Karting and the Art of Not Punching Your Best Friend in the Throat

Written by Alasdair Beer

And so it begins...

I spent an inestimable amount of time as an eight year old on my household SNES. It was the second console my that family had owned – superseding a burnt out second hand NES that my dad found in the paper, and I still remember mum’s first impression of its sixteen-bit majesty.

“Aren’t the graphics amazing?”

I nodded as the Ted DiBiase blob goosestepped towards the swarthier Yokozuna blob. It was 1993. Sonia Dada were being treated shoddily, it was a bad time for camping in the Balkans and Super Royal Rumble was the hot ticket. I had eight weeks of holidays and a friend half a street away with a game collection that dwarfed my own. It was at his house that I discovered the definitive game of my childhood.

I’d gone around to play Super Double Dragon and after a couple of hours of unprovoked knifings and pompadours, we decided to tackle new challenges. He told me his cousin had lent him a game that he hadn’t yet got around to playing, but that he didn’t think looked any good. Taking the cartridge out of the box, he said we may as well give it a shot and threw me the instruction manual. It skidded across the linoleum and came to rest against my thigh: Super Mario Kart.

The motif on the front bore all the major characters of the Mario universe in a racetrack pile-up, swerving to avoid a banana peel. I’d never been particularly enthused by any of the Super Mario platformers, and agreed with Rhys’ assessment that the game looked pretty uninspiring. My perception quickly changed.

The next three hours involved working our way through the GP mode in both the 50 and 100cc classes and subsequently unlocking the ‘Special Cup.’ The memory of screaming in frustration and throwing my controller at a pot plant following my thirty eighth abortive attempt at the Rainbow Road track endures, as does my measured response to adversity. That track – smeared across the screen like a garish tile swatch from Bootsy Collins’ bathroom – was, until I was introduced to the retinal rattan strike of Super Ghouls and Ghosts, my most testing gaming experience of the era, and my elation at clearing it didn’t subside for weeks. Unlike most people, I never really warmed to the battle mode, and Rhys and I spent the entire holidays re-racing the GPs as the nimble combination of Toad and Koopa Troopa.

As much as I loved the game, my finite attention span eventually led me away from it and towards others. I wrote out the cheats to Mortal Kombat II from Hyper magazine; I shamelessly acquiesced to the eczema kid in return for his copy of Turtles in Time; I discovered, much to my delight, that holding down the ‘loft’ and ‘power’ buttons in Super International Cricket let you leg glance sixes from pace bowlers. I saw a procession of titles through to completion until the N64 arrived, and it was Goldeneye that kept me away from the taint of exercise and literature. It was a wasted youth well spent.

I was twenty two when I next played Mario Kart. I was living with three other lugubrious wastrels in a shared house a block away from my parents’ place. Our time in the house was dedicated mostly to masturbation and binge drinking – activities which were often convergent – and, as paragons of sloth, we were peerless. We had a 360 in the house, on which we would sporadically attempt to play Call of Duty 4 on the most difficult setting. The fleeting appeal of being shot repeatedly in the head by Somalis meant we tired of the game and went a couple of months without playing anything, until one afternoon when my housemate Tom produced an old Xbox he’d retrieved from his dad’s place.

It turned out, years before, he had downloaded a SNES emulator and one night, after reminiscing about Castlevania, we decided to fire it up and attempt to rekindle some of the magic from our childhoods. Tom had managed to download more or less the entire canon of SNES games, and Brad – nominally not a housemate, but for all intents and purposes a resident – manfully identified the horrible ones for us. After he’d spent forty five minutes playing Addams Family Values and ‘Asthma Challenge’ – an educational game in which an asthmatic brachiosaurus has to avoid pollen, smoke, dust and cerebral aneurysm – we pried him from the controller and sat down to Mario Kart.

Being a traditionalist, I insisted we complete the GP mode the way I had fourteen years earlier. Tom agreed. Starting the Mushroom Cup on the 50cc setting, I was shocked to see him select Bowser. I kept my dismay to myself and smirked at the thought of the fireball-shitting komodo taking off with the celerity of a toboggan across bitumen. The select screen itself triggered fond memories and the sounds and graphics of my childhood seemed as familiar as they had in Rhys’ lounge room. I don’t, however, recall his TV having a marital aid taped to the antenna, though my memory is unreliable.

