I was conflicted.
On one hand, I couldn't bear to look at Mario Kart DS anymore. The still-wrapped game case remained stationary in my DS library, and served as a reminder of one of the harshest consequences of addiction. Only then realizing the true gravity of Michael's drug problem, I began to distance myself away from my brother, of which included most things that reminded me of him. I may have owned the game again, but it wasn't the same Mario Kart DS I had before, and it was something that stung me sharply.
On the other hand...I knew I would have to go back eventually. In a way, my urge to play the game again never fully dispersed. The gamer in me wanted to test how far I had come over the years, and I wanted to know if I could either blaze through the game or still struggle with it. Playing Mario Kart DS again, even if it was not the same game I had years before, would serve as an act of forgiveness towards my brother, something that to this day I'm not sure I ever gave to him.
My brother's overdose in August cemented that idea.
I eventually made the decision to return to Mario Kart DS soon after its 5th anniversary that November. What a coincidence, I thought! Why, I could watch my new Dragon Boxes right around the same time! And read SGT Frog again...it'd be like old times. And the Wi-Fi mode! I may not have my old scores anymore, but my losses outweighed my wins, anyway! I could have a fresh start! The same could be said for my time trials and Grand Prix star rankings. I was set, and hyped.
...but do I feel the same way playing it as I did back then?
The word rings for everyone, most likely in a tune that oozes with longing and nostalgia. It is a time where, while certainly not without imperfections, that we look back upon with the most genuine fondness. The trials and tribulations a young adult is pressured into today, such as paying rent, finding a job, romantic life, and raising a child was all but present, and as such the concept of childhood slips so back that it seems almost like a previous life as we get used to another one.
It's a difficult process.
In my Kirby's Adventure posts, I discussed my perception of nostalgia in video games and how I reacted to the concept. When I played a classic video game, the warm, dreamy recollections I had read online or fed off from magazines manifested into a feeling of its own, and I felt as if experiencing these games the same way they did. Nostalgia was a form of pleasure I indulged in often back as a ten year old, and it's something I still treasure.
However, it had a counterpart. While to this day I still have not been able to find a name for it yet, on a retrospective scale it's virtually synonymous with nostalgia. When taken into consideration the wild imagination of a growing child, it wasn't long before I began absorbing the very world of the games I was indulging myself in. The wide, open worlds of Super Mario, Zelda, and Kirby enveloped me immediately with their combination of lively characters, engaging musical scores, and beautiful backgrounds that only gave a hint of the supposed paradise my idols lived in.
When I remember my childhood, I tend to relive in the feelings I had felt while experiencing my hobbies. I still recall the soaring reverie of playing a Kirby game, soaking in the beautiful atmosphere, whether it was rolling fields filled with flowers or beautiful carnival atmospheres with auroras hanging in the sky. When exploring the cave levels in Super Mario 64 or the aquatic preservation of Hyrule Castle in Zelda: The Wind Waker, I felt as if I was a solitary archaeologist, discovering the world's greatest long-lost treasures and somehow living to tell the tale. When I played Earthbound, I was reminded of an earlier urban culture long lost, complete with the eccentric townspeople, hidden treehouses, and quaint houses found only in books and cartoons. I took the atmosphere of every Nintendo game I had played and created mental simulations of them in my mind, reveling in the beauty of the worlds I had visited.
While not always present during my gaming youth, it popped up immediately after the advent of the Gamecube's Super Smash Bros. Melee and my introduction to retro titles such as Kirby Super Star and Earthbound. The impact of experiencing both nostalgia and feeling was a silent revolution, and the two concepts integrated instantly into my gaming experiences. I loved that feeling so much that it became the backbone of my experiences, and I never doubted its presence for a moment.
To me, it proved that video games weren't just games...they were another world.
It was my shining moment in my history with video games.
And I lost it....or so I thought.
