Never bring a white van to a go-kart track

Mario Kart 64 (1997)

In around 150 AD, after several years of labour and study, Claudius Ptolemy completed his Cosmographia, his long-studied understanding of the geography of Europe and the world. Beginning in 1308 and finishing in 1320, Dante produced his masterful magnum opus, the Divine Comedy. And in this year of our lord, Burkey presents to you his much anticipated treatise of the worst types of road users.

Ranking third on the list are the cyclists. I have to be honest here, I don’t feel the huge amount of hatred towards cyclists that a lot of other people do. Now don’t get me wrong either, I hardly have much sympathy towards people who take children’s toys out on the road. And I just can’t reckon myself with the spandex and lycra that they all start vacuum-packing themselves into, immediately after the Tour de France comes to its drug-hazed end.

Still, I have to give them at least some credit because to be cycling around the dangerous city streets makes them either very brave or very foolish. What they are is very obstructive, and also unpredictable. It only takes a few bad eggs to let the entire side down, see, and when even just one cyclist runs right through a red light, operating under the bizarre assumption that traffic laws don’t apply to them, then the whole gig is ruined. 

In second place are the taxi drivers. If ever there was a mixed bag, it’s the taxi drivers. You simply do not know what you’re going to get. In some cases, you don’t even know where you’re going to get, because neither do they. If there’s one plaudit that the cabbies win, it’s that, out of all road users, their balls are by far the biggest. They have to be, otherwise they wouldn’t pull the sort of etiquette-defining stunts they regularly pull. You want to keep holding up a full lane of mega traffic, just to nip into the correct lane ahead of me? Go ahead, sir. Bullying all other vehicles out of their path, right the way up to double decker buses (buses for God’s sake) on the tight inner city streets? By all means.

And don’t think you’ll get so much as a ‘thank you’, a ‘go ahead’ or a ‘your tire is flat, mate’ gesture from them, not a bit of it. Actually, if you don’t bend the rules of the road to accommodate them, they’ll respond by shaking their fist and tutting at you as if you’re the idiot. And all this while charging extortionate rates – not their fault individually, but you just try looking for change, a card machine or a receipt from them.

But taking top spot on this year’s Worst Types of Road Users Compendium is… comedy drum roll, please… the white van drivers. I’ve been stereotyping like a madman all throughout this ill-advised piece, but here’s one to top the lot: if you drive a white van, you are ignorance personified. Cutting you off, shouting abuse from the windows, having dodgy tax discs – you name it, they’re guilty of it.

Probably their best trick, and the one that irritates me the most, is how they’ll pull their van right on top of your rear bumper, right up your arse as they say, giving you that ungodly temptation to brake-test them. I would have actually liked driving, you know, if I could only do it alone. Can’t we just get rid of the other road-users?

That’s precisely the reason why Mario Kart 64 will never be a great Mario Kart game. Yes, racing games get a bit boring when you’re way better than the competition and you’re able to just check out in front and coast to an easy win. In Mario Kart games, this type of dominance is subject to the odd Red or Blue Shell coming your way. But with Mario Kart 64 they went from one extreme to the other with what they call rubberbanding.

If that means nothing to you, then just picture an elastic rubberband, and how there’s not much effect if you leave it loose. But stretch everything out and you better believe the kinetic forces, or the dastardly game AI in this case, will snap everything back together. The idea here is that the AI always gives you a close race to cover up for the foibles associated with early 3D, mid 90s artifical intelligence. It also theoretically means that you’ll never fall too far behind.

And you won’t, but let’s get one thing clear – sure, sometimes a finish lower down the order can get you the points you need to take 1st place in the cup. But generally in Mario Kart if you ain’t first you’re last. Who wants to come second all the time? Not me, or any other man I know. And it even happens that the rubberbanding sometimes glitches in this game and renders the first placed racer impossible to catch, since they’re programmed to hit top speed whenever you can’t see them.

So you’re up against seven white van drivers who are all over the back of you, and when they bump you out of the way, that’s it. You’re left fuming, but there’s no point in trying to catch up to them to vent your frustration because they’re literally impossible to catch – must be all those bus lanes they help themselves to.

There are 16 tracks in Mario Kart 64, a downgrade from the incredible Super Mario Kart although there’s a lot more environments, and this time around you’ve got 4-player capabilities, which is Mario Kart 64’s real selling point. After all, the 1-player mode will only last you so long, especially with the fiendish AI that hates you, but anyway the game is kind of primitive as well – you’re a 2D sprite on a very rough 3D plane most of the time, and it’s not unheard of to simply fall through the race course’s geometry at times, often into the abyss below which is always a massive pool of water for whatever reason.

The AI can’t use items correctly for the most part, which means at least you won’t have your entire race or cup run undone by a last-second Blue Shell, although it’s for this reason that the computer opponents rubberband in the first place. You might also get a pain in your arse, if not a full van bumper, manoeuvring that awful N64 Control Stick back-and-forth to try and get mini-turbos through the corners, only for the opposition racers to stay right on your tail anyway after you’d just hit them with 3 of your finest Red Shells – it really is beyond belief. 

I say stick with multiplayer in this one as much as you can, because if you ever do decide to throw down with that van driver who’s caused you much misery, inside the van you’ll often find it’s a whole gang of lads who wouldn’t really be up on their Shakespeare. You play your cards right, you might even end up on Road Wars, brawling in the lay-by with the local painter-decoraters. Just don’t turn it into a police chase, because those boys tend to have stronger weapons than Banana Peels and Green Shells.

8 October 2021

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