The race was about to start and as we lined up at the grid – him starting from seventh, me from eighth – I remembered the technique for getting a brisk start. Waiting as the amber lights illuminated, I timed my acceleration to coincide exactly with the green light… only to take off, smash Donkey Kong’s fat arse, back onto Tom’s fat arse and then get buffeted onto the shoulder of the track, losing two coins and rapidly falling to last. I charged into the first hairpin corner, powerslid prematurely and smashed into a barrier. I spun 180 degrees and a bespectacled little turd came down from his cloud and told me I was going the wrong way. It was Christmas at Grandad’s revisited.

I held out hope, and went through over an item box feeling I was owed a lightning bolt. My banana peel begged to differ. I shot it forward, aimlessly, onto the side of the track and tried to gain ground on Donkey Kong. Tom was leading the race comfortably. I went to dodge a pipe then skidded over my own errant peel; Koopa spun, shook his head and looked at me, perplexed.

“I ain’t got no money and I ain’t got no hair,” his poorly-rendered pupils seemed to say, as the last of my coins shot out through his skull.

I steeled myself, fought my way through the pack with a slew of green shells and feathers and came a respectable seventh. We progressed to the next race on the back of Tom’s fourteen kart-length first placing and I assured him I was just blowing out the cobwebs.

“You definitely blew,” he countered, as I reconsidered our lease agreement.

The second race was on the Donut Plains track, the variants of which I always seemed to struggle with, even in my pomp. Starting from the comparative luxury of second last, I resolved to redeem myself and pummel Tom and the other racers into submission. I hadn’t reckoned with my phone going off the instant the race started, nor Tom’s utter lack of scruples and sportsmanship as he continued the race while I screamed “FUCKING PRESS START!” from the kitchen, my mother – still on the other end of the phone – doubtless taken aback by my passion for Friday night rissoles. I hung up, sprinted back to the lounge room and recommenced racing just as Tom lapped me for the second time. I once again banked on a lightning bolt that never came and cursed not only my fortunes, but the abject lack of chivalry amongst my friends.

The race concluded and Bowser drove across the screen holding the chequered flag whilst my twirling little fucker had only a chequered performance to show for himself. It was highly improbable that I could win the Grand Prix but, for all my faults, I am imbued with a childishly unflagging optimism and it was still game on.

“This is what we call a handicap.”
“You’re what we call handicapped.”
“Go fuck yourself.”

I was flustered but determined. My pet race was next. The Ghost Valley course suited Koopa’s style perfectly; the wooden track seemed to wash speed off around corners, allowing the nippy little fella to turn into them at full speed without hitting the walls, which, in any event, were fortified regardless. I was confident of mincing Tom and dragging myself back into contention.

I got off to an uncharacteristically seamless start and quickly worked my way to second. Tom was surprisingly adept at getting Bowser around the track and hadn’t clipped the wall yet. His top speed being greater than mine, I was unable to haul him in until the third lap, when I cut inside him at the first turn after the starting line and put a couple of kart lengths between us.  I was holding him off through lap four, when I picked up my third consecutive green shell and banked it off the wall, narrowly missing him and taking out Yoshi instead. He, of course, acquired a red shell which he impatiently fired as soon as he got it, slamming it into a corner instead of my fender. I felt the Gods were finally smiling on me as I passed through for the final lap.

I drove over a barren item box – foolishly, in hindsight – feeling all I needed to do was hold a steady course to take out the race whilst Tom – still in second – drove over an active box. I’m unsure if what happened next is attributable to bad luck, an error on my part or Tom making some kind of Faustian deal with Beelzebub, but in a manner defying everything I had ever come to regard as Mario Kart lore, he – all the while in second – was given a star. He held it almost contemptuously until the second last turn, when he activated it, flew up behind me and sent me spinning off into oblivion as four other racers flashed past me. I didn’t even bother finishing the race and, in a manner recalling my prepubescent antics, I threw my controller at the pile of FHM magazines, which were the closest thing we had to plant life in the house.

“Fuck this. Fuck this whole socialist fucking piece of shit game! The winners get the worst handouts, the losers get all the benefits, money counts for nothing, red is tremendous, green is horrible, the iconoclast of the whole thing is a manual labourer with a moustache with powers of invincibility and royalty is represented by a useless bitch who no one ever selects! Fucker!”

