a review of Mario Kart Wii
a videogame developed by nintendo
and published by nintendo
for the Nintendo Wii Budget-Price Fun Device
text by tim rogers
And so this is Christmas — and what have we Mario Kart Wii.
Actually, so proud of that first sentence right there, I let this review sit untouched for an hour and a half, and now that air has returned to my lungs and the pain in the pit of my stomach has evaporated, I have no idea what I was going to say. It was going to all be very coherent and straightforward, and I was probably going to call this game the “Best Mario Kart Yet!” and maybe even give it a perfect score. I don’t know anymore, though. So it often goes with criticism — you have to nip opinions in the bud, or else they start to change. Looks like I’m going to just have to complain about this game’s box for seven or eight paragraphs before actually talking about the game, and by the time I start talking about the game, you’ll have already counted all the paragraphs and reported the tally on your favorite web forum, and damned me repeatedly to the Special Hell for obese, homosexual serial murderers. Which, if only you’d stick around to the end of the review, you’d see is precisely the thing that a person who “likes” Mario Kart is supposed to do, anyway.
Insert the sound of me sighing! (If you need help imagining what I look like, imagine the World’s Fattest, Gayest Serial Murderer.)
Before I commence a long, perhaps-planned (“second-degree”) tangent about the box, let’s take a look at this sentence, which I’m pretty sure I had planned out in my head long before I lost concentration:
“Mario Kart Wii turns any weeknight into Christmas Eve.”
I’m pretty sure that when I first cooked that sentence up in my brain I meant to use it in a fairly straightforward review, in which I compared Mario Kart Wii fondly to what many human beings growing up in first-world countries consider to be a delicious and savorable evening of family togetherness and friendly rivalry as each prodigal brothers communicates the girth of his derring-dos far away from the fireplace.
Now, though, a few hours (during which “office work” was done) and several espressos removed from the original typing of that sentence, I’m capable of a more linear forensic analysis: perhaps, subconsciously, the writer of that sentence (“me”) was considering his own definition of Christmas Eve, which includes references to being locked in his room upstairs (by his own hand), gritting his teeth at the sound of pleasure rumbling up from downstairs, and girding up his loins for the morning, when he, despite pulling in a 4.0 GPA for his entire life and never speaking a single profane word, will not receive a single gift. More to the point, he’s going to have to sit there by the Christmas tree and watch his little brother open morbidly expensive present after morbidly expensive present — or else be excommunicated from his parents’ idea of the Catholic Church.
That is to say, yes, “Christmas” for me is synonymous with gritting my teeth and hissing like a rabid fairy whilst all the world becomes an orchestra in the name of pleasing someone even fatter than I am.
To be fair, Mario Kart Wii isn’t exactly like Christmas — in the case of real Christmas, my little brother would hop aboard the Fun Train at “YESSSSSSSSSSSS” Station and crash immediately into a wall, almost as animalistically pleased to report that “THIS SHIT IS BROKEN ALREADY WHAT THE heck” as he had been five minutes ago when he said “SWEET DUDE THIS IS ALL I EVER WANTED”. With Mario Kart Wii, no one complains that dad is a limp-noodle moron for not buying enough AA batteries, because they’re all “having fun” pointing the remote control at their RC cars and pretending it’s moving.
Here is where I am tempted, as I usually am, to say all the positive things about the game, just to get it out of the way. That means it’s time, once again, to engage my masterminded plan to Get the Kids off my Lawn — ie, begin the tongue-speaking tangent ritual. Lucky for you guys, I might have actually had this tangent written out for, like, two months already:
So Mario Kart Wii is the next title in a long line of games that come with a plastic accessory to snap the Wii Remote into. This time, it’s a steering wheel. Snap your Wiimote into this plastic steering wheel — made of delicious, vinyl smelling, pistol-heavy white plastic — and now you can pretend you’re driving a car. On your sofa! Welcome to the future!
