This holiday season I had the joy of coming all the way across the country to my home in Massachusetts from my new roots in Los Angeles. In a season about love and togetherness it hadn't occurred to me that some of the most valuable time my family used to spend together was built around video games, a hobby typically my own.
My sister usually preferred reading or watching Gilmore Girls, and my parents—let's face it—they're getting kinda old. They did what they could to support me and my passion, they played games every now and then, and they always seemed to enjoy it when they did, but they'd reached adulthood and then some by the time they were trying to learn how to use a controller. It makes sense in hindsight, then, that the games that resonated so well with my family were the motion-sensitive ones that thrived on intuitive controls.
I was surprised when my mom and my sister enthusiastically championed the idea of spending a family night huddled around Mario Kart Wii, but I love it just as much as they do—heck, probably more—so I would never say no! So we dusted off the Wii Remotes, found our copy of Mario Kart on the shelves, and popped it in.
Up came the Wii's system menu for the first time in ages, littered with games and apps in all the same places they were when I left them.
I've fiddled with the system every now and then over the last few years, testing out various fan projects or playing short bursts of classic games on the system's Virtual Console (the Wii's digital system for redistributing older games from consoles long past), but these were mostly insignificant experiences. And admit I first played Metroid Prime on the Wii a little over two years ago, but this was totally insular.
It had been ten years—a full decade—since the Wii launched alongside The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and the cultural phenomenon that was Wii Sports. It's been just over five years since I finished and placed away another great Zelda game, Skyward Sword—the last new game I