In this series of articles celebrating the upcoming 30th Anniversary of Super Mario, various members of the Nintendo Life extended family will share their memories and thoughts on the iconic franchise. This time we have our delightful reviewer Narelle Ho Sang.
Some of my favourite memories of Mario are the ones I'm still making to this day. It's just me, Luigi in The Prancer tricked out with button wheels, and a Bowser kite for gliding support. Oh yeah, and 5 of my closest friends - the ones I haven't actually met yet.
Growing up mostly on a diet of JRPGs, my gaming history has primarily been in single player mode. Nintendo couch co-op wasn't really a thing I knew until I got my Nintendo 64. Even then, I spent just a few matches battling my brother and sister in Smash Bros. Most of my N64 time was spent exploring Hyrule in Ocarina of Time and Clock Town in Majora's Mask.
Playing with others was a rarity, with online play hardly a blip on my radar. Enter Mario Kart 8.
A couple of years ago I braved the wilds of the Internet and joined an online blogging gaming community. During that time I've made quite a number of friends. I call them friends because they truly are. We've shared stories through our writing. Connected over other interests. Exchanged gifts at Christmas. As we're scattered across the world, meeting them all in person hasn't happened yet. But Mario Kart 8 allowed us to meet in a virtual space to share the best present of all: laying the smack down on each other with a slew of red and blue shells.
Of course, I say I lay the smack down but that's not really true. My friends are infinitely better at racing than I am. Sure I may slow them down with a banana peel or two, or handle Moo Moo Meadows and Cloudtop Cruise like a semi-pro. But leading the pack for the first and second laps doesn't mean much when playing against them as I always seem to end up 6th when crossing the finish line. Luigi usually shakes his head in disappointment. "What happened?" he says, and it's on to the next embarrassing loss.
Luigi and I both know what actually happens. While we'd like to say we got distracted by the intricate level designs in this extremely beautiful game with its bright colours bringing vibrancy to Mario's already whimsical worlds, or that the grandiose soundtrack carried our minds to another place making us lose focus on the races at hand, or we were too busy giving other racers the Luigi trademarked death stare - the truth is that I suck at Mario Kart 8.
I've gotten better in the months following its release. I've experimented with kart combinations, learned the ins and outs of tracks and their shortcuts. Practice makes perfect, they say. I had no choice but to become better playing against my new found friends, but not once have they ever taunted me. With Blooper ink, yes. But words? No. And it's not just due to the fact that Mario Kart doesn't allow voice chat during matches.
There's an overall notion that online play can be a toxic atmosphere. Nintendo is making steps to join the online gaming world in its own ways. I've never been outright scared to join online matches; it's that the type of games that go online aren't the ones I usually play. But I've been hesitant in some measure because of that stigma some online games have accumulated. As with all things in life, there's good and bad to everything. I just know that when it comes to Mario Kart 8, I'll always be fine - voice chat or not. I'll never have to worry that these people I've not met face to face will troll me or be mean. They made my first true foray online a positive experience. They made multiplayer fun.
I may very rarely make it to 1st place but that's okay. Coming in 6th is all about the journey, and the friends I've shared those fantastic memories with--under a hailstorm of all MK items, 200cc--in getting there.