The Wii Wheel is Nintendo’s first perhaps-inadvertent acknowledgement of just how silly the name “Wii” is, particularly because it repeats the “Whee” sound twice in a row, giving us a play on “Wee-wee”, which is a “cute” name that young parents frighteningly think up when it comes time to tell their male children what that shrunken sausage between their thighs is, or explain to their little girls what a dictionary would have to say about when water starts voluntarily leaking out the crack between their legs. Why didn’t they just call the accessory the “Wiil”? Probably because it would look ridiculous. You know how you can repeat a word over and over and over again, and then suddenly the word loses all meaning (Glove Glove Glove Glove Glove Glove Glove)? It’d be a lot like that. For over a year now, I personally have been comfortable with the name “Wii”. It has, for the longest time, struck me as entirely juvenile that any adult (at least, I’m pretty sure that anyone smart enough to type words on the internet must be an adult) would see the name “Wii” and think of “Wee-wee” — a maturity-archaic descriptor for urinary evacuation and/or the penis itself — before they would think of, I don’t know, “We”, the preferred first-person plural pronoun of English students worldwide.
If you set your mind to it, you can make any molehill into an apocalypse, so let’s try with the Wii Wheel: it is rigidly documented that when Nintendo’s concept-men got together under the Fellowship of the Revolution, desiring only to reinvent the way people think about budget-priced half-hearted morally void videogames, they had absolutely no idea what they were going to make in the end. On Kotaku there was this story linked once, with a bunch of pictures of concept sketches for the Nintendo “Revolution”‘s eventual controller. One of them was shaped like a huge Super Mario invincibility star (I can’t call it a “Starman” in good faith because that would be infringing on the David Bowie song, and infringing on David Bowie (he’s a big fan of the site) is something the Action Button Action Legal Team has told me repeatedly not to do), and it had like five buttons on it, one at each point. I guess players were supposed to press the Happy Button whenever they started to feel sad, and the various games (yet with pre-production titles like “Next Mario Game” and “Next Zelda Game” and “Next Animal Crossing“) would reciprocate by playing back a happy, encouraging text-message related to the day’s weather (*internet connection required): “Six days of rain in a row means the price of brown rice will be sixteen yen cheaper per kilogram three months from now!”
Flash back way before this, and remember that time at an E3 press conference when Satoru Iwata, who we at Action Button Dot Net are dead convinced is absolutely not a stupid person, walked on-stage and presented the audience with their reward for bearing the heat of the afternoon and stale muffins: a little plastic box. “This is our new games console. It’s finished, and it’s the size of three DVD cases stacked on top of one another!” Amazed, shrieking applause followed.
Basically, that was Satoru Iwata talking out his balls, though not in the way you think: the console most certainly was complete. I mean, let’s face it, the thing’s just a Gamecube with a spec bump. I’m not knocking that aspect of the Wii, not by a longshot. In fact, I’m applauding the size of its testicles: Nintendo had slaved away for years under a liverspotted coal-tar-stuffting octogenarian with an epic mean streak, Sunday-driving down one wrong boulevard after another, and eventually they’d lost touch with the “people” that had made them rich in the first place. If Iwata were a character in Final Fantasy Tactics, he’d be a level 99 Calculator, for sure: with one swift flick of his wrist, he was able to make an epicly large percentage of Japanese Human Beings go bug-eyed at the sight of outdated graphics and tinny sound. All it took to pull off this magic trick was one bite-sized cypher: the idea-nugget that there are gamers, and there are non-gamers, and that non-gamers can be divided up into “people who have never played games” and “people who played games before and then stopped”, and that “people who played games before and then stopped”, while perhaps a smaller group than “people who have never played games”, are in fact probably a larger group than “gamers”. The point of Nintendo’s Revolution Vigil, during which I’m guessing a dozen greying men huddled in a bomb shelter subsisting on a meat-locker full of Boss Coffee for three months was to figure out how, exactly, to package the Same Old Shit in a way that made Grandma and Grandpa stuff their same old pants with excitement.
In the end, the “Wii”, a moniker chosen for its “first-person plural” aspect as well as its similarity to a shout of uncontrollable glee, was born and branded as “The DS, on your TV — only now, the stylus is invisible“. The DS, of course, had been the result of Satoru Iwata having conveniently eaten a Very Grotesquely Large Salad and a bowl of rice precisely twenty-two hours before first seeing the television commercials for Sony’s EyeToy: during that forty-five minute breakneck brickstuff, Iwata must have screamed “Eureka!” so many times that he couldn’t not invent the Nintendo DS by the time he began washing his hands. If only Sony Japan had had a little faith, if only they hadn’t dismissed “casual games” as something the Japanese don’t “do”, or if only Sony Europe had developed some solid concepts (like, say, EyeToy games that were deeper than window-washing and/or don’t feature the player’s horrifyingly-lit slack-jawed visage as the “protagonist”) to sell said septegenarian board members, then maybe the PlayStation 2 would be the top-selling console instead of the Wii, and the PlayStation 3 would either look more or less depressing, given your perspective.
