© Andrea Vail, https://www.flickr.com/photos/avail/5911048745
Bury My Kart at Wounded Thumb
by Isaiah Thompson
WRIT 1122: The Rhetoric of Games, Gamers, and Gaming
Professor Richard Colby
Growing up, I found anticipation to be a force not easily ignored. Hunger could be fought off for the sake of uninterrupted play, tiredness held no sway on my energetic body, but having to display patience could bring me to my knees, as could the long dull ache of waiting for a mail-ordered toy, the tenacious anticipation of a slowly approaching play date, and especially the long trudge through school before I could play the most addicting game this side of the PlayStation 2: Mario Kart 64.
My brother, my cousin, and I poured more hours into that game than can possibly be considered healthy. While away from the house, we talked about it and dreamed about it. When at home, the game never got a break, taking us through track after track of violent cartoon speed. Our eyes blurred, our thumbs blistered, and we loved every second of it. Not only did we know the tracks and the characters, but we also could wax eloquent on their advantages and flaws. There was the constant debate between speed and turning, between Bowser and Diddy Kong. We did not play Mario Kart 64; we inhabited it.
The game itself held our hearts, but so did the Nintendo 64, a unique and beloved game console in its own right. This was the platform that gave us not only Mario Kart but a trove of lauded favorites, ranging from the Hyrulian classic Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time to the notorious 007: GoldenEye. The N64, as it was affectionately called, created a lot of stir partly because this was the first time that we got to see many already beloved characters rendered in 3D. Part of its allure also stemmed from the oddly unique but still endearing controllers. The three-pronged design was so clearly alien, yet still found a way to be comfortable in our small mitts. Few consoles are spoken of with as much fondness, if not reverence, as the N64.
When the game finally found its way into my little hands, the console had already been out for enough years that the technology was no longer revolutionary, but it still remained a high-quality game and forerunner of many racing game standards. Its weapons integration system proved an inspiration. The satisfaction of breaking open a mystery cube went beyond the mere act of gaining an advantage and instead spoke to the primitive nature of destruction. Each track also brought along its own set of difficulties and unique challenges, ranging from falling rocks to cumbersome snowmen.
Not content with being a mere racing game, Mario Kart also featured PvP (Player versus Player) modes that were all about brawn rather than speed. In these matches, balloons connected to the back of the “karts” indicated your remaining lives, and your opponent’s balloons became your targets. This part of the game brought with it its own strategies and skillsets, and while I may have been king on the racing track, a win in this brutal tournament was no guarantee. The variety of tracks, characters, cups, and difficulties kept the game fresh even past the hundredth play. If you added in a second player, or even a third or a fourth, the game became an automatic party fueled by competition. It also took next to no time to make it to the final cutscene of the game, but this final cutscene became anything but final, proving more of a good stopping place or point to switch out players. While the racing concept behind the game may have not been the most original, the way that Nintendo implemented it in Mario Kart 64, with all of its bells and whistles, made the game a huge success.
The other key draw of the game, especially for children, was the visuals. You raced through absorbing environments such as haunted castles, thick jungles, and crumbling canyons chock full of deep colors and bulbous objects. No one who has played the game could possibly forget the infamous, headache-inducing rainbow road. The ability to play as familiar characters—such as Luigi, Yoshi, and Mario himself—also added a layer of entertainment. Who hasn’t wanted to control Bowser ever since he first stumbled into the screen in the original Super Mario? Although realistic 3-D technology did not yet exist, this supposed disadvantage did not hurt the game at all. The cartoon style worked perfectly with a no-frills 3-D rendering system, causing the game to look impressive despite its lack of detail. Much of the visual style of the game was aimed at creating a comedic atmosphere that would appeal to a younger audience. The comparatively small “karts” proved to be a comical, as well as iconic, element. The whimsical weapons wiped frowns from faces with the absurdity of a well-thrown banana. Turtle shells suddenly became dangerous objects, balloons your sacred task to protect. The cutscene where the player’s character was either lauded as a hero or bombed with shame, quite literally, made it worth the watch no matter how well you did.
A Nintendo classic, Mario Kart 64 contributes to the nostalgia many feel towards the old N64’s tucked away in the back of closets. Although the system is now old, and many do not work well, those who grew up with it are loath to part with the massive plastic boxes that brought games like Mario Kart 64 to life. So beloved is this game that copies now sell on Amazon for upwards of $245. Dollar signs aside, nothing brings back the racing itch like dredging up memories of happier, Kart-ier times.
Now, if you will excuse me, I have a mushroom cup to win.
© Barone Firenze / Shutterstock.com
A note from the author
Like a wine taster who slowly develops the ability to identify and quantify the more subtle aspects of fermenting fruit, I have been slowly developing the skills to implement different voices in my writing. My WRIT 1122 course at the University of Denver provided the perfect assignment to do just that. We were given a magazine (mine was The Atlantic) and were required to write a videogame review that would appeal to the magazine’s audience.
After reading The Atlantic, I was drawn to a recurring writing style in its pages: the nostalgia piece. Because a successful nostalgia piece requires an emotional connection to the audience, I first needed to pick a videogame that had an emotional connection to my own childhood memories. After much brainstorming and deliberation, I chose to review Mario Kart on the Nintendo 64.
The target audience for this piece is adults in their 20s who played Mario Kart as children and who would feel a strong connection to the Nintendo 64. It was challenging for me to emulate this nostalgic style, and I relied heavily on the work of writers from The Atlantic and The New Yorker, as well as classic radio personas like Garrison Keillor who excel at bringing their audience back in time to make an emotional connection.
About the author
From Pagosa Springs, Colorado, Isaiah is a sophomore pursuing a computer science major at the University of Denver. He’s your friendly neighborhood ultracrepidarian morosoph. An avid book reader, he implores you to read The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. Besides reading, Isaiah enjoys yo-yoing, playing soccer, and eating. He has had an enriching experience so far at the University of Denver thanks to all of the new people and stories that have crossed his path. He also leaves us with this: “Don’t forget to be awesome, and enjoy your burrito.”