Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The original Mario Kart’s Rainbow Road inspired awe despite its rough edges

Illustration for article titled The original Mario Kart’s Rainbow Road inspired awe despite its rough edges

The A.V. Club’s digital manager, David Anthony, joins me to kick off our Friday thread. I asked David to describe his job to our audience, and this is how he summed up his workday: “It’s a strange hodgepodge of duties. It includes writing articles, managing our social media accounts, running the homepage, and occasionally yelling ‘I AM THE KING OF ALL THINGS DIGITAL,’ which I usually do in my bathroom mirror before coming to work.”


David talked to me about his predilections for 10-Yard Fight and the original Super Mario Kart. As we discussed the latter, David made a moving case for the underappreciated, underpowered, underdog driver Yoshi. As always, share your weekend gaming plans in the comments.

John Teti: What are you playing this weekend?

David Anthony: This weekend, I’ll be playing a selection of games for the NES and Super NES, which are the only systems I own for some reason.

JT: Can you give some examples?

DA: I feel that whenever I power on the NES, there’s a need to at least give Super Mario Bros. some attention, as it’s the first video game I ever remember playing, and despite its cultural ubiquity, it’s remained fresh for me. Though I’ve recently gotten into 10-Yard Fight after purchasing it at a thrift store.

JT: 10-Yard Fight is such a great title. But I haven’t played the game in ages. How much does it resemble real-life football?

DA: I’m no professional football player, but the charm of 10-Yard Fight comes from the fact that it seemingly makes all the decisions for you. You don’t get much say in who you control, you just kind of get the ball and run around with it or toss it and hope it hits your intended target. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of playing football during recess in grade school. We were all equally terrible and could hardly organize a full team. It reminds me of being a pudgy 10-year-old boy with no discernible skills, attempting to be a quarterback and failing in pitiful ways.

JT: That sounds like a fun game, though, deprived of the original experience’s social angst.


DA: It puts chaos theory into practice. I respect that in sports games. That doesn’t happen anymore. People just pick their favorite teams and make a bunch of trades until they are gods on the gridiron. But where’s the fun in that? Make it so my fullback is like a washing machine that’s on the fritz and just spins around for no reason.

JT: Why did your console purchases end with the Super NES?

DA: That’s not where they ended, but having lost a PlayStation 2 to my stepbrothers, and after having a Wii stolen out of a friend’s house when he was robbed, these are the only two that remain in my possession. After the Wii was stolen, I resigned myself to the fate that any modern console I bought would be taken from me by the hands of lowlife criminals or, even worse, family.


JT: Do you wish you had a shiny new PlayStation 5 or Xbox 7000?

DA: One of my old roommates was an avid gamer, so watching him play BioShock or Fallout definitely drew me in. When I had newer consoles, I was always getting wrapped up in role-playing games, but now, I think I’m content yelling at the Sharp TV I’ve owned for 15 years about why Ghost Valley is bullshit.

JT: So the original Super Mario Kart is in heavy rotation, I take it. By the way, Ghost Valley is not bullshit. Ghost Valley 1 is a great track. My cousin and I used to play that track exclusively in our Super Mario Kart marathons. But tell me why you think that it’s bullshit.


DA: I have a love/hate relation with Ghost Valley. It’s a beautifully constructed track, and it’s probably the most challenging one in the game given my lackluster skill set, and I think that’s where my claim of bullshit comes from. Whenever I have friends over, the night always reaches a point where we go to Mario Kart. Without fail, when we get to Ghost Valley, I keep falling off the sides and questioning the meaning of my existence. I guess what I’m saying is: Ghost Valley isn’t bullshit, John. I’m bullshit, John.

JT: I love that first Super Mario Kart. Everything after that is a little bit bullshit. There are some very good Mario Kart sequels, but anything post-blue shell is always going to be somewhat tainted for me.


DA: I’d love to hear more about your hate for the game’s various sequels—most of which I’ve not been taken with myself—but I have to say, I really enjoy the feel of Koopa Beach. Something about the vaguely freeform nature of driving on sand and water makes me rethink my approach. Each turn feels like it can bump someone from first to last, and it’s about having a deliberate approach to every turn to succeed. In other words, I like the illusion of freedom, but actually prefer being tightly wound by anxiety and nerves that keep me from truly enjoy being on a beach.

JT: That may not be a very common pick, but I love that. Beautifully put. You said you kept falling off the sides of Ghost Valley. What about Rainbow Road?


DA: I have a strange deference for Rainbow Road. By the time it comes up, I’m all business. There’s no laughter, no joy, just an adult male staring into his television, white-knuckling a controller, fully prepared to kick all of his friends out of his home if things don’t work out for Yoshi on this run.

JT: Yeah, Rainbow Road is so intense. I was in awe of it the first time I saw it, which I’d say is an “easily-impressed-kid” thing, but when I got to the semi-secret worlds of Super Mario 3D World recently, I almost cried. Nintendo knows how to cap off a game: Give us a place that’s super colorful, in space. I’ve got to say, though—Yoshi? You need to upgrade to a big-boy driver, like Donkey Kong or Bowser. Or at least Mario.


DA: The times I’ve played Rainbow Road in later sequels, it’s been truly awe-inspiring. I don’t even want to win when I play those levels, I just want to drive around and take it all in. And while I respect the Donkey Kongs of the world, I have a strange “do more with less” mentality to video games. It’s like picking Zangief in Street Fighter. He may not be the wise choice, but good decisions aren’t what I’m there for. I want the cute dinosaur to trump all the real competitors, and I want the big Russian guy who only eats borscht to triumph over all the talented, dazzling competitors. Did I just out myself as having some kind of complex?

JT: No, you made me feel bad for even jokingly calling out your choice of Yoshi. I now admire your loyalty and refreshing perspective. I’ll stick with Bowser though.