Alternate sentence-clump I couldn’t fit in the above paragraph: long before I obtained an interest in poetry and my penis got so inexplicably large, I worked at a GameStop in Indiana, from roughly the Dreamcast launch to the PlayStation 2 launch. Right before the PlayStation 2 was released, Sony sent us demo stations, with fiber-optic blue track-lighting embedded in frosted glass: “PlayStation 2”, it said. We put this demo kiosk right next to the Dreamcast demo kiosk, and the kids who we accidentally babysat while their mother stood in the women’s shoe store across the hall looking lonely would stand there and squeal at the sphere-eyed, single-complexioned John Madden Football Warriors on screen: “PlayStation Two is toight!” We switched the PlayStation 2 inside for a Dreamcast, with the objectively-better-looking NFL 2K1, and the kids began to ogle it, and squeal: “PlayStation Two is toight!” In the end, we probably hecked up the world economy in a chaos-theory sort of way — maybe our trickery of those dumb kids, for selfish purposes, had been the butterfly-wing-flap that brought about the DS/Wii hurricane, who knows. Though at the time, it really, honestly seemed like something to do.
Back in the real world, here we are with this Nintendo Wii wheel. I’m not going to make too much fun of it, because it has a delicious weight and it smells like vintage vinyl records. It also manages to miraculously fill in some kind of psychological gap and feel, most of the time, not at all like bullstuff. This is remarkable, I guess, because games like Excitetruck on the Wii and Motorstorm on the PlayStation 3 have featured controller-tilting steering wheel controls and mostly ended up feeling cheap instead of psychically immersive. The Wii Wheel is no second coming of Christ or anything, though playing Mario Kart Wii with and without it leads me to mathematically declare that yes, it does make a difference.
Still, there’s a sort of weird pseudo-backwardness about it. If Nintendo’s goal with the Wii was to create new genres of fun while lighting peoples’ imaginations on fire, and if this goal required them to make a controller that was as simple as possible, why complicate things? What’s with all the add-ons? Like, I was at the presentation where Iwata revealed the new controller; I heard him say their goal was to make the simplest game controller possible, because a PlayStation pad was too daunting and the sight of an Xbox controller gave grandpa epilepsy; I thought it was hilarious, brilliant. Then they rolled out the nunchuk attachment, as if to say, “You can play regular games on it, too.” That left me a tiny bit confused. I don’t even feel like finishing this paragraph now, to be honest, so I’ll just say, and objectively, that if this world we live in is one where a PlayStation 3 controller, with four face buttons, a D-pad, four triggers, and two analog sticks, can and will make your aunt call the cops, then the Nintendo Wii Remote, plus protective rubber safety condom, plus nunchuk, is obviously a hybrid sextoy / murder-weapon, and you will need a Catholic priest to perform an exorcism on your eventual death bed if you’ve ever so much looked at one.
Though the initial Nintendo “Revolution” controller concept reel clearly showed a guy playing (from a point of view inside the TV, looking out — a crucial point for what we’re going to discuss later) a first-person shooter of some sort, Nintendo eventually released a “Zapper” peripheral, which is no more than a hollow shell that cheaply binds your remote and nunchuk together into the shape of a crude gun. It’s supposed to help the players’ imaginations, or something. If you ask me, it looks like what happens when the cinematographer for “Star Trek” drinks on the set.
If Nintendo is all about giving us this magnificent magic wand — and the Wiimote is a grand technological icon on par with the iPod, don’t get me wrong — and letting our imaginations run wild, why must they continually doubt our imaginations?
