Growing up as a kid in the mid 90’s, I was a Nintendo child through and through. Weekend upon weekend would go by as my brother and I played SNES and N64 until the cows came home. Back then I was especially partial to my brother’s N64 and the set of games he had with it. As a result those got played a lot more (by me) and made Mario Kart 64 my favorite game.
Nazi Zombies and Modern Warfare may have taken up most of my gaming time as I became part of the Xbox Live age, but Mario Kart 64 still held a place in my heart as my all-time favorite. All of that was before these past two weeks. Now I won’t touch an N64 at all, and I rarely play any Nintendo titles.
A few months back I brashly sold my N64 and my SNES at a yard sale my family was holding. Avarice and arrogance were brought to me by my discovery of emulators. In my eyes, their ability to deliver classic games in unlimited quantity at no cost was second to none. I don’t remember much about that yard sale, but the family whom I sold it to left a distinct memory in my mind.
The family consisted of a small Hispanic woman with two very young children. She didn’t know much English, and at the time I didn’t know any Spanish. The language barrier complicated things, but it didn’t hinder the sale entirely. She walked off with an SNES and an N64 with roughly 20 games in total, and I walked off with $40.
It hadn’t taken me long to realize that this was an obtuse decision. When my brother found out he was frustrated, but he agreed to help me get it back. He came into town two weeks ago, and on his second day we headed off to our local used game shop. The store was a nice little place called Game Giant. My brother knew the owner and employees well, as he had gotten a lot of his PS2 games from them before he moved in a place of his own. As fate would have it, the very woman I sold it to would sell my N64 to the shop. We got it for $50, which was pretty cheap.
The budget wouldn’t allow for any games, however, so we were under the impression we would walk out empty handed. After we explained our financial predicament to the owner, he told us this. They had a copy of Mario Kart 64 they were giving away for free. Oddly enough, he waited for all of the other customers to leave before he gave it to us. His hands were shaking and he started to stutter. He also let us know that we were more than entitled to a refund should we choose to take it back.
Now I had believed in ghosts, (and still do) but the idea of a haunted video game seemed implausible to me. My brother was a total skeptic and agreed with me. Thinking nothing of the store owner’s strange behavior, we went home ready for a night filled with revived memories. We arrived back home at about 4:00 P.M. Versus was our first order of business. I chose Toad, my personal favorite from childhood because of his unparalleled acceleration. My brother chose Luigi, his personal favorite because he’s the fastest of all the medium weight characters. Shells were tossed and bananas were thrown until 6:00. We had dinner, and then we delved into the Grand Prix races.
All of the cups were completed on gold. Whoever played this game was pretty close to getting everything, as the only things left to complete were the reverse cups. It wasn’t any fun to build on someone else’s file, so we went to data to clear it. The lap times read all the same: Six minutes and sixty-six seconds. Not only was this really creepy, but also really illogical.
How could someone get a perfect Grand Prix record with Time Trial times like that? My brother being the skeptic he was suggested it was someone trying to mess with us. Not being inclined to disagree, I cleared the data with the press of a button. That was undoubtedly the worst decision I have ever made in my life.
The game shut off by itself. Only static could be seen and heard for a good five minutes. Dominantly audible was the depressed, scared voice of Mario repeating a cryptic phrase. You have driven us, he said in clear melancholia, and now you must watch us suffer. My brother thought that this was just something someone programmed into the cartridge. I had been playing the game for the entire time after dinner, and I refused to play it after what happened. My brother was visibly shaken, but he still wanted to prove to me nothing out of the ordinary was wrong with this game. So he played it with me watching the next morning.
He switched on the game without incident. The start, menu, and player select screens were all normal. He chose the star cup and started the first race. All of the characters looked normal, except things were very wrong. The borders on the sides of the track didn’t display their usual Wario Stadium. Instead, they read YOU WILL PAY. When the race started, Lakitu had a menacing smirk on his face. Evil would be the best way to describe it. After his sign said the number one, it said DIE! rather than GO! Every time someone slipped on a banana they didn’t make the cheerful, cartoonish outburst they would normally make.
Their kart would sputter out and black smoke would begin to fume out of the engine accompanied by their screams and cries for help. My brother’s character, Luigi, hurled his first close-range red shell in the entire race. It hit Yoshi with an explosive crash and his kart went to pieces. The familiar little dinosaur was now bisected just past the spine, crawling along the track and begging for “this to end.” My brother was now visibly perturbed, but he pressed on and finished the race.
Right when he passed the finish line, a distorted version of the victory theme played accompanied by a slow, distorted demonic laugh and several explosion sounds. As Luigi made his victory lap, all of the racers whose karts were smoking had died as their kart exploded. Charred 64-bit body parts littered the course as a plume of smoke hovered over the race track. In front of all of the racers’ names, it said R.I.P.
