My fiancee got me a Wii for Christmas — as selfless as that sounds, she enjoys it probably as much as I do. As a gaming system truly designed to assuage the boredom of all ages, Wii and its developers have restored and renovated a number of my old favorites: Zelda, Mario Brothers 3 (for the original Nintendo), and Mario Kart.
For you fortunate souls unfamiliar with the glory of Mario Kart racing, here is a quick primer: twelve traditional Mario World characters, from Toad to Princess Peach, and from Luigi to the lowly Koopa Troopa (see above), awkwardly perch atop under-sized go-karts and race around traditional Mario World venues, such as Bowser’s Castle, which have been conveniently converted into racetracks — because everyone loves a good flip. Aside from these well-documented venues, there are other, new racetracks set amongst imaginary lands (you know, for kids).
However, this isn’t any ordinary race. About every quarter-mile — and I’m just approximating here — the carbon-fuming peloton will rush through a neatly-laid chain of ‘question boxes.’ Think of it as that speed bump at Wal-Mart that you can’t safety drive around. But instead of abruptly dislodging your Super-Sized Frostie from the cupholder, a question box will randomly grant you one of a dozen superpowers.
Pretty good deal, right? Not always. As it turns out, the type of superpower ‘randomly’ provisioned correlates negatively with your position in the race. So for example, if you are a great go-kart driver at the front of the pack, you are likely to be provided with a small banana, which can be strategically slipped under the wheels of a trailing opponent to induce a minor spin-out. Not exactly a game-changer. Compare that to the perks of last place where you are guaranteed a potentially devastating superpower, such as a lighting bolt that fries all of your opponents and leaves their shrunken figures to scurry around the racecourse like ants for you to crush under-tire. Or, my personal favorite, the power to instantly transform into a massive silver bullet and rocket your way past racecourse obstacles and past that smug over-achiever holding the banana.
To put it simply, the all-powerful Mario Kart Administrator provisions resources to each player according to her needs. It’s socialism, plain and simple. This is why we should all be infuriated by the lack of a good-ole American video game programming industry. Forget that every other game out there romantically extolls the virtues of American militarism, which can be relived daily in the timeless conquest over the Nazis or Aliens, or whatever the evil de jour. Mario Kart is training future generations of James Taggarts to quietly hide among the unambitious masses and wait for the system to provide deliverance.
I didn’t realize this phenomenon until my adult years, so I’m afraid, for me, it may be too late. But for you parents out there, maybe it is time to have a discussion with your kids about whether or not they really earned that silver bullet.