Mickey’s Speedway USA (N64) Review – A Fun Kart Racer from Rare

This review is from late 2010/early 2011.  I added a few things, but it’s mostly unchanged.  It’s a good game, give it a try!

  • Name: Mickey’s Speedway USA
  • Developer: Rare
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Released: late 2000 (US/EU), early 2001 (Japan)
  • Review Written: Late 2010

box front

Mickey’s Speedway USA is a kart racing game from Rare, and it’s a highly under-appreciated one.  Perhaps overlooked because of its license, the game released in late 2000 and is a lot better than people give it credit for.  I got the game back in early 2010, but barely played it before putting it aside as frustrating and not fun.  Well, for some reason, in late 2010 I went back to it, and started enjoying it a lot more.  It’s not the game is should have been, certainly, but it is actually a pretty good, and I would say underrated, kart racing game.  This game was one of three Mickey racing games by Rare; the other two are on Game Boy Color, and are average games in my opinion.  This is is by far my favorite of the three.

The first problem with the game is obvious: The game has a simple interface and a somewhat bland real-world design style that has little of Diddy Kong Racing (DKR)’s personality.  This is disappointing for Mario Kart style kart racing fans who probably want more fantastical environments and more thrilling tracks than you get here.  And as a Rare and Disney game, there’s no excuse for the environments being so bland.  It’s definitely a big disappointment.  Unlike DKR, this game has no overworld to drive around in, no missions aside from winning races, no bosses, no boats or planes to drive, none of that.  Just kart racing.  Also, most of the first 12 tracks are somewhat bland in design; the later tracks get more interesting, but I bet a lot of people won’t play it that far… I almost didn’t.

The later tracks do get pretty interesting and challenging, though.  They also start to fit the themes better; though Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Seattle, and other early tracks are very bland and generic, later courses like The Everglades, Hawaii, and Texas are much more interesting and fit their themes much better.  Some of the later tracks are still weird, like Oregon, which is like a giant forest or jungle or something, but those others really are quite good.  They’re much harder too, but that’s fine, there should be challenge somewhere in the game.  It’s well worth getting through the less interesting earlier parts to get to the later, better tracks! 🙂

The controls in this game are fantastic.  If one thing pushes this game towards greatness, it’s the controls.  You have great control over your kart; you won’t be skidding all over the place, but going where you want.  Sharp turns may require braking or ‘powersliding’ (brake then hit R to jump, I think, to do it best), but that’s easy to do.  Really, the controls in this game are about as good as any kart racer I’ve played, and better than many.  Rare did a great job with the controls.

The game is designed to gradually increase in speed as you progress.  In each difficulty the karts go faster than the last. This is particularly noticeable between Beginner and Intermediate; the speed jump is large.  Going from Intermediate to Professional is a bit less.  On the upper two difficulties this is a pretty fast moving game and those karts really zip along.  The framerate is solid throughout however, and the game has a minimum of slowdown, in single player mode at least (I have not played it in multiplayer yet).  This is probably why the graphics feel somewhat simplistic in design, they were trying to focus on keeping up the framerate… it definitely isn’t 60 fps, but it’s solid, smooth, and helps keep the game completely playable, which is great.  I mean, I wish the game had more visual effects, like dynamic lighting, etc, but given that this game sadly does not support the expansion pak, the effort to keep up the framerate is appreciated.  That’s probably also why there is a bit of distance fog, though at least it is well off in the distance.

Still, I very much do wish that they HAD supported the expansion pak and pushed a bit more, particularly in those blander early tracks.  In addition to the fog, the missing dynamic lighting is really noticeable in some tracks such as Chicago, which looks like something straight out of DK64, except without the awesome dynamic lighting, just static stuff.  Mickey’s Speedway USA was released in 2000, and it should have had expansion pak support. That Rare left it out of this game, Banjo-Tooie, Jet Force Gemini, and Conker’s BFD really makes no sense and is pretty disappointing.  I can understand not REQUIRING one, in order to maximize your audience, but they should have supported it for the enhancements it would allow!  Still, the game has a very smooth, clear look and looks beautiful if you look at it, with nice textures, no pixelization, and all the things you expect from better-looking N64 games.  Despite the somewhat simple and understated looks in many parts of the game, it actually is a pretty nice looking game.

box back

The game starts out with only a few characters available.  The games’ character selection is small; the ones that are here are great, but there aren’t enough of them.  You start with just six characters, and there are only four more to unlock, one of which requires Mickey’s Speedway USA for the GBC and a transfer pak to get.  Another issue is that the unlockable characters have better stats than the standard ones, so the game is not balanced.  In a kart racing game, the characters probably should be balanced!  The default characters are Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Goofy, and Pete. The unlockables are Dewey, Louie, Ludwig von Drake, and, via transfer pak and GBC copy, Huey.  Yeah, three of the four unlockables are pallette swaps (Huey, Dewey, and Louis) and there are only six default characters.  Definitely a bit weak.  However, all of them do speak, and quite a bit. This leads to the audio category.