I would put that question in huge, bold letters, though something holds me back. I guess it’s the fact that, yes, I find that the Wii Wheel really does enhance the experience of using controller tilts to steer in Mario Kart Wii. Instead, all I can do is whimper: though the controller is shaped like a steering wheel, we have to press the “2” button on the Wiimote in order to accelerate, which makes it absolutely impossible to employ the 10-2 position on the wheel while playing the game. Why bother to simulate driving, if you’re going to force people to do so in such a manner that would, in the case of a real-life head-on collision and airbag deployment, result in the driver’s right hand flipping backward at a high enough speed to possibly break the passenger’s neck? (I smell a very loose class-action lawsuit, though I suppose Japan is exempt, for obvious reasons.)
When Nintendo announced — at the same press conference where they revealed the remote — that they’d be making “shells” for enhancing the remote, this isn’t exactly what I had in mind. I thought “shell” had been a slip — I thought they meant they’d keep making attachments like the nunchuk, things with buttons or whatever on them.
Therefore: if the upcoming Super Mario Sluggers baseball game comes with a baseball bat shell for the remote, it will be the Piece of White Plastic that Broke the Aircraft Carrier’s Back, and I will walk down to my local convenient store, withdraw 6,000 yen from the ATM, and proceed to eat it right there, in front of the super-hot visual-kei cashier dude. Maybe he’ll mistake me for a hardass, or else a wounded lunatic, and he’ll ask for my phone number, and we can have tea parties.
This, of course, is not even the tangent I meant to go on. No, it’s all just context for what I’m about to say:
Mario Kart Wii‘s box, in addition to being shiny, delicious, and somehow both white and colorful, in addition to being packed just firmly enough to squeeze with the tips of the fingers, setting off “I am holding a High-Quality Videogame Product, I must run home and eat a bowl of cereal AQAP” alarms within my obese human brain, also features a picture of Super Mario himself, and his brother Luigi, both holding Wii Wheels.
Why are they holding the Wii Wheel? Well, they’re playing Mario Kart Wii, of course.
An open-mouthed forensic analysis of this follows:
Mario and Luigi are holding the Wii Wheel on the front of the box for Mario Kart Wii.
They are floating on air, with feet kicking wildly and surprised expressions on their faces.
Their feet are, for the record, not in the position that people’s feet would need to be in to operate an automobile.
Beneath their bodies are shadows of what look to be formula-1 race cars.
The Wii Wheel is included in the box, as is a copy of Mario Kart Wii.
The photograph of the Wii Wheel in the background of the cover image is the actual size of the Wii Wheel in the box.
The DVD case containing the Mario Kart Wii software also features the picture of Mario and Luigi using the Wii Wheel.
The Wii Wheel in the background image of the instruction manual cover is a drawing, not a photograph.
It is also not actual size, for obvious reasons.
The Wii Wheel is not needed to play Mario Kart Wii.
The Seventh Circle of Hell is revealed on the game’s title screen, which features a (much-lower-resolution) instance of the aforementioned image.
(An inside-the-box observation: Amazon.co.jp’s official image of this game’s box is an actual photograph of the actual box, with an airbrushed shadow and all.)
(An outside-the-box observation: videogames are about us pretending to do things; in Mario Kart, we step into Mario’s virtual shoes as we hold a real-like steering wheel. Mario’s use of the wheel on this box can then only be seen as a mockery of us flesh-and-blood creations: if this game is about pretending to drive a car, then Mario is pretending to pretend to drive a car. Et cetera.)
Now, it is quite possible that Mario and Luigi are sitting on a sofa, though the sofa has been invisibled for presumably the same reasons that music comes even out of the trash cans at Disneyland. That’s not the point. The point is that here were are, adults, Horny As Hell in the 21st Century, possibly fornicating three or four times a week, possibly enjoying fornicating more than our forefathers did, and here’s Mario and Luigi, holding the same controller I’m holding, freaking out as they look in my direction. I’m about to press the A button and begin the enthralling user registration process, and they’re already having fun, albeit in freeze-frame. This is when the Nintendo “Revolution” concept reel showed off at Tokyo Game Show 2005 all comes rushing back to me: cheap horror-movie sounds, a young boy in a yellow T-shirt aiming the Wiimote with his right hand and twiddling an analog stick with his left hand while his girlfriend’s teeth chatter; some said that the “Revolution” was Nintendo giving a spiritual tax refund to those numb nincompoops who thought pulling the NES controller sharply upward might make Mario jump higher, and maybe those people were right; at the time, all that was certain was that Nintendo was now inside the game, looking out at us. We would be the stars in their new games, just as “You” would be TIME magazine’s “person of the year” in 2006. When the “Wii” was eventually named, and then quickly launched, the brilliant gateway for many non-players was the opportunity to craft a “Mii”, a videogame character that would essentially look like you — if you were a videogame character (with somewhat stuffty graphics).
