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February 03, 2005

Gaming as Pastime: MKDD

Mario Kart Double Dash

Just this past weekend, on my birthday no less, my sons and I finished Mario Kart: Double Dash. Finishing the game means beating every "cup" at every speed -- you might think you're finished when you beat the "All Cup" at 150CC, but you're not. They unlock Mirror Mode at that point and you get to do all the tracks again, flipped 180. Once you've beaten all this, Nintendo shows you an image with all the characters in it saying "Thank you for playing" and changes the start image at boot time; you also unlock the last Kart you'll unlock for the game.

The amount of stuff to unlock was quite remarkable. Normally, I could care less about unlockables (although I liked them in the Metroid Prime games), but the shear amount of stuff is ridiculous. Karts, characters, etc., one for every gold trophy you earn. I thought that would end once we beat the normal tracks, but even in Mirror Mode you get goodies.

We play sort of a quarterbacked version of the co-op game -- I drive, they control the character on the back, and I shout out when I want them to deploy the shell or banana or whatever.

When we first started playing the game, the boys weren't all that good at it. They would forget who was holding the controller (!), forget what button to push, or have to look down at it to do it. Now I've freed them up to make their own decisions about when to do certain of the power-ups, etc., and we have been mastering the "super start". Pretty soon I'll have them add in counter-steering for the super boost, and we'll really be in business.

The amount of fun we've wrung out of this game far exceeds any I've gotten out of any other game bar none, and I've played a few games. Part of it is the game itself, sure, but largely the fun comes from interacting with my boys -- I'd never have had this much fun playing through the game alone. My sons get caught up in which characters are behind us, which character belongs to which track, and the constant struggles we had in defeating the 150cc mode for the harder tracks.

We've finished the game now, but we're still playing, working together, trying new Karts¹ and characters. It's moved from that area of "thing of the moment", which is where games usually reside with me, to "family pastime" -- quality time with the kids doing something all three of us enjoy.

Part of me, as a game developer, would really like to be able to target that experience, to move something beyond the 12 - 50 hours it takes to play a game these days to something that you constantly go back to because of the environment it engenders. As a player, I'm already wondering what else I should buy that the kids might like -- maybe a Mario Party game, or Animal Crossing, or Wario Mega Whatever -- trying to find something else that just brings out this sort of friendly competitiveness.

I know in a few years they'll want to play things like Halo 5 and the like, and they'll be handing me my hat in those games. It'll be fun, I'm sure, we'll have good bonding time, trash-talking, all that cool guy stuff I'll want when they're into their early teens and such.

But I'll tell you one thing: I'm not packing up the Gamecube for a long while. I'll want us always to be able to slip in that easy fun we've had, and keep having. Pretty soon, they'll be able to drive the Karts too, and we can move on to switching back and forth, and that'll be fun too. Before long, they'll be quarterbacking me -- "no, Dad, throw the shell forward *sigh*".

That'll be fine by me.

¹Actually, this was one of the things that made it difficult to beat in the first place. As driver, having the same Kart every time would have been beneficial. As players, my kids constantly wanted to try new Karts, leaving me scratching my head as to how to play them -- I got really good with quickly acclerating (but lower top speed Karts) and have only recently been getting better with heavier ones.

Posted by Brett Douville at February 3, 2005 10:55 PM