After this all was finished, he shut it off. The T.V stayed on as he flicked the switch, and Mario appeared on the screen. His kart was a mangled mess besides his sprawled body. Bones protruded from his arms and legs and patches of flesh were missing, revealing his muscles. His organs laid strewn on the floor around him as his body uncontrollably twitched in agony. His eyes were bloodshot and filled with tears. Blood and bruises covered his pained face. He was panting as if he were about to die. Mario had lost his cheerful, animated look and donned a dreary, solemn one. He softly wept as he gave a grave warning.
You never should have cleared that data. His record has died. Now we will die too. You have driven him to this, so you must watch us suffer.
After all of that, these words appeared on the screen in the game’s colorful, upbeat font.
YOU HAVE DRIVEN US. YOU HAVE DRIVEN HIM.
My brother refused to play through the game’s torture any longer. He couldn’t after seeing the game he had loved for so long being perverted into this. I agreed to play in his place, so in exchange he got a video camera to immortalize this madness. I had to scour courage to turn that system back on. Blood and gore by itself don’t bother me. It was seeing all of the suffering, it was too much. But something inside me pushed the power button on the N64. I wish I hadn’t, in the interest of my peace at mind and my sanity.
The title screen showed the characters going down the hill. Donkey Kong was splitting Luigi’s skull in half with a buzz saw, as opposed to hoisting up a green shell. The look on his face wasn’t one of mischief either. It was one of pure bloodlust, of sick elation from being the orchestrator of such chaos and carnage. Peach, Yoshi and Mario had looks of primal fear at the scene, obviously trying to drive away. A cloudy, lighting muddled sky replaced the mild orange sunset. Flames danced in the distance as what sounded like a heartbeat played in place of the cheery soundtrack. The exuberant, excited Welcome to Mario Kart! was replaced by the sobs of Mario. The entire sight disgusted me, but I managed to press start.
The game catapulted me straight into the player select screen. The facial expressions of the characters had all drastically changed. All of the “good” characters – Mario, Luigi, Peach and Toad – had an expression of utter horror on their faces. Some shook their heads nervously while others remained completely still. Bowser, Donkey Kong, and Wario were unanimously showing bloodlust. Not a playfully menacing look, but one of pure greed and evil. I moved over to Toad and selected him. Instead of his happy trademark WA-HOO!, he started to weep mournfully. I was starting a race on a more dejected than usual version of bowser’s castle. The music was the same, except it was lower-pitched and much more ominous sounding. It sounded so creepy it disturbed me. The first thing I noticed is that Peach was missing from the starting lineup. Lakitu had an even more nefarious looking expression than he did earlier in the Wario Stadium race. The same disturbing introduction produced itself once again.
3, 2, 1, DIE!
All of the cars sped past the bridge. A flame shooting statue of a demon stood in the place of where Bowser would normally be. Bowser, Wario, and Donkey Kong all veered off to take their place next to the statue. An audible conversation could be heard, the satanic figure speaking in tongues not uttered by mortal men. All three of the villain characters appeared to be able to speak and understand this archaic language.
Suddenly, a burst of flame shot out and killed Luigi. The three characters laughed in a sick tone, a tone that implied that they were loving the sight of such dismay. Luigi’s flesh was charred, and his muscle was exposed in many places. As the villains all laughed, the demon repeated that cryptic, reoccurring message.
You have driven us…
Peach’s fate was soon dismally apparent. As Mario and I drifted the corner to evade the deathly torch of the demon’s breath, I spotted her behind the bars of the Whomp cage. She was tied to him with thick rope. Her eyes were missing their sockets as she cried blood. Thick, coagulated blood stained the entire front of her dress. Every time the greenish rock thumped the ground she threw up blood, creating a pool that filled up the entire bottom section of the translucent torture chamber. Through her torture she emotionlessly choked out this resounding message.
You… have… driven… them…
With a final thump, pieces of her body went flying everywhere. The Whomp laughed in the same tone the three villains did. Mario and my character, Toad, were the only ones alive at this point. After what happened to Peach, my brother threw up in his mouth a little. I asked him if he had gotten everything on camera. He did, so I un-paused the game and continued the race.
I had managed to dodge the bursts of flame emitting from the demonic statue all three laps. At this point, it wasn’t even about winning or losing. It was about keeping my character alive. I didn’t know what other dark forces this game possessed. Whatever was inside that game, making all this happen, wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon and I doubted its capacity for mercy. That is, assuming it would show me any should it possess it. I didn’t know what would happen to my character if I let him die and I didn’t want to find out. This was no longer game. I felt as if someone’s life was in the balance. Possibly mine.
