GamerDad III - Attack of the Family
Lately, family time seems to be finding itself dominated by one game. Previously, there have been a couple of things that all four of us seemed to enjoy equally - but more and more of late, there's one thing that we just seem to keep going back to. It's been a part of the landscape of my videogame playing life for almost as long as I can remember, and now it's working its way into the hearts of my kids.
The game is Mario Kart 8 - and I couldn't be happier with their choice of game to fall in love with.
I can't think of a game that's held the attention of three generations of my family simultaneously before this one. Wii Sports had a good try, but it became an event game; something to be played at parties or big gatherings - whereas Mario Kart 8 has transcended this to become something that my mother will suggest we play when she comes over for dinner on a Thursday night and the food's been eaten.
My mother, my wife, my daughter and my son will all take up their positions on the couch. They always sit in the same places. They always use the same controllers, play in the same quarter of the screen, and choose the same character and kart combinations. And with the formalities out of the way, the laughter begins - along with the gentle winding up and trolling that a good session on this game will bring with it. The shells fly, leads are won and lost, and a family is brought a little bit closer together in the process - with another piece of common ground found and fallen in love with.
The reason that this game has succeeded where so many others have failed lies purely in the game's multiplayer - which positively revels in the chaos that we can lovingly inflict upon one another, and the very human interactions that it drives.
In a game of Mario Kart, loose alliances form and rivalries develop - enemies in one race supporting one another against a common foe in a later one. Factions form and rise and fall apart faster in a Mario Kart session than they did in Game of Thrones. I've seen my son brake to let my daughter overtake him, just so he can hit her with a shell and take the place back. I've seen my daughter and my wife co-ordinate the launch of a blue shell so that one of them can overtake my son - who, in the lead (as usual), would find himself its target. I've been overtaken by my kids and trolled more times than I'd care to count, at this point - my place as 'best in the house at Mario Kart' first looking like a dubious claim, then an untenable position, and now fading into ancient history. After all, I've only been playing games in this series since 1992; what could I possibly know? Far less than both of my kids, apparently. Both of them have mastered the art of the turbo start, and the corner drifting. They've found shortcuts on many tracks, and have figured out how and when to exploit them. One of them can occasionally dodge a blue shell - much to everyone's annoyance. He's also working to completely unlock everything in the game, and having a blast while doing it.
Mario Kart 8 is, typically of Nintendo, a really tightly focussed game. Racing first, then chaos - and that magical spot where the two intersect. Every track is beautifully laid out and imagined, often looping in and out of themselves with gravity-defying moments in which your kart's wheels fold up and it hovers. Crashing into other players in these moments will give you a boost - making contact a winning strategy. The game dishes out better items to players near the back of the pack; I'm sure it's partly to make those players feel powerful, but also partly to add to the craziness up at the front. I can always tell when one of my kids is launching a blue shell, even before it appears on the map. There's a particular sound they both make. A sort of quiet "heh heh heh" sound; a little evil exhortation. When the front runner in our races hears that noise... trouble is on the way, and it's coming in fast.
There's always lots of noise around Nintendo announcements for a sequel - and as much as I'll enjoy seeing whatever Nintendo comes up with next for the franchise, part of me has real difficulty in imagining how they'll ever top this. It's a comprehensive package. Pretty much all the best tracks from the franchise's entire history are present here, along with all the best karts, and best weapons. The customisation options are almost endless. The only thing I could envisage is an expansion of the roster into a Smash style racing game - with characters from all over Nintendo's rich history making an appearance, with occasional cameos from external sources dropping in occasionally. For now though, I think I speak for all the members of my immediate family when I say that we're quite happy with what we've got.
Do you play games with your family? Hit me up on Twitter and let me know which ones are the favourites in your house!