Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Biweekly Music Wednesday! No. 41 ~Rainbow Road~ (Mario Kart 64)

OriginMario Kart 64
Plays In: Rainbow Road
Status: Original Composition
Composed by: Kenta Nagata

In the past, I've used the following imagery to describe early nostalgia:

"I remember the starry luminous skies of the Rainbow Resort in Kirby's Adventure eliciting memories of when I was very young, strapped in the car's backseat as I stared in silent wonder at the luminous neon lights passing by."

While used to describe the ending levels in Kirby's Adventure, the imagery of cars and neon lights just as easily bring to mind Rainbow Road from any one Mario Kart. When it comes to my own nostalgia for that series, there's no other choice but  Mario Kart 64, the very first game I ever asked for at the age of 6. 
And I'm certainly not alone in my fond memories of the game; in particular, Mario Kart 64's Rainbow Road iteration elicits similar sentimentality to that aforementioned imagery: neon imagery of the game's roster up in the night sky, an endless guardrail of stars, that soothing music....

But can nostalgia speak for a game's actual quality? Diving deeper into Mario Kart 64 discussions will uncover many who feel that particular Rainbow Road far too long and boring; in fact, it often goes hand-in-hand with criticism of the game not aging too well. Even today, I wonder if that's true: whenever I'd briefly return to my first Mario Kart, it'd always feel so clunky and unfamiliar relative to the newer titles.

That should be decided through a Leave Luck to Heaven review, you may say, but there's another point I'd like to discuss for today: haven't you ever wanted to replay your favorite old games with the same exact sense of wonder you felt as a child?  It's tough to admit, but there's certainly been many times I've prepped my game sessions like that, and they were often abandoned in misery; for example, for the longest time I had difficulty replaying Super Mario 64 because I would never relive that wonderful sense of discovery.

Knowing that I would never relive my childhood years was one of the most difficult realizations I've ever had to endure. In itself, that is not wrong: you have to grow up to recognize and tackle the trials and tribulations around not just yourself, but of the world. But do we recognize that burden when we're just entering our teenage years, when our bodies undergo changes and we grow fickle over every little thing? Perhaps, but that only validates our fears and declining perspective of the world.

"That's how nostalgia gets to you. You're reminded of a familiar fragrance or feeling that perfectly mirrors how you felt during a certain period of your youth, and you desperately try in vain to contain it. You attempt to revel in it to make the feeling last a lifetime, and you think of everything that happened to you to contain it, whether it was your favorite cartoon or video game and all the friends you had. It's a several month, perhaps year-long experience all packed in a few seconds, and then it's gone."

Like it or not, cynicism takes over us as we grow older. It's why we grow so excited when A Link to the Past sequel is being made for 3DS, or grow misty-eyed at video game orchestras or when Super Smash Bros. arranges beloved EarthBound and Mega Man tunes, or simply stare in awe when Mario Kart 8 reimagines a fan-favorite course with an explosion of color. To us, it's as if developers are saying "we remember how you feel, too," and hold our halcyon-day memories to the highest regard.

In turn, their nostalgia introduced to a new generation, and the cycle continues.

Mario Kart 64 is the furthest form of nostalgia as it the most mysterious. 
It was a time where I thought the N64 controller was loosely based off of Mario's gloves, where the 3D models on the character select screen felt larger than life and that half-finished wall painting of Mario down in the basement, which my mother never finished. How much of that can be replicated? Not much, unless I want to stare at unfinished paintings in the filthy, dirty backside of the basement.

Point is, we can never replicate exactly how we felt when first playing a game, as they'd require outside influences to be replicated again and again (that, and do I really want my mother to make incomplete paintings of Mario?) Maybe Mario Kart 64 isn't all that hot now, but having replayed Super Mario 64 over three times in the past three years, it's stunning to me how that game holds up today despite its rudimentary nature. 

Take the old in with the new, and forge on. Criticize the new and the new, and accept their quality as they are. As a writer, it is my duty to record such experiences.

Final Thoughts: No, really, how does Mario Kart 64 hold up? Hmm...maybe it's time for a Mario Kart retrospective.

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