I’ve often heard it said that everyone has a favorite Mario Kart game and it’s directly associated with whichever one was released when you were a kid. It’s rarely a conversation about if someone likes Mario Kart, but rather which one they like the most. So maybe it comes across as some sort of weird sacrilegious thing when I posit that I don’t think I like Mario Kart as a concept, especially after having played a particularly beloved entry in the series for a few hours. Let me explain…
I’ve often heard it said that everyone has a favorite Mario Kart game and it’s directly associated with whichever one was released when you were a kid. It’s rarely a conversation about if someone likes Mario Kart, but rather which one they like the most. So maybe it comes across as some sort of weird sacrilegious thing when I posit that I don’t think I like Mario Kart as a concept, especially after having played a particularly beloved entry in the series for a few hours. Let me explain.
The other day my partner and I were looking for something to play together. “We could play my Game Cube,” they offered, to which I begrudgingly agreed to. I’ve never been particularly fond of the Game Cube as a platform. My core issues with the console boil down to what I believe to be a pretty terrible controller along with a pretty miserable Mario game in Super Mario Sunshine, both of which zapped my enthusiasm for the little purple game-box. I get that people have very strong feelings about the Game Cube, but it never resonated with me.
After showing me their defunct Animal Crossing town that was filled with weeds and surprisingly mean villagers, I was treated to an extended session of playing Mario Kart Double Dash, one of the most beloved entries in the franchise. While that entry is fine in the broader context of Mario Kart as a series, it became pretty apparent to both of us after a while of playing that I wasn’t enjoying myself. Some races I’d do well in and even squeak out a win, while most other races were resounding losses that were shameful displays at best. Regardless of the outcome of a particular race however, I was not enjoying myself.
There’s a weird through line I’ve noticed in the Mario Kart games I’ve played, which is that they all seem to relish in screwing you over much like another extremely popular Mario game. That’s when I had the realization that Mario Kart does everything I hate about Mario Party, just in a much faster way. I don’t have any statistical evidence to support this nor did I dive into the code of either franchise to support these claims so consider what I say to be purely conjecture, but the two series really seem to have a weird fascination with pouring on the bullshit whenever you think you’re doing well. Sure you need ways for the folks in last place to stand a chance in either game, so you might throw them an item or something that can help change the tide, but in both series there really doesn’t seem to be any incentive to do well right out of the gate. That is unless you enjoy being the target of every pixel of bullshit that your opponents can and will ever launch.
Every race in which I got out to an early lead ended with me in last place, whereas every race in which I started off poorly ended with me in the top 3 or 4. You could chalk that up to nothing but pure coincidence, but after a two to three hour session of playing, it started to feel less random and more spiteful. Mario Kart Double Dash had this nasty habit of fucking you so hard in such a short period of time, over and over. You don’t just get hit by a blue shell, no, you get hit by the blue shell, then a red one, then some super move, then you’re nudged off the course, all while in sight of the finish line. That’s where the whole Mario Kart experience just broke down for me, because it would happen with such alarming regularity that I’d go from first place to last within mere inches of the finish line. You can call it bad luck, but I call it bullshit.
Eventually we stopped playing because my partner was concerned with my attitude after I slammed the controller into the ground (it’s fine). I’ve come a long way since my high school days of getting so angry at video games that I’d throw something, but something about Mario Kart just manages to bring out the worst in me. Rubber-banding in games is always a tricky thing to nail, and when it’s done well it can lead to some really exciting and competitive moments in games. I just feel like both Mario Kart and Mario Party aren’t great at implementing these on-the-fly balances, which leads to a lot of frustration on my part cause I feel like I have no control over the outcome of the game anymore. But at least Mario Party has the courtesy to look you in the eye while it’s fucking you over, unlike Mario Kart who only wants to do it as quickly and spitefully as possible.