Flash forward to 2008, an era some have dubbed “The Now”: here we have Established Videogame Characters, the Super Mario Brothers, aka Mario and Luigi, holding the game controller that real-life you and me are using to control said Established Videogame Characters in said Established Videogame Franchise. It’s easy to generalize, and raise up scarecrow debates, like how it’s bizarre that the box art (and title screen) portrays videogame characters doing something human beings can do on their own instead of portray them doing the fantastic, escapist things they can do in the ame, or ask hilarious questions like “What’s next, Little Sister using an Xbox 360 controller to control Big Daddy on the front of BioShock 2?”
More to the point: Part of Nintendo’s policy for Wii software was (and continues to be) that the advertisements always feature real-life human beings enjoying the games. Wii Play‘s box shows a real human hand clinging to a Wiimote, for example. With games like Smash Bros., with strong brand appeal and old-school controls, the advertising standards didn’t enter the equation. With Mario Kart Wii, Nintendo had themselves painted into a corner — on the one hand, we’ve got this orgasmically beloved characters, and on the other hand, we have a clever new way to engorge the players’ endorphins, to make them feel the car. That they went with advertising both at once is a no-brainer; that they made said image into their game’s title screen is the trumpet of a kind of third-world apocalypse. It bangs a gong in the brain: at Nintendo, something has changed.
Then you realize that, by playing Mario Kart Wii for enough hours, you can unlock the ability to use your Mii in a race.
The argument that ensues is awesome. You can figure it out yourself, because I have to throw up right now, for reasons completely not related to this article, or even videogames. It’ll be like a mad-lib. I’ll write the beginning:
“If and when they make a Wii2, with 720p graphics and a hard-drive, if and when they upgrade the Miis so their appendages don’t look as gimpy and/or so they can have more interesting clothes and a couple more face part options (multicolored hair, et cetera), there will still be a ‘Classic Mii’ option, for people who want the gimpy appendages or more limited selection of noses.”
And then the ending:
“And when, at last, Classic Mii Kart Wii 2 is released, you’ll be able to unlock Baby Mario.”
ACTUALLY TALKING ABOUT THE GAME NOW
That was fun!
Now let’s talk about Mario Kart Wii. I’ll use the inverted pyramid method to summarize:
Mario Kart Wii for the Nintendo Wii, by Nintendo: you’ve played it already, or it’s definitely not your favorite game ever. I despise the weapons and everything they represent. The tracks are shining examples of good videogame level design — great videogame level design, even. We’re talking Original-Super Mario Bros.-worthy level design. Even the jerk-off parts in two tracks where you get fired out of a cannon and thus are not controlling the game for a whole three seconds are forgivable when, upon landing, you’re, like, going down a snowboard slope, with awesome speed-boosting half-pipes. The motorcycles are cool, with appropriately floaty drift mechanics, and the ability to do wheelies for extra speed boost. The graphics are colorful and sharp, with gritty textures that look actually cute, even confectionary-like; it’s like the Wii’s hamster-wheel graphics processor is finding a niche as some kind of sideways “new retro”. The character voices are hateful trash, a cacophony of homicidal crocodiles kacking down cotton candy, schizophrenic ostriches kacking down skittles, kleptomanic velociraptors kacking down broken glass; the music, for the most part, sounds like something a Brazilian community college professor would compose as a tool for conditioning the more gorillia-like breed of human &^#$# to masturbate to, thus sparing the lives and virginities of entire city blocks. Donkey Kong is great, and it’s sad that his voice sounds like Goofy drowning in Jell-O.
Now that that’s over with, I’m going to go back and expand on the second sentence of the above paragraph re: weapons.
I hate the weapons. Well, not all of them. The green shell and the banana peel can stay. And, of course, the speed-boost mushroom, which isn’t a “weapon”, anyway.