Time and time again I have stated this. When you become a teenager, the rules change. The various ugly realities of life, whether they were conveniently camouflaged in our youths or simply lacked the ability to throw their full gravity on us, gradually but surely become apparent to us and seep into our brains forever. Most accept the change without a second thought, eager to move on to the glamorous promises offered as a teen. Some simply roll along, not sure what to make of the adjustments forced onto them, but still gladly take the test to growing up in middle/high school. As the teen years progress, even less realize that, in the midst of fulfilling our self-centered goals and caught up in the whirlwind of our growing obligations, we have lost something: Our childhood innocence and dreams.
I was the last two, and I took that change so hard.
Was what happened back then important? Not really, and neither was how I picked myself back up either. What is important, though, is the mess I became after I recovered. It's strange to describe what happened, as I both longed for my past and focused on my self-centered goals in the present. I still remembered that sweet feeling in my youth, the beauty I felt while wrapped up in my games, and chased after it for god knows how long. Meanwhile, most everything that I was engaging in the present was either shoved to the side after a week, with the exception of the completely new (One Piece, Shadow of the Colossus, Eyeshield 21, and Fire Emblem being primary examples). I was convinced that bringing back that feeling was the only key to my happiness.
And you know something? I probably could have continued to feel it if I slowed to a halt and realized what I was enjoying...which I eventually did maybe three years ago.
I also mentioned in my Kirby's Adventure posts about how I'll probably never feel the same way about the game like I did in my childhood, but I still enjoyed it anyway. I think the big secret as to why we can't perfectly emulate those reveries today is because they were exclusive to childhood. Children perceive, feel, and experience in a fashion that dives so deep into the imaginary, and as we grow older and are occupied by the budding requirements of adulthood, we lose the feelings that were once central to us. It's just the natural way of things.
And you know what? I'm okay with that. Can I still feel the same way about my favorite video games to a certain degree? Certainly! Why, just today, I took a trip out to the park and listened to the soundtrack for Kirby Super Star Ultra, a remake of one of my favorite Super Nintendo titles. The soaring reverie was back for the first time in ages, and combined with the blue sky and bountiful sunshine made for an engrossing experience not unlike what I had in fourth grade.
I would not call Mario Kart DS a beautiful game in terms of aesthetics, but I can feel its nostalgia. There was a strange appeal to sitting alone in the depths of my dark room playing the Wi-Fi mode, while reading Dragon Ball right before going to bed and playing Tales of Symphonia the next morning. It was the only ray of sunshine of a dark period.
And you know what? I'm glad it's gone. I may have enjoyed those elements on the side, but I suffered in the day, torn between the trials of eight grade and my brother's newfound addiction. When I returned to Mario Kart DS, I realized that I didn't need to read SGT Frog again and watch Japanese subtitled Dragon Ball Z to replicate the experience. In the midst of searching for the lost feeling and nostalgia, I forgot the most important element of video games.
That's the most important thing. I may enjoy my feeling and nostalgia as much as I want, but they play second fiddle to this crucial element. It doesn't matter how beautiful a game is; if the game's not fun, it all falls apart.
When I played Mario Kart DS for the first time, I was a lonely, depressed teenager. Now? I'm a young adult who's only now just finding his way. Things are different now, and the same applies to Mario Kart DS. I've already gone in length as to why I can't play the online mode anymore, which in a way defeated the purpose of practicing in Versus mode and earning higher star rankings.
But it doesn't matter.
I may not be able to nab a new beginning in Wi-Fi mode anymore, but everything else is there for me. I can perfect my Time Trials. I can now beat the Staff Ghosts. I can experiment with other racers and karts. I can earn Star Rankings. I can change the rules to Battle and Versus modes as much as I want. I can race and race and race and I'll still have fun.
I can play.
I can play, and that's what counts.
Thanks for being there, guys.
Here's to hoping for the best for Mario Kart 3DS!
And that concludes our feature on Mario Kart DS!
Expect an announcement regarding on what's nearing the blog's future tomorrow.