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Monday, September 19, 2011

Just Another Arcade Monday: Super Mario Kart

I'm going to begin this blog entry by making a confession.

I am a far better driver on arcade games than I am in real life.

It's absolutely true. Whenever I play any sort of video game that has to do with any form of simulated driving, I can usually figure my way around the various courses and do fairly well. I may even end up winning a particular race or two, or beat a time trial.

I just only wish I could translate my stellar driving abilities from video games to the real world. But, alas, my absolute fear of driving has mostly given me feelings of paralysis behind the wheel.

I was just shy of my 30th birthday when I got my learner's permit to drive...basically, just a few months ago. It was one of the hardest and most frightening decisions for me to make personally, but I knew that I had to do it. For one, I needed a valid source of identification, since I was tired of having to show three separate pieces of ID trying to confirm that I was who I was all the time. Getting a license definitely put an end to that problem.

But secondly, I realized that it was all about looking fear in the eyes, and I knew that if I had any shot of making it big in this world, learning how to drive would probably be an asset.

My biggest problem with learning to drive is twofold. I don't nearly have enough skills behind the wheel to feel comfortable on the road. I reckon I could get those skills if I could find someone patient and understanding to sit in the passenger seat with me as I drive, because I have learned the hard way that family members are too high-strung.

But the very fact that I do have my learner's permit is a good first step, and I would think that most people would agree that I'm beginning to come out of my shell.

That being said, is it wrong for me to admit that I wish that driving a car on the highways was as simple as using a joystick to control a pixelated car across a screen?

Of course, anyone who HAS driven a car on the roads before knows that it isn't NEARLY that easy. A little more fun, but not easy.

In fact, I would like to dedicate this blog entry to one of my all-time favourite driving simulation games of all time. I would rent this game at the video store at least once a month, and although I never actually owned the original game, I did end up purchasing the Nintendo DS version, which I admittedly still play today.

The date was September 1, 1992. By this date, the Super Mario franchise had grown considerably. With the first three Nintendo games selling millions of copies worldwide, and Super Mario World helping the Super Nintendo skyrocket in sales, the Nintendo company knew that it had a winning representative. But, how to keep Mario relevant in a rapidly changing gaming world, Nintendo had to come up with some new, fresh ideas to keep people from losing interest.

Hence the idea of Super Mario Kart.

Super Mario Kart was a racing game starring Mario and his friends (and enemies). Representing the good guys were Mario, of course, but you could also play as Luigi, Peach, Yoshi, and Toad. Coincidentally, you could also play as three bad guys. Bowser and a Koopa Troopa were able to drive cars as well. Donkey Kong Jr. also made an appearance as one of the drivers.

Otherwise, the game was set in various areas around the setting of Super Mario World. You had courses in Bowser's Castle, Vanilla Lake, Chocolate Island, Ghost Houses, and Donut Plains. Each one provided a different challenge that drivers would have to overcome. On the Chocolate Island courses, you would have to contend with mud pools (which I always liked to say were melted pools of chocolate sauce). In Vanilla Lake, you had to deal with icy road conditions as well as thin ice that would make your cars sink to the bottom of the frozen lake. And, well...there's other courses that would make your head spin.

But fear not. There are ways in which one could overcome those obstacles.

For the real thing that made the game fun to play was the various objects one could use to dispatch your racing companions so that you could zoom ahead of them.

See, unlike respected race car sports like soap box derbies, the Indy 500, and NASCAR, this game actually encouraged you to cheat.

All one had to do was drive over top of one of the question mark blocks that would pave each course (which was a nice little throwback to the original video game series), and they would get a special item.

Some of the items benefitted the players themselves. Mushrooms would give them a speed boost, while starmen would make the racer invincible. Really, nothing that much different from the item uses in the Mario series.

There were a dozen items that could be used to cause a lot of havoc towards your opponents.

The most common item that could be used are banana peels, which are used to make racers spin out of control. Other items included two different coloured turtle shells. Green ones could be shot at racers, but weren't very accurate. If you happened to get a red shell, then they acted as homing beacons, which automatically aimed towards the racer directly in front of them. In later Mario Kart sequels, a third shell would be added. If one were to get a winged blue shell, the shell would go after the racer in the pole position and cause some serious damage.

Believe me. As the courses grew harder, those items would prove to be a major asset. You'll be glad you have them.

Particularly with one multi-coloured race track in particular.

On every version of Super Mario Kart, there happens to be a track called 'Rainbow Road'. On the surface, they are the most beautiful looking courses in the whole game with brilliant shades of colour and twists and turns.

But don't let their beauty fool you. All of those courses will have you wanting to throw your controller through your television screens. For Rainbow Road is the ultimate test of your skills, and you'll need to have mastered all your driving skills in order to make it through.

I guess if I were to compare my own driving skills, that final road test would essentially be my own version of Rainbow Road, only with a lot less sheen and colour. For Mario and his friends to actually make it to Rainbow Road, they would have had to have performed some stellar driving skills, and earn their way to that place.

Just as one day, I'll have to do the same.

But I know that if I can overcome my fears, my Rainbow Road will be in my future very soon.

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