Anyway, most of the rest of the weapons are hateful. Let’s go ahead and make a list, in order from least to most hateful:
Red Shells: I guess these are kind of okay. They target the person in front of you — or right behind you — and they’re usually a sure hit, though they can be avoided.
Bob-omb: throw in any direction to cause a big explosion that can possibly catch many other drivers at once. I guess it’s decent because it takes a bit of skill to use, and it’s dangerous because you can get yourself caught up in the blast.
Thunder cloud: a thunder cloud appears above your car and hisses at you for a bit; wait too long and it’ll strike you with lightning and shrink you; tag another racer before the lightning comes out and the cloud will stick to his car, instead. Decent because it makes for a nice little game of hot potato and it carries a risk.
Super dash mushroom: a dash mushroom that can be used something like twenty times in rapid succession. Basically the game’s way of telling you that you suck, though you might stand a chance of getting better if only you win a couple of races and feel good about yourself.
Mega mushroom: turns your car twice the size and jacks the speed up to 200%. You can also crush any drivers you run over. Mostly fair because there’s a risk accompanying the reward (ie, your car is harder to control).
Invincibility Star: makes you invincible and about 200% faster. Kind of almost the same thing as the Mega Mushroom.
Bullet Bill: turns your car and driver into a Bullet Bill, which flies at about 1000% the speed of your car, flattening anything in its path and usually jumping you ahead ten or so places in the race; really easy to control. Kind of really stupidly unfair in a “Yay Button” sort of way.
POW Block: use this to cause an earthquake, flattening every car that’s touching the ground. Wouldn’t be quite so hateful if it was a tiny bit easier to avoid the quakes. I suppose you’re supposed to jump at some precise millisecond to avoid it, though I haven’t succeeded at it once. Always seems to impact just as you land on a tiny island before a ramp that will jump you to another tiny island, meaning that you fall into a pit and lose about twelve places in the race.
hecking Squid Thing: No, I’m not going to call it by its canonical name. Use this stupid thing to telepathically squirt ink on every driver in front of you, making it “harder” for them to “see”. If you get hit with this yourself, that means there’s going to be a big ugly black “ink” effect on the screen, obstructing your view. If you use this against computer racers, the “ink driving” AI algorithm kicks in, everyone starts bizarrely wobbling back and forth, and it’s horribly depressing: for a split-split second, your brain becomes unable to differentiate between the phrases “next time I get laid” and “the day I die”. Seriously, obstructing the view is not a good idea for a videogame. Have you ever heard about that blind kid who can beat anyone at Mortal Kombat? Yeah, that’s because Mortal Kombat isn’t a real videogame.
Lightning Bolt: awarded only to the most headgear-wearing-&^#$#ed of players, those who are in twelfth place and deserve to be there forever. When used, it shrinks every other kart on the course to half speed and half size, making them instantly crushable by the lightning-bolt-using driver. However, it does not change the fact that the driver who used it most likely sucks. It awards them only hope, for a few seconds, before restoring everything to normal and telling the jerk who used it to get to the back of the bus again. In short, it just causes immense annoyance to anyone who’s not losing to everyone.
The Fake Item Box: for heck’s sake, it doesn’t look anything like a real item box. For one thing, it’s red, and for another thing, the question mark is upside-down. According to the Japanese manual, “It looks exactly like a real item box.” That’s hecking false advertising, right there. I mean, I suppose that the average Japanese person doesn’t immediately reject an upside-down question mark, and — well, I realize that the average American can’t identify the North American continent on a map, though hell. It’s really, stupidly embarrassing, this thing. Anyone who hits one is either stupid enough to think it’s a real item box or just forced into a position where there’s no alternative, and in the latter case, they’re just going to think (if they’re like me, which I’m sure everyone is) of how ridiculous it is that these game designers might seriously think (or, even worse, be pretending to think) that people will mistake this thing for a real item box.
The Blue Shell: . . . well.
The Blue Shell is a sign of the times; it’s the first nail in the coffin of game design. Know that I come from a proud heritage of people who play Virtua Fighter 5 and genuinely enjoy losing because it teaches you something.
