Back in the 1980s, games were impossibly difficult. Anyone who has ever tried to make their way through old-school Nintendo Entertainment System mainstays such as Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels and Kid Icarus knows how difficult and unforgivable gaming was just 20 years ago. Yet as time and technology has changed, games have been able to implement richer save systems, more forgiving life bars and even complex map systems that have eliminated many of the headaches associated with classic games. With all of the technological advancements that have come about, why are we so surprised when our favorite titles suddenly become easier or more accessible?
Every generation of consoles brings about its new twists on gaming, ushering in new players and consumers that change the tide of gaming on a whole. Along with the Nintendo Wii came plenty talk about the “casual gamer:” a person who wants a fun experience they can pick up and play at their leisure, rather than being locked into a game for 30+ hours at a time. Casual gamers are commonly juxtaposed against “hardcore” gamers, the traditional subset of players who follow the videogaming beat and dedicate a large part of their time to pursuing, playing and completing games.
Anyone who has peeked at Nintendo’s impressive sales figures has noticed casual gamers are the next big ticket in videogames. They’ve come out of nowhere to be a huge, dominating force on next-generation platforms and have helped to fuel the astronomical sales of both the Nintendo Wii and the Nintendo DS. Casual games have traditionally been the domain of computers and handhelds, with card games like Solitaire and puzzlers like Bejeweled and Tetris being the token casual favorites that practically everyone has played at least once in his/her lifetime. As more people choose a casual experience, the gaming industry will have to create games that somehow manage to balance out the “pick up and play” needs of the casual gamer with the “hardcore” gamers’ desires for epic adventures.
Mario Kart Wii is the latest title under attack for “watering down” its content for a wider, more casual gaming contingent. With a delightfully simple plastic attachment, and myriad gaming options to make the experience accessible to the new player, Nintendo designed a title that could be picked up and enjoyed for the first time for many people. But has this hurt or helped the series?
Of course, it all depends on who you are and what you’re looking to get out of it. As a more “hardcore” gamer, I personally appreciate the online options and stringent difficulty that comes with the latter portion of the game, but it’s hard to skip over some of the more glaring ways in which the title has changed. Many items try to level out the playing field by bringing up those in the back, but this can result in punishing those who take the lead. In this way, Mario Kart Wii can almost be seen as a grand display of gaming communism in action: a level playing field for both the casual and the hardcore, with a neigh-dictatorial usage of extreme weapons to suppress those who defer from the middle and wish to shoot ahead of the pack. Tread carefully, young comrade, as the power of the Blue Shell will stop your bourgeoisie advancements in no time! Ha Ha!
Red jokes aside, Mario Kart Wii ultimately has something that communism will never have: fun. It’s still an engrossing adventure that remains enjoyable to anyone who picks up the controller, even if the person in the lead will occasionally be reamed by an onslaught of projectiles that propel them into 12th place. Sure, casual players can squeeze into a win every few matches, but the game still is overwhelmingly in favor of those who hunker down and spend their time with it, rewarding those hardcore enough to spend their time with it.
In the end, Mario Kart Wii serves as a grand example of what Nintendo is trying to achieve: a sense of balance between the casual and the hardcore, effectively allowing everyone from all walks of life to enjoy a good round of “karting.” After all, today’s casual gamers are tomorrow’s hardcore future, and there’s no better way to bring people together than a good game of Mario Kart.