At the end of April, in the website's Underexplained Lists subsection, Kotaku writer Yannick LeJacq ranked all of Mario Kart 8's 48 tracks. (Just quickly: whatever happened to the "Super" in the title?) The timing was bang on – Nintendo's gleeful 2014 racer had just opened its garage to a second helping of DLC, featuring an adorable Animal Crossing-themed track with changing seasons and just the most delightful end-race music, as well as new drivers and vehicles. According to LeJacq's entirely unspecified logic – as befits the category the content ran in – Toad Turnpike was number one, Excitebike Arena way back in 48, and the HD re-rub of the classic SNES Rainbow Road a lowly 42nd. Boo!
Only, I don't think that any of us should take such a list seriously – mainly because it was (surely) an arbitrary sequence of MK8 courses, rather than anything produced with serious thinking involved. Or even unserious thinking – this is Mario Kart, after all, a game in which a dinosaur-turtle thing can ride an impossibly dimensioned motorcycle with button wheels around a circuit made entirely of cheese, dragging an oversized banana behind him and, just occasionally, whipping out a glider and leaving the ground entirely. A game in which gravity is a plaything, and where mushrooms have both legs and feelings – not that they come away from head-on collisions having suffered anything more than a popped balloon or two.
Gamers are predisposed to turn their pastime of choice into a set of lists. Just as music fans are, likewise cinemagoers, theatre admirers and those weird people who still devour novels like they're the preeminent medium for storytelling in the 21st century. It's in our systems, and it has been since the days when Atari was a name you could trust rather than an "undead corpse" of its former self. Websites are full of top however-many moments in popular gaming series – hell, even we've had a go, with standout-scene reflections on The Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy. We're never getting away from them. And, that's okay, when they're done okay.
On his personal blog, games writer (and treasured VICE Gaming contributor) Chris Schilling has taken a more-than-okay pop at putting MK8's pick-and-mix of magnificent road designs into a not-quite-the-best-to-absolute-genius order. His top two both come from the game's Star Cup – tracks are grouped into fours for grand prix events of escalating difficulty, with the Star circuits somewhere between piss easy and thumb-stick-cranking slippery buggers. Number two, Sunshine Airport: "Try not to smile… it's impossible." Number one, Mount Wario: "By turns breathless and breath taking." (He writes a lot more words, too. You should read them.)
I love Chris's descriptions of each track. He says how Dolphin Shoals "lifts my spirits every time I play it", as it does mine – that change in the music when you burst from the water, just before your glide back to the start/finish line, and the way the sunlight rips across the screen, chasing away the remaining droplets from your GamePad, is every bit as gorgeous as he makes it out to be. Of the upgraded Wii track, Moo Moo Meadows, he offers: "[you] wish you could climb out of your kart, lie down in the grass and gaze up at the fluffy clouds". Once again, I'm right there with him. Hopefully one of us remembered some tins, because being outside for prolonged periods without alcohol in 2015 is a fucking nightmare.
But it's while I'm in the game that I have the most problem picking favourite laps of my own. I'm sure if I took a step away from MK8, put the beer down, pulled out a notepad and really got to scribbling, I could – after an hour and a whole pack of plain chocolate digestives – name a handful of favourites. Maybe. But there's no way I could take all 48 and, in the manner of Chris, go at a clutch of them with my critical senses sincerely engaged. He has little time for Grumble Volcano ("distinguishes itself with its sheer brownness") or Twisted Mansion ("an exercise in box-ticking") – yet I know that I have had an absolute ball on these courses, both offline and on, MK8 being one of few games that I'll happily play with strangers over a broadband connection.
I just can't get mad at Mario Kart, I guess. Well, I know I can't – it's what I reach for if I'm having a shit time of it, be that "in life" (I know, right?) or another video game, one of those horrible grey ones with lots of killing and swearing in it; something starring zombies, or Nazis, or both. The Wii U isn't quite home to all of my doses of digital uppers, as there's always Sony's Hohokum, the original Xbox port of Out Run 2 (it's never going in the loft) or any number of glorious 3DS and iOS distractions to turn to when the frown needs turning upside down, but it's a faithful friend when an injection of dazzling colour's necessary, and MK8 is usually first in line due to its instant-fix factor. (Lovely though Pikmin 3 is, nobody's playing it in ten-minute bursts, and Captain Toad is just too slow for a time-sensitive pick-me-up.)
Stop me in the street now – don't, but imagine – and demand to know what my favourite Mario Kart 8 course is and, and… Seriously, I can't. It's like being forced to tell one of my sons that I love him more than the other one – impossible, apart from in the middle of those domestic maelstroms where the impudent offspring in question won't park his arse on the naughty step for any kind of "otherwise". It's like being told, walking into a random Baskin Robbins, that actually you can only choose from three flavours. I want them all. And the way I play Mario Kart, that's exactly what I get. I don't discriminate. I want Baby Park and Bone-Dry Dunes, and I'll play one right after the other, because I can.
Now, if we're talking about my favourite music from a track, well, that's easy. That saxophone flurry, right in the happy place, every time.
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