If you’re in a losing position and have been for a good amount of time, an algorithm behind the scenes kicks in and awards you a Blue Shell. Use it, and it rushes to the head of the pack and crashes into the person in first place with absolute certainty. Other drivers in the general area will also be decimated.
I’m sure that the general idea of the Blue Shell when it first appeared, in Super Mario Kart 64, was that a person in last place would obtain it, shudder with joy, and then be filled with the turgid urge to claw their way to the head of the pack and use it when within strategic range of the leaders.
In the current “videogame industry”, though, things like the Blue Shell are communistic concessions thrown to the people who Aren’t Getting Better. If my little brother, say, spent twenty hours a day doing something other than playing videogames — that is to say, if he sucked at videogames — the Blue Shell would be his “Best Thing Ever”: something to use when bitter and bored, to ruin the chances of the person who’s just so happening to win. The Blue Shell, simply described, is an easy way to strike back at the person who’s beating everyone, when you are the one losing to everyone. If that’s not heady, frothy communism in action, I really don’t know what the hell is. How is this a more family-friendly experience than killing hookers in Grand Theft Auto? If anything, the sugar-coating just makes the arsenic more dangerous, and it can’t be too hard to prove, from here, that Nintendo fanboys — big, sweaty, mouth-breathing — are actually individuals of scarier morals than most self-mutilating suicide-bombing terrorists.
Since the Nintendo Wii is the game console of the proletariat (“the game console of the proletariat” is the nice way to say “they should sell most of the games in the supermarket tabloid rack, next to ‘1,001 Baby Names for Girls (Now with more mixed-race names)'”), Nintendo has seen about sharpening the item randomization algorithms to razor edges. Everyone always has a chance to be in first place in Mario Kart Wii, which seems to make sense because I suppose it’s meant to be a “party” game for people with “friends”, though when you’re playing it dead alone, against a cold last-gen computer chip that’s only just barely powerful enough to keep a graphing calculator from meeting “six divided by three” with “ERROR”, and you’re about to cross the hecking finish line in first place and get hit by a POW Block, a Lightning Bolt, a Blue Shell, a Red Shell, and then the hecking Squid Thing — all it seems to do is present striking evidence that the world is full of pricks.
The theories seem stable enough: if we construct a few detailed Venn diagrams, we can prove that the person using the Blue Shell now might be the most technically skilled of players. He might just be having a run of stuffty luck because, of all the things we can mathematically prove about a race with more than two live (as in “not dead”) racers, someone must be losing at any given time, meaning that someone is getting these Almighty Items, and then using them, either out of bitterness or out of hope.
If you’ve got a pen and paper (or MSPaint), start making a flowchart of this: it is possible for a Good Player to be hecked back into last place, though Almighty Items only appear if one is in last place for a set period of time; a Good Player will most likely be able to advance a few places before being awarded an Almighty Item.
With a little bit of work I’m not 100% willing to do right now (got an erection again T-T), it can be quite easily proven that the only reason these items were originally conceived, in earlier installments of the series, was to make it possible for losers to become winners occasionally, and that in Mario Kart Wii, the items mainly exist to “liven up” the contest.
I have seen police officers who will accuse a man of being a homosexual for insisting that Mario Kart should just let the best man win. I’m well aware that I’m going to get at least a dozen half-sentence emails telling me that I obviously don’t like having fun. I’m fully prepared to ignore them. I stand by my assertion that maybe there’s a way to make an amazingly fun game with just a few weapons that require a small amount of skill to use.
In the name of research, I ironed my hair, donned designer eyeglasses, and gathered up a group of fourteen carrot-skinned, silver-lipped, corkscrew-beehive-headed Dolce-and-Gabbana-sunglasses-wearing Japanese part-time prostitutes and made them wait outside my apartment in single file while I forced each one in turn to play Mario Kart Wii for an hour. Twelve of them would ask me for money, six would report me to the police and press rape charges, and I think two of them actually didn’t have brains or eyes, though all of them managed to win first, second, or third place on cumulative points in the 50cc Mushroom Cup, despite them all whipping the wheel around over their heads and flailing like a lunatic, like they’d never even seen a guy driving a car in a movie.
