Mario Kart 7 And The Field Of Dreams

"Ray, people will come Ray. They'll come to Iowa for reasons they can't even fathom. They'll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they're doing it. They'll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past.

Of course, we won't mind if you look around, you'll say. It's only $20 per person. They'll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they'll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They'll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes.

And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray."

Earlier this week I appeared on a Gamespot podcast, discussing video game reviews -- what's wrong with them, how they can be improved. I reiterated my usual stance: I don't like writing reviews for a number of reasons; there are problems with how we review games, experience is subjective, I don't want to contribute to the unintelligible white noise. I think the podcast is well worth listening to, and you can check it out here.

But on the train home that same day I grabbed my 3DS, I played Mario Kart 7, I had a huge amount of fun. I asked myself: if I had to review this game, how would I judge it? How would I score it?

Then I forgot about that and went back to having fun.

The thing about video game reviews, and all reviews for that matter, is this: they attempt to objectively judge and assign a value to subjective experiences. In fact, that may actually be the major problems with video games as product reviews.

And nowhere is that discrepancy more obvious than in a game like Mario Kart 7.

Mario Kart means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. It's a video game, obviously, but it's much more than that. It's a bizarre conduit that reimagines all your Mario Kart experiences, your memories, your individual history, and force feeds it back into this one tiny little cartridge. Into a package which is then sold back to you.

And you hand the money over without a second though, because you want that feeling again, you want to clutch at those memories -- huddled around a CRT, battling over the best N64 controller, fighting over who gets to play as Yoshi. An imagined past where the sun always shines, the cordial is always sweet and countless hours are spent in battle mode bursting balloons with red and green turtle shells.

The reviews for Mario Kart 7, even the extremely negative ones, were completely fair. As a series Mario Kart is stagnant. It hasn't changed in years. But as I sat on the train, playing through the Grand Prix via a combination of instinct and muscle memory, I found it increasingly difficult to separate the fun I was having in the present moment, from the interactions the game was having with my own nostalgia, my own memories. And more so -- I didn't want to.

Mario Kart 7 isn't necessarily a video game -- it's a photograph, constantly remade; a chance to indulge ourselves in a fragmented, static representation of our own childhoods. We've all played Mario Kart at some point, we all have our favourites, we all have our unique memories -- and that's what each new version represents. A chance to relive the past, to form new histories.

How do you place an objective value on that experience? How do you judge it? You can't. Well at least I can't; not in any definitive way at least.

I'm reminded of the movie Field of Dreams, a movie that deals with nostalgia, the idea of a single constant threading its way our lives like a shared history. Video games have been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But Mario Kart has marked the time. It's a part of our past. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again.

And I don't think I could really put a score on that.


Comments

    Mario Kart makes me feel alive again....

    Well said Serrels.

    Bonus points for finally knocking that blanket of dust off your 3DS too lol

      This article is pretty damn majestic, and completely spot on. How is it that serrels and bashcraft both work for the same website?

        Or more specifically, how is it that they both work as writers? I would understand if Serrels was a writer and bashcraft was making the tea.

    Great article, Mark, but sadly I think you've hit upon this generation's primary legacy to consumerism:

    The revelation that people will pay money for nostalgia has led to endless adaptation, remake, reimagining, re-origining of all of our childhood favourite IPs (thinking movies and books more than games now)... and because people will pay regardless, they don't even have to be good.

      Yeah, I think you're right!

        I LOVE it when companies package up my childhood and sell it back to me at today's prices. I love it wholearsedly.

      They're definitely rather blatant these days when it comes to exploiting familiarity but it is far from a new development.

      Characters like Superman, Zorro and even Robin Hood are all highly successful because they build on this idea that people already know of the characters, so are more likely to be interested in the exploits of that character.

        Yeah, but even with these examples, I've lost count of the number of reboots those franchises have had just in the last few years!

          Greater demand for more media + lazy writing = mass reboots?

          Like I said, it's definitely more blatant now but it isn't a new thing.

    Mario Kart is about the only series of games I'll buy blindly, just because of the nostalgia I had, all the way from the SNES version. Kinda wish I got to play Double Dash more though... But anyway, great article, pretty much sums it up for me :)

    I've been enjoying Mario Kart so much that I'm tempted to write a review just so that I can try and solidify this enjoyment in actual words.

    Mario Kart, for me, is one of those series that just nails this aspect of having fun. Even after going from first to last after a barrage of blue shells, lightnings and being rammed off the side of the track , I still find myself being unable to justify putting the damned 3DS down.

    Portal 2 was my pick for game of the year because I spent the entire time, particularly the co-op, grinning ear to ear like a loon. Mario Kart is much the same, except I have to suppress my inner Cheshire Cat while playing on the train (and suppress the urge to curse the man who invented blue shells).

    Sure you can say the graphics aren't great, the 3D isn't necessary the so and so could be better but if you look at Mario Kart as a game, it's awesome.

    It's a game that is fun to play.

    Sure there are times when you want depth, complex plots, intricate gameplay supplemented by atmospheric music and all that. There are other times when you just want to sit down and have some fun. That's what Mario Kart delivers.

    I feel same way with Mario Kart, though my memory goes back further to the original SNES Mario Kart :) (and my fav track is the SNES Mario Circuit 2) - brings back memories playing with my sister and cousins.
    One of the amusing memories is as we were playing Mario Kart, as we went around corner we would actually move our controller towards that direction (my sister did this more often than any of us) LOL And now you can actually do this thanks to the gyros!

