Welcome To Mario Kart (2008)
They say when you’re lying on your deathbed thinking back over your life, you won’t be worrying about what job you had or how much money you made, but about the people you loved, in particular your one true love. Failing that there’s always your greatest races on Mario Kart 64. Such is the divine fun of what I am calling the greatest console game of all time.
Firstly, I’m not a gamer, but could have easily been. The last console I owned was an Amstrad CPC 464 green screen when I was fourteen that loaded games up on cassette. (I’m not in my mid 40’s, I just started way behind everyone else. I was playing Bombjack when other kids were playing NBA Jam on the Mega Drive. It’s all my Mum could afford!) I was always morally objected to the vast amount of time people vaporised on games, and ultimately opted to ‘improve my hand/eye co-ordination’ by playing guitar.
When I hit first year uni, what should I find in my University Village common room but my new closest buddies gathered around a multiple split screen, four controller blitz of animated turbo Mario Kartin’ mega-madness! The alien controller was handed to me as the starting lights ticked down, and thus, like the proverbial cigarette behind the high school gym, my Mario Kart addiction was born.
Mario Kart is a bliss triggering mash-up of poker machine, slot car track and cartoon. In the game, you can be one of eight characters from the ‘Super Mario Bros’ syndicate. There are four sets of four courses to play, each riddled with mystery boxes that give you weapons and power-ups to use on your foes, from missiles to bananas. From the first moment you turn the game on, your ears are blasted with the hyper-produced theme music, the first of many audio sugar cubes you are constantly fed as the game progresses, from the character’s raucous catch-cry’s, to the arpeggiated background synths.
Racing games have always been my favourite, mainly due to the fact that no matter how many times you play them, the result will be different. Adventure games and even platformers always disappointed me with their pre-programmed destinies. Skills wise, Mario Kart is a great leveller, and anyone can go from beginner to power hungry pro in minutes. Mario Kart also stands up to long gameplay, whereas most games over time tend to either get too dull or feel too creepy, like Goldeneye. Tell me you can play that vector maze by yourself for two hours and not feel like some isolated husk.
Mario Kart is like being in a Japanese flying dream. Like a poker machine, there’s just so many rewards for the senses. The turbo boost, the carnage of nailing an opponent with a weapon, the graceful power slides around corners, the three way battle to the finish line, all laden with bubbly sprites and gallant sound effects. Wario is my favourite character. He’s Mario’s evil twin brother and has a twisted Italian cackle that really appeals to me.
It had been nine years since my first year uni hey day, which eventually wore off as we all realised we had nine essays due overnight. But now, in my ‘difficult third decade’ riddled with freelance frustration and ego-whipping introspection Mario Kart has appeared in my share house, like a juicy red packet of electro-cigarettes, and I’m back there like a kid on a bike.