Sometimes, around the borders of the video game worlds we are so enchanted with, buried behind message boards and traded in the more obscure reaches of the internet lie the odd hidden curiosity. As most people know (certainly the readers of this site do), the obsession of video games for most goes beyond simply playing them. We are inspired by video games, enough so to create them and/or pay tribute to them in a variety of ways. Considering the influence games can have on a varied collection of people, it's not surprising that some have found more imaginative or niche outlets for their creativity than others.
One of these niche curiosities I have encountered is a texture hacked version of Mario Kart Wii created by Roobix available here, or here (registration required). Don't forget to grab the soundtrack as well, you can thank me for that later. For those in the dark, simply imagine an unlicensed remix of the same core game, swapping out colors, palettes, and maps, and editing them heavily. Unlike some well known hacks, this one is of a purely cosmetic nature, but don't let that deter you from this one of a kind Mario Karting experience.
Among my friends, I seem to be the only one that takes Mario Kart to a high degree of seriousness. Probably too seriously, according to the restraining order from the local LAN center. When I get behind the wheel of these outlandish carts, my mind shifts into a focused, aggressive racing machine. Considering the sales, and constant excitement for new Mario Kart games, I am sure I am not alone in this reverence to Mario and his Karts. Now it is with that frame of mind that I decided to try out Mario Kart Black.
Once I went through all the necessary adjustments to get this hack running on my console, I realized that the only reference I had as I started Mario Kart Black were memories of the last time I played Mario Kart Wii and the not quite so Mario-esque artwork that accompanied this unofficial re-imagining. I was completely unsure of what I was in for in this strange texture hack, though the warning screen of Mario smoking a joint quickly gave me an idea.
As the race starts, I'm reluctantly crouched at the starting line, engines, pumping...ahem. Sorry. See, along with the cosmetic changes, we are also treated to a completely new soundtrack, ripped from what must be an odd assortment of the creators own racing playlist. The song that marks the first race is non other than racing themed rock ballad Going the Distance by Cake. An agreeable choice, if not the most original. Although, while carving the now muddy raceway known as Dark Oval, it's hard not to sing along. It takes a moment to recall the original Luigi's Circuit as you tear through the dirt track, sending the now thuggishly renamed characters like Dro Bombs and Lil' Daisy to the back with a well placed chrome turtle shell. Yeah, they're chrome now. All of them.
Leading from the new but reasonable sights and sounds of the first level of Mario Kart Black, we take a turn for the mad in Mad Cow Meadows. As you slide in and out of a farm now in the throws of Autumn, the psychedelic cows may cause you to veer dead into them while the nostalgic, ambient tones of Alice by Pogo breeze along on the fall winds.
The third track in Mario Kart Black's Platinum Cup course sealed the fun of the game for me. A surreal night drive through an Alice in Wonderland inspired track brings you into an almost brand new game in the course, Shroom Bouncin'. Trumpets blare in a funky head bobbing beat courtesy of my favorite track in Mario Kart Black, 1976 by RJD2. Bounding across neon shaded shrooms in search of first place while a catchy chorus rolls alongside you is exactly where MKB hit it's stride. The moonlit scenery had sufficiently warped the memory of Mario Kart Wii in my mind. Now Mario Kart Black had become it's own experience and not just a simple palette swap.
Though the time it takes to install the Homebrew Channel, and subsequent other programs and files to your Wii may take a fair bit of time, depending on your skill with such things (A skill I have none of, I must say), Mario Kart Black is well worth the effort if you have been looking for an excuse to bring Mario Kart back into the rotation of games you and your friends play. Each race track has a brand new feel, shifting the original into a series of psychedelic, evil, nostalgic, or just plain strange lands. Each of which is accompanied by interesting and entertaining song choices, from dubstep, to hip hop, to even showtunes. There are some courses that feel more inspired than others, but each of them work well to create a varied and new experience that seems to be more than the sum of a couple changed texture files. If you are in the mood to jump back behind the wheel, then check out this post over at mario-mods.com to get started.
Before I leave you to enjoy the game though, I have to mention a course that simply has to be played (especially since there are no quality videos of it on Youtube). To take it all in, you need sharp eyes, quick reflexes, and a slight obsession with cult classic RPG Earthbound. What results is the tracks namesake, Sensory Overload. Couple this with the surreal pop classic Downtown by Petula Clark blaring as you rush down the crowded streets of none other than the bent reality known as Moonside.
The streets are pitch black, with the exception of the cars rushing all around you while neon lit buildings loom over the racetrack. With a keen eye you might notice a few of the many references littered across billboards and along the sides of trucks as they quickly zoom past you. There isn't much time to take in the scenery though, since you will have your hands full careening around the barely visible course and weaving through the downtown traffic. Unfortunately, there is no Mani Mani statue to destroy to make it back to reality this time.
UPDATE: Added links to the game and soundtrack in the third paragraph.