I was irate, inconsolable, a two-bit Tsarist and Tom sat there smirking all the while. I told him I quit and didn’t look at the Xbox again until two weeks later when I tried (unsuccessfully) to clock Asthma Challenge. I left it alone and told myself that perhaps some things were best left in the past. If a man cannot best a mohawked reptile with a BDSM fetish, what hope has he of contributing meaningfully to society?

I was moved to revisit my tempestuous relationship with Mario Kart having recently downloaded the ROM myself. In the relative tranquillity of my flat, aged twenty four, I have revitalized my love of the game and tears and dummy-spits are becoming increasingly infrequent. In fact, the game is once again assuming a prominent stake in my life and, should my girlfriend arrive home huffy or talkative, I simply put on my headphones and let Rainbow Road do its worst. Where other favourites like NBA Jam and The Lost Vikings seem dated and demystified, I still find Mario Kart as challenging and engaging as ever. Though I am a long way removed from my childhood home in Western Australia, I presently live in South London and now, as then, pompadours and stabbings are only a couple of streets away. As for the future? Perhaps one day the fruits of my own red shells will be able to play with dear old dad once they’re old enough to curse their Creator and hurl controllers.

I live in hope, always.

Last five articles by GL Guest Writer



  1. Ste Ste says:

    Great article, Mario Kart is legendary no matter what version you play. My girlfriend has an unhealthy obsession with the coin runners mode on the Wii. I prefer the GP mode like yourself but she refuses to play that because according to her I’m a cheating bastard. Anyway, that’s another story.

  2. Tania Tania says:

    Great stuff, this really made me laugh! I always used to play as Yoshi, but never did get gold in the star cup! Bloody cheating AI.

  3. Adam Adam says:

    A friend of mine had Mario Kart on the SNES when I was at school and I was always jealous of that despite owning a Mega Drive, the technically superior machine. I couldn’t get enough of Battle Mode, I loved it and when the DS version hit, it was all I could find myself playing with randoms online.

    Love how that when you went back to it, hoping you’d be geared to whitewash your friends that you ended up in last. Such a familiar story that I’ve done with old games, can not go anywhere near Counter-Strike these days without making a fool of myself :/ Lovely read :D

  4. Samuel Samuel says:

    Bloody hell man, I don’t think I’ve seen such a competitiveness in racing since Ayrton Senna’s final (and fatal) season in Formula 1 when he totally fluffed the first two races, declared his season started now and he’d win the title in 14 instead of 16 races, then promptly killed himself at Imola.

    Keep this up and Koopa Troopa won’t live to see the year’s end, leaving only a forlorn smear behind.

    Great article this, had me giggling throughout.

  5. Edward Edward says:

    This article was simply brilliant and had me laughing my head off.
    I’m not a competitive racer, except for Mario Kart. From playing SNES at my friend’s house to all the countless time spent playing Mario Kart on the N64, my best friend’s gamecube to the countless hours playing Wii and DS as well. They’ve probably taken up the most time for me on every Nintendo console and is one of the games I’ve played most with friends. So it’s fair to say I utterly love Mario Kart, and can understand the competitiveness you’d get into.
    Just be glad you never got around to suffering the Blue Shell ;)

  6. Lorna Lorna says:

    This was one of my favourite entries. It is well written and very funny and loses nothing on repeated reads :) I thankfully never got that hooked on Mario Kart but love looking into the life of someone who has and pointing and laughing. As for a housemate who refuses to hit pause when you’re on the phone… fucking harsh but utterly hilarious. I hope you sought swift vengeance somehow :D Loved this.

  7. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    Ah dood, I loved this article :D So many standout sections, so many belly laughs and sniggers… the two main parts that stood out for me while I was first reading it were the TV aerial with the sex aid attached to it (I can see this in my head, and I swear it needs to be marketed!) and the pile of FHMs being the closest thing to plant life. I lived like that once, except it was piles of Fortean Times, Cult Times, Shivers and Fangoria.

    I am constantly revisiting the games of my youth (by youth I mean I was 23 when they first came out) and they never lose their appeal, not even for a second. I have a Vectrex in my office which, when I can actually get to it past the hulking great printer, finds me playing Asteroids while huge files upload.

    Nostalgia is a wonderful thing, and moreso when you continue to appreciate it.

  8. [...] mentions (and also wrote). Eat Your Art Out – The Writing Competition’s winning entry. Karting and the Art of Not Punching Your Best Friend In The Throat – One of the finalists Mark… Fresh Air Sucks – One of the finalists Mark mentions. PAX East Coverage: Shoot Many Robots [...]

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