I finished first ahead of Mario, but a somber-sounding version of the losing theme played. Again, it said R.I.P. in front of our names. Except it this time it was different. This time it said Richard, which was my actual name. The screen faded out to a Whomp laugh, which was scary in itself. I was then delivered to a sick version of a familiar environment.
It was Rainbow Road, but there were no rainbows. Patterns of flesh, veins, eyeballs and other various internal body parts created the floor. Wario, Bowser, and Donkey Kong weren’t present at this race. Mario and I were alone, waiting in grim anticipation for the race’s dejected beginning.
Our karts left tracks of blood. I went down the long track at the beginning. Mario performed a special trick. If you hop right before the drop gets steep, your kart will fly above everyone else’s and you’ll have a slight advantage. When Mario hit the ground, his wheels flew off of his kart. His body landed on the track with a hyper-realistic crunch as he cried out in pain. His legs and arms were broken, and he pleaded with me to “end it”. He yelled out to me as I passed, “Run me over, end my suffering… Drive me…” The sky was filled with the stars as usual. The music that played was a sped up, backwards rendition of Royal Raceway’s soundtrack. The neon signs were altered. Instead of the happy-looking depictions of the characters, they were in agony. Each of them was suffering some sort of grotesque death. The three villainous characters just gave menacing looks, and they were all casting egregious death stares at my character. They also had speech bubbles, saying things like YOU WILL BURN. One of the comments especially disturbed me. It said YOU HAVE DRIVEN US. YOU WILL PAY.
It was the final lap now. Lakitu laughed, and I could have sworn I heard something chuckle from my room. My brother did, and that was it for him. He told me to turn off the game or he was leaving. I obviously couldn’t do that. I had no idea what would happen to Toad, and if I quit right then I couldn’t get past the guilt. Now it was a matter of life and death.The game conveyed the characters’ range of emotions so accurately… much too accurately. I felt like if I left Toad hanging, I would be condemning him to an eternal hell. I had to keep playing.
Mario was still lying there. He was barley alive, begging to be put out of his misery, but I refused to give that satisfaction to the game. I completed the race, and just like the last time it said R.I.P Richard. My place now read 666 instead of 1st. I got really scared. How the hell did this game know I was playing … How could it speak to me … How did it know my name? Never before had a video game elicited emotions of such magnitude. Elicited fear so primal. I persevered, hoping all of this madness would soon come to an end so I could preserve my sanity. What I next saw will haunt me forever.
Toad spawned in front of the Mario 64 castle in Royal Raceway. All of the greenery was ablaze and the waterfall filled the surrounding moat with blood. Macabre figures could be seen in the distance. The sky was black and filled with lightning as bursts of lava erupted in the distance. Where the yellow sand should have been laid the flesh-like ground I encountered on Rainbow road. I legitimately feared for my life at this point. This place looked like hell. No, it was hell. It had to be Pressing on in gripping terror, I approached the winners’ podium as blood flew up behind me.
Bowser was in 1st, Donkey Kong in 2nd, Wario in 3rd. They were all laughing as the fire-breathing demon from Bowser’s castle stood behind them with a greedy smirk. The floating fish was above, a look of stark bloodlust cast across its eerie, shadowed face. Behind the podium stood the characters in the states right before they died, disfigured and clinging to life. Except their eyes were all missing. They were bleeding like Peach was earlier, that soulless look looming in their sockets.
They were unable to see anything, but they were staring at me. Their faces no longer displayed expressions of suffering or anguish. They were blank, looks bereft of any expression. "You have driven us" they said as one. Suddenly the “swelling noise” was made, as if the trophy were about to come out. Instead, it was much different. Blood went everywhere as a huge sword came down and sliced Bowser in half.
The demon tore apart everyone else as Toad watched. He spared Toad for some reason. At the last moment, Toad turned to face the screen, his eyes now profusely bleeding and soulless. He chanted in unison with the demon beside him. You have left us. You have damned us. You have driven us.
The game then shut off by itself. I tried removing the cartridge, but it burned my hand. It was steaming on the surface, so I took a nearby sweater and threw it on my driveway. I got my brother to burn it with me. While it was burning, we decided to see if the footage had been properly captured. The video had disappeared. My brother said he stopped the recording within the limit, so it should have been there. All we found was a single picture. It was a portrait of Mario crying blood as he did in the game. It read "You have driven us" on the bottom. As the outer plastic melted from the game's shell, the sound of screams came from my room. I ran in my room to see what was going on. The door to my bathroom was open. Walking in, I was pushed to the point of tears.
My sink was filled with blood. Written on the mirror were these words:
It will never end. You have driven us.