    I love Mario Kart. In saying that I no longer have to tease out which iteration is my favourite. It's just this thing that I play and love. It blooms in season. That familiarity has washed over me this week. I know its not the greatest game but its been taking time from other far greater games... I even bought a new console just to play it! I'm with you on the nostalgia thing. Those retro tracks take me back to summers gone by. I even shed a tear for my Double Dash partner who is now in crippling Chemotherapy. Between races I wash dishes or get drunk, a sequence of work and reward tied to the moments you are not required to grip the controls.

    Having had this and Super Mario 3D Land delivered two days ago - I haven't had a lot of time to give either of them more than 30-60 minutes each. What I have seen of Mario Kart 7 thus far has done nothing but a stupid grin on my face and remind of days past on the SNES with Super Mario Kart. Back when Mode 7 was an eye-watering achievement, and I had to fight with my best friend over who got to play as Toad. Such a thing doesn't require changing, and it's had the necessary tweaks and updates to keep it relevant, I think. I'm sincerely looking forward to having time in my schedule to give this a good bash.

    The other thing I've noticed - nostalgia aside, the 3D on Mario Kart 7 and SM3DLand seems to be done really well. These are the first two games I've bought on the 3DS since I got SFIV and Pilotwings back at launch - both of these games made me struggle with the 3d on any more than 30-50%. MK7 and SM3DL fel fine with that 3D slider cranked up to the max. Is it just me? Or have they gotten better at their implementation of 3D?

    I listened to the Podcast and I enjoyed it a lot. One thing I slightly disagreed with was the notion that games should be judged as experiences and not products similar to the film industry. In my opinion the issue is not as clear cut. Games are products as much as they are experiences. The technical nature of a game can greatly influence the experience. When a game has bugs, glitches, incompatibility issues then those aspects are just as important as the experience one had.For example when mass effect was released the dialogue text was hard to read on Standard def TVs. The game experience may have been great but the games technical issues may have impacted some users. When a game is clearly ported from the console to PC without any change in the UI then that can greatly affect said game if the player is using the mouse and Keyboard. Sluggish and unresponsive controls are also a consideration in a game. If a game controls badly then that greatly impacts the game as well. For example shooters on the PS3 that do not allow you to shoot with the bumpers and just port the controls from the 360 should be criticised in reviews.

    A good reviewer should be able to mix in both in their review but I find many reviews seem to focus too much on the experience and important technical aspects may be ignored.

    Video game criticism can learn from film reviews but it should not aspire to ape it. The beauty of watching/reviewing a movie is that you don't have to worry about the technical aspects of running the film, that is left to the guys in the projector rooms. By their nature games are interactive and when the technicalities of a game affect said interactivity then those issues deserve criticism as much as the experience.

    I haven't missed a MK game yet. My favourite is still the SNES version though. It had an incredible, white-knuckled, tight gameplay to it that hasn't been captured since for me. I think the Wii version is the most forgettable so I hope the WiiU version gets back on track. I'm sure I'll buy it regardless!

    I came here just for the Field of Dreams quote...

    God I live that film.

    Thanks for the podcast link, it's odd hearing Australian (and Scottish) accents talking games. So used to U.S. content...

    My main problem with MK7 is that every Mario Kart has always been distinct from each other. Until now. This one just feels like MKDS. Except with less stuff. It's kinda disappointing, really. But still better than the abomination of MKWii I suppose.

    Screw Yoshi/Toad/Princess (at least on N64) while everyone flipped coins and argued for those charcters I would go Bowser. No one could ram u off the road, I could boost every start and few of my friends at the time could powerslide effectively, fire green shells/bananas backwards or stab the brakes to save them from bananas. It was a good time for me...specially when I smashed those little pipsqueaks!!!

    I played Mario kart over the last week while on holiday. When the Bowsers Castle track from GBA came up it tugged a heart string. I was thrown back to when I was living in india, playing Mario Kart Advance as I traveled by train 36hrs to Mumbai, as I hid my GBA trying to ge into the Taj Mahal, as I sat at tailors waiting endless hours for my girlfriend to have clothes made.
    And here I am again. This time on a surfing holiday with my girlfriend (yeh, maybe we should get married). Now playing 3DS. Still playing Mario Kart. All very similar in words but very different in experience.

    I am so happy this piece has been written. It sums up a lot of what I have been feeling about videogame reviews much better than I could have hoped.
    People went nuts over Jim Sterling giving it a 5, but reading the review, the score doesn't seem out of step with his general opinion of the game. You'll then get a different person reviewing the same game, and giving it a 9.
    It's my main problem with Metacritic too (here we go!), games can't be assigned a number value with any accuracy. You can't measure how good a game is.
    I can pick up a game with a 90 metascore, and one with an 80 metascore, and enjoy the 80 one more.

    Reviews are good if you read the entire review, and understand it as a summary of a person's experiences with the game and their general thoughts on it.
    Unless a review outright lies about a definite thing, it can't be 'wrong', just out of step with the opinions of another person.
    Regarding Mario Kart 7, I am sure I will get it, but to be honest, I'm expecting more of the same. I played it on a friend's copy on the weekend and had a lot of fun, but it still felt like the Mario Kart I've been playing since Double Dash.

    I know it's a bit late, but for someone who doesn't write reviews, well that was a great review Mark :)
    Seriously though, I think this sums up the franchise better than many reviews have for quite some time. Would love to hear more about how a game makes you fell rather than the technical details in reviews.

    i really want mario kart 7 but i already have super mario 3D land

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