these shortcuts? Are there any we missed? Most importantly, how many of you remember cursing your friends who always used them? As always, let me know in the comments section.