In the end, there was me, trying to win the 150cc Special Cup, being hecked over countless times by jerk-off Lightning Bolts or Blue Shells and winding up in second place overall, maybe a dozen times in a row. It comes to feel almost like video poker, after a while — the computer obviously knows what you need in order to win, and though it’s illegal in a sense if it relies on anything more than raw math to determine what cards are dealt, when you do lose, you feel like stuff and you’re dead positive that god hates you.
It can be surmised even by an elementary school dropout that Mario Kart Wii is designed from the ground up to be “a game that people enjoy with their friends”. At what cost to our dignity, though? By “our” I don’t just mean “Hardcore video-gamers”, I mean “the human race”. There’s some Brave-New-World-style stuff peeking out from behind mama’s skirt, here: why would someone even care to get “better” if it’s possible to just keep relying on the jerk-ass weapons and occasionally getting a lucky break, just for being a jerk? With Virtua Fighter 5, it’s like, if you lose to a guy, it’s because he’s better than you. If you really like the game, you’ll keep playing whether you win or lose — with the idea being that you should want to win. Mario Kart Wii imagines a world where “it’s not whether you win or lose — it’s how you play the game” or “it’s all in good fun” or “they’re just jealous” are not just something gym teachers tell the fat kid the day he gets hazed to death in the showers; it imagines that world, and then it runs with it, straight for the gates of Hell, nose to the sky. That ain’t how it always is, jack. They wouldn’t call it a “game” if it was possible to not want to win. Someone up there needs to respect that. Rather than rely on its existing, sharp, utterly enjoyable core mechanics to encourage players to play more and get better, the game scoops out its right eye and offers it to the gods of $$$. And it sold 300,000 units on its launch day in Japan.
Mario Kart Wii unfolds as a game-design exercise with the personality of that sniveling rat bastard at every Japanese corporate party, the one who squints at a spreadsheet all day, doing no real work, and feels inadequate that he’s not bench-pressing intertwined naked lesbians on his lunch breaks, who decides in his dead samurai heart that he must go around, get in everyone’s face, take their drinks out of their hands, hold them just out of reach, chortle, guffaw, and make sure everyone is having Adequate Amounts of Fun. Some day he’ll blackmail a decently not-unattractive woman into marrying him, and when his child gets kicked in the balls at school because his dad is an asshole, he’ll tell his wife that it’s a tough world and people have to learn. Deep within the jumble of motives and execution-style hiccups called Mario Kart Wii is a mathematical proof for why you should never let the Boss speak a single suggestive word at a meeting requiring creativity: the Boss, if nothing else, exists only to ask the most hideously obvious, stupid questions at the latest time possible, and usually, if he doesn’t do this, the whole company will figuratively go down the drain. By the end of a brain-dead night of trophy collecting, of the coin-toss-like stiff odds, of the pachinko race dynamics, of the unbelievable, improbable luck that the same two racers keep finishing in the top three even though you and everyone else are bouncing all over the place, of shuddering that a gorilla named “Donkey” can share a winner’s circle with a fairy-tale princess and another instance of said fairy-tale princess as a baby, the world starts to feel the wrong color. Your mind wanders back to the Miis, to Mario holding the controller on the box, to the shadows of racecars, to the Lightning Bolt, to the Blue Shell: it’s like, all of a sudden, a publicist informs the YMCA that every “we regret to inform you that a toddler shat in our olympic-sized swimming pool” letter is bad enough for their reputation to the point that they’re probably legally better off just pumping their pools nationwide full of human feces and calling it a day: People who find the possibility of stuff in the water repulsive are a liability, whereas people who don’t mind swimming in steaming feces can be classified as, among many other things, “loyal customers”.
In short, Mario Kart Wii is a snappy little racing game with some bright happy graphics and some smashing great track design best enjoyed at your own pace in the time attack mode. It is also a sign of an three-quarters-decent-sized apocalypse, though hey, as long as everyone is having fun, that’s all that counts!
In closing, the back of the Japanese box says, and I quote (in translation):
“Battle it out in twelve-player races with rivals from all over the world! Your friends far away, or people from anywhere in the world!*”
The semantics are intriguing, indicating dully to the reader that their friends are “far away”, and that anyone they haven’t ever met is a “people”, from “anywhere in the world”.
The applicable footnote reads:
“*You will need an internet connection.”
Welcome to the world, then. Hope you guys are enjoying the revolution.