Curmudgeon Gamer
Curmudgeoning all games equally.
03 May 2007
Virtual Console Adventures: The MK64 Bug
One of the things my local circle of gaming friends and I love is Mario Kart 64.

For my money SNES Mario Kart is a little better, but it's limited to two players. For multiplayer Mario Kart action, nothing matches the N64 version. Its battle mode provides a level of strategy unseen in what has become, in later installments of the series, a throwaway mode. Its race mode is also fairly awesome, despite some worrying design choices. It is a game that has kept us occupied for over a decade.

Last night, we were playing a few Mario Kart rounds on the Wii's Virtual Console, and we encountered a surprising flaw in the emulation. In one race on Moo Moo Farm, the game played at an obviously much higher speed than normal. I'm not talking about it just seeming faster through the Wii's increased framerate, it actually was a much faster race. The starting lights, instead of the measured "one... two... three", went by in less than a second, and during the race our velocities were likewise increased.

It was entertaining to play, once, but it wasn't accurate. We were lucky we were on Moo Moo Farm, a fairly laid-back course, and not, for example, Bowser's track. If we had been in a Grand Prix, a "real" game instead of a quick race, the playthrough would likely have been ruined.

Interestingly, the music and sound effects were not accelerated. One of us used a Star powerup during the game, and the invincibility music only had enough time to loop twice before the effect ran out. The next race, speeds returned to normal, and remained there until we stopped for the night.

We're not sure what circumstances triggered the speed-up. The story is that some people who have purchased Mario Kart 64 were later offered a mysterious update for it in the Wii Shop Channel. Nintendo is notoriously tight-lipped about what goes into these updates, and I hear that sometimes, like with Star Fox 64, they actually seem more like downgrades, rolling back some of Virtual Console's already-meager framerate improvements. If SF64 runs off the same emulator it is not unreasonable to assume that it will also suffer from speed spikes once in a while.

I'll probably check online for an update to see if it addresses the problem, but will it? It occurs so infrequently that we'll really never know if the flaw has been fixed or not unless it happens again. Nintendo has taken pains to keep the mechanics of Virtual Console hidden from the player, ostensibly for usability's sake, but there is a limit to what can be explained away in the name of simplicity, and it seems in this case that Nintendo is more trying to hide the details of Virtual Console's flaws by not talking about them.

But that is really a crappy way to treat one's customers. We deserve to know what the benefits and drawbacks to updating are before pressing the fatal button. C'mon Nintendo, give us some credit here.

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--John Harris at 10:57
Comment [ 8 ]

Comments on this post:

This is not unique to the VC version of MK64, I remember having this problem on the N64 version of the game as well. Though I have not played the VC version, and it's been a long time since I've played my N64 copy, I recall it happening on a few tracks. In all cases it was when I was playing with three other people.

It happened everytime I played the Skyscraper battle mode track with four players, and I think I remember it happening with four players on Moo Moo farm as well. I'm sure there were other tracks too.

There was also another bug in these 'speed-up' cases as well, whereby you would only get sound from player 1's screen.

Ahh the memories....

By Anonymous Ben, at 03 May, 2007 19:43  

Hm, I don't recall encountering the bug before, and I've played more than a little N64 Mario Kart myself.

Interesting to hear though.

By Blogger JohnH, at 03 May, 2007 22:51  

Yeah, the 3-player Skyscraper battle was well known to speed up. I don't know if that's the case in other levels or if this is something VC specific, but there were definitely instances where oddities like that would happen. Good stuff.

By Anonymous panadero, at 04 May, 2007 13:15  

I suspect that we're talking about different things here.

The Skyscraper battle level seems to run fast because the map has a relatively low number of polygons, and so frame rates there are much better than normal. What we observed was the game's internal timer being thrown off; even the starting lights were sped up.

By Blogger JohnH, at 04 May, 2007 13:54  

Why is anybody looking for customer-friendly conduct from Nintendo? The only company more abusive and dismissive of it's user base is Microsoft.

By Blogger Darcy, at 04 May, 2007 16:45  

In my opinion Nintendo's game software, for all its "teh kiddie" reputation, generally respects the user's intelligence far more than that of Sony or Microsoft. (There are exceptions, of course.) And their customer service, in general, has been fairly good.

But it is true that there are things about Virtual Console that could be improved. Nintendo tends to simplify their interfaces at the expense of features, and this is a case where a bit more feedback from the company is called for.

By Blogger JohnH, at 04 May, 2007 18:21  

Back on the old Nintendo 64, the game sped up as well.

I recall that it happened on MooMoo Farm, the DJ Jungle track from the final cup, and the Skyscraper battle.

It only ever seemed to happen in 3 player mode...

It seems that it could just be an issue brought over with the port of the game?

By Blogger Ryan, at 10 May, 2007 23:27  

ahh yes, sorry I said it was with four players, but you're right that it happens with three. I remember now.

It's not that the farme rate is running better than normal though, the game quite litteraly runs about twice as fast as normal, as though you're playing the game in fast forward.

By Anonymous ben, at 16 May, 2007 19:21  

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