I swear I’m gonna murder Toad. I hate everything about him — his stupid smurfy hat, his dumb little smile, his goofy, perky body language. I despise his goddam Marge Simpson voice, and the way he yells “Rabo!” But most of all, I hate the way the little fucker keeps nailing me with blue shells in Mario Kart 7 and snatching my lead away.
Over the years, I’ve played a lot of mascot-themed competitive games — from Mario Kart to Super Smash Bros. Brawl to Fuzion Frenzy. From game to game, one thing remains consistent — I always wind up wanting to murder the cutest characters. I’m actually starting to think that the characters themselves are designed with this in mind. It’s a bit of a chicken/egg scenario: either they’re built to be so cute so that they can withstand our rage, or their cuteness is the thing that brings out that rage in the first place. Maybe it’s a bit of both.
I should say up front here that I know I’m being a bit silly. I’m not really a homicidal killer, and I don’t fly into a rage at the mere sound of Toad’s voice. When Bowser knocks me off the track, I don’t actually throw my 3DS. But all the same, I think anyone who’s played one of these games can identify with what I’m talking about here — you’re in first place, you’re doing great, when suddenly you have your lead stolen from you. You look at your assailant’s mocking smile, those vacant gooogly eyes, his oh-so-punchable hat, and something inside you just snaps.
It’s not just Toad, of course. Just like every man has his own personal El Guapo, every video game player has his or her own personal “Toad,” though some characters are more prone to inciting rage than others. Naomi, the hateful sweatsuit-wearing teenager in the (amazing(ish)) Xbox party game Fuzion Frenzy, was equally infuriating. It was partly due to the game’s setup — after a handful of minigames, the players would participate in a winner-take-all “Fuzion Frenzy” round in which they would attempt to gather the points they had accumulated in the preceding minigames and dunk them into portals to make their score ‘final.’ Points could be stolen from other players, and as a result, first place could become last place in a matter of moments, mainly because it was so easy to steal someone else’s hard-earned points and claim them as your own.
Can you imagine a more potentially infuriating game mechanic? My friend Woody would always, always play as Naomi, and he was a ferocious Fuzion Frenzier. I lost track of how many times Naomi would punch over my red-clad avatar bro Samson and slam-dunk his points, causing many an angry yell and frustrated controller-slam. Interestingly enough, I never directed my anger at Woody — my anger was directed at Naomi. When I think of her, with her stupid goddam Panda bear backpack and her dumb purple hair, I still want to spit. Same goes for Donky Kong, the character that Woody would play as in Mario Kart 64. The way that little bastard looks over his shoulder as he blows by your spin-out kart…it just… Argh. Also, hmm.
Could it be that these characters are designed to be cutely annoying on purpose? We all tend to choose to play a character and stick with him or her, and so eventually those characters stand as proxies for us and for our friends. These are the same friends whom we would rather not come out of the game hating. After all, I like Woody a lot — he’s a great guy and a true friend. If his on-screen avatar looked like him, I probably wouldn’t be able to help bearing him some ill will, especially since he was apparently so much better than I was at Mario Kart and Fuzion Frenzy. So, thank goodness for Kong and Naomi! Better to hate a fictional character than a real friend.
In Super Mario 3D Land, it’s possible to visit Toad’s house and snag a power-up from him. It’s a fun little non-level, but it’s not fun because of the coins hidden out in the yard or the tanooki leaf or fireflower hidden inside. It’s fun because Toad him(her? it?)self is also there, and you can stomp the ever loving shit out of him with no fear of reprisal. He just sits there and takes it, a smile on his face, and next time you visit he’ll open his doors to you like nothing happened.
It’s almost like Nintendo is throwing us a bone for years of abuse. Finally, we can kick the shit out of Toad with no repercussions. It doesn’t sate my decades” worth of pent-up murderous rage, but it’s something.