The game has solid music, with a different song in each track, I believe.  It’s background-music stuff, but works well.  The sound effects are mostly decent, but as I said, the characters speak, I lot, from a very small library of voice samples.  This means that you hear the same things many, MANY times.  Every time they finish a lap, each character says something about their position, such as whether they’re doing well and happy or badly and sad, pretty much.  Whenever one shoots another, both the attacker and victim say something.  This is generally specific to the character that they’re interacting with, but each pair of characters has only ONE interaction line — so every time Mickey shoots Minnie you hear the same thing, pretty much.  I can easily see this really annoying people, but somehow I don’t mind so much so far, probably because the voice quality is great and the characters all sound exactly like they should, though.  Mickey sounds just like Mickey Mouse, Donald has that spluttery anger unintelligible thing, the nephews sound just like you expect… it’s entertaining and charming.  Repetitive and annoying, but also entertaining and charming, so overall for me at least it cancels out. I’m sure this is something that will vary from person to person though. 🙂

Mickey’s Speedway USA is broken into five racing championships of four tracks, plus a practice course and one hidden track for timetrial/multiplayer only.  You start with three championships unlocked.  You get the fourth by getting golds in all three of the first, and the fifth by finding the four hidden parts hidden in four of the levels from the first sixteen.  There are also Platinum medals to get if you wish, which you receive by finishing first in all four races of a circuit.  You also unlock cheats and three of the hidden characters as you progress and win championships (one hidden character for getting golds on the first three circuits in Beginner, another for doing that on Intermediate, and the last for beating everything in the game).  The most useful cheat is the infinite-continues one, which fortunately you get before the fifth circuit.

When I first played the game, I started on the middle difficulty. It was really hard and I lost badly every time, not finishing in the top three in multiple tries. You only get two continues in the circuit by default, so it’s tough. Finally I gave up and played the Beginner difficulty, and won fairly easily… but by then was tired of the game and quit playing for the better part of a year.

So, that’s where I picked up in late 2010, with one gold medal in one circuit and that’s it. But by the end of the day, I had everything but the golds in Intermediate and Professional in the fifth circuit, meaning I won 13 circuits in one day (three platinums, 10 golds, I believe).  Um, yeah. 🙂  I definitely had fun… and, playing with the first unlockable character once I got him and then the second one once I got him, the difficulty level definitely got easier.  Their stats are better, as I said, so if you want a better chance using them is definitely recommended, which is a problem with the game, as I said earlier.  In a kart racer really everyone should be balanced! Here they aren’t, you have to choose the better ones to have a better chance at winning. 🙁

Well, I will say that the fifth circuit is MUCH harder than the first four.  Much tougher designs, much trickier layouts, more traps and obstacles, narrow roads with pits on the side… I beat the game in Beginner, though it definitely took several continues to get the later tracks down (thanks, infinite continues cheat!), but the higher two difficulties are much harder thanks to the high speeds.  In Intermediate, though, I don’t know if I’ve managed to finish better than 5th place in the first track of the last circuit, Hawaii… stupid coconuts! 🙂  Mickey’s Speedway USA gets a lot of criticism for being not as good as Diddy Kong Racing, and it probably isn’t, but it is better than it gets credit for, and harder as well.  The last championship is a serious challenge.  I really wonder if any of the people calling this game “easy” have played the fifth championship, Frantic Finale.  It’s HARD.  The tracks in that circuit are frustrating, memorization-heavy, and tough all-around.  All four tracks in that circuit have lots of sharp turns with no walls, obstacles are all over, and more.  The games’ very high speeds in the upper difficulty levels make this even harder.  If I didn’t make it clear earlier, Mickey’s Speedway USA is a fast game for a kart racer, that’s for sure.  In Professional difficulty, I think this has to be one of the fastest kart racers I’ve ever played.  It’s good that the framerate stays solid the whole time.  Also, it has a Super Mario Kart-style coin system, oddly enough.  It is true that it takes a while for the game to get hard and the first three championships are somewhat disappointing, and that’s an issue when there are only five, but it IS worth sticking with, the later parts are pretty good.

Oh, finding those four car parts that you need to get is definitely a pain.  I used a guide to look up where the three of them I didn’t run into while going through the tracks the first time were, and don’t regret it at all.  Just look them up and go find them, spare yourself the pain and frustration of wandering around looking.  It’s a collection quest that you’ll probably need to do in order to beat the game.

Also, finally, and the game does have a battle mode, called “Challenge Mode” here.  There are four arenas, all flat and quite bland Super Mario Kart style designs, with no height or layers like the arenas in Mario Kart 64 and DKR have.  However, the game does have bots, so you can play battle mode in single player too, which is nice; battle modes like this very rarely have bots, it really is a great feature for them to put in.  The AI is definitely suspect, though — I only played battle mode a few times but managed to win despite doing no damage to any of the other three cars… er, yeah.  Even so, it’s a nice feature to have regardless. 🙂

Anyway, overall Mickey’s Speedway USA is a decent game. It deserves better than it got from reviews like IGN’s 68%.  I myself would give it a B+.  It’s a very ‘safe’ game, pushing no boundaries and breaking no new ground, but it’s fun to play and has a decent, if not overwhelming, amount of content.  I’d definitely recommend it for kart racing fans, I imagine many passed it up, given how many mediocre to poor reviews the game got.  I know that’s a good part of why I didn’t buy it for years, but when I finally did, it was pleasantly surprising.  Mickey’s Speedway USA is an overlooked and underrated game genre fans should definitely play.

About Brian

Computer and video game lover
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