Jon Gracey's

Games That Rocked My World – #9: Mario Kart 64 – Part II

In N64, Virtual Console on November 14, 2011 at 4:40 pm

Title: Mario Kart 64

Format: N64, Virtual Console

Released: June 24th, 1997

Box_art_image_ii

If nostalgia is a beast that seduces the brain during one’s formative years, then the resultant offspring is truly spawned at university. (If you’re white and middle class. Like me!) All of a sudden everything you were into as a kid is retro and cool, and approximately 90% of university life is young adults repeatedly discovering they weren’t the only person to watch The Raccoons.

This is usually backwards-looking and disappointing. Either unironically joining The Neighbours society at Fresher’s Fair, or rewatching a beloved cartoon from your youth to find it’s a bit rubbish or a bit racist or a bit both. However, there are a few precious things that survive the erosion of time, and turn out to, even after repeated re-exposure, have something about them that has carried through the ages. Something that outlasts trends and fads and transcends a cultural movement to become imbued with that most elusive of qualities: timelessness.

53 Hallgarth street was my home for the last year of university life. It was a beautiful, good-sized house, and I’ve never had a better set of friends and roommates. We’d slowly forged bonds over two years of countless nights out, holidays away, and evenings in getting drunk discovering each other’s company. We could finish each other’s sentences, and used that hard-earned power to take the piss as often and as accurately as possible.

Most of us enjoyed gaming. Me, Jabs, Geordie Chris and Banksy played a lot of Halo 3 online, with the superb entertainment set up we had going on. (See GTA IV) Big Rich and I sometimes played some vintage Golden Axe on the Wii’s Virtual Console (an online market where you can download classic games). Steve largely stayed out of the gaming world, as it wasn’t his thing. But there were 2 games I played in Number 53 that brought everyone together. One was Portal. The other: Mario Kart 64.

Game_select_image

It came about initially, as does so much at university, out of nostalgia. All of us had played the game in our youths, and had fond memories accordingly. It seemed like your classic “oh let’s check this out again; bet it’ll be great”, the unsaid subtext being: “gird your loins, lads; this is going to be bollocks”. We plugged my four Gamecube controllers into the Wii, moved the sofas slightly closer to the TV, in silent homage to the God of Wires, and fired it up.

Straight away smiles abounded as the music began, and the joyful “Welcome to Mario Kart!” rang out. We opted for a 4-player versus race. I suspect we started at the beginning: with Luigi Raceway.

Starting_grid_image

3 minutes later. We played another track. Then another. And another. Half an hour went by. It very quickly dawned on me: “Shit me sideways; this game is still really good.” And it was no longer nostalgia talking. Banksy had recently received a copy of Mario Kart Wii for his birthday, replete with steering wheels. We’d played it a few times, then put it back on the shelf. It was gimmicky; few tracks stood out. Winners were arbitrary. The balance was all off.

And yet we kept coming back to Mario Kart 64. In the glorious, hazy couple of weeks post-exams, when everyone was officially 100% educated and we were all waiting for that plunge into real life, we turned to Mario Kart 64¸with regularity. It amazed me that this then-over-a-decade-old-game still had the power to charm and delight and strongly as it did.

Race_image

We made tournaments, the winner being House Champion. We got an old hat I’d found on a night out to be the Super-Bestest-Hat, childishly named to reflect the irrepressible gloating of whomsoever wore it. The winner got to wear it for a full 24 hours, until the next Super-Bestest Race rolled around, the following day. Bragging rights everyone wanted, but only one could receive.

We had one last big tournament on the last day we spent at 53, and indeed, the last day at university. The world was waiting, but there was time for one last game. The winner got to keep the Super-Bestest Hat for a year, until we next met. It was hard fought, but I won. It felt like a huge victory at the time, but years later, we haven’t got around to that next meet. We’re scattered all over England, these days. I kept the hat for a few years, but used it as a prop in a show a while back. It’s probably around in a bag somewhere.

Mario_kart_winning_image

My current two housemates are into Mario Kart Wii. I beat them almost every time. The game doesn’t have a random track feature, so we wrote down the name of every course onto bits of paper, and picked them at random to decide a track. We needed a receptacle to pick them from. A hat. I could have dug out The Super-Bestest Hat but that would’ve been wrong, somehow.

Final_days_at_53_image

Whenever I win a tournament now, I put on a paper crown I got from Burger King, and gloat as best I can. It’s not quite the same.

But, hell. Maybe this is just nostalgia talking.

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  1. I would destroy you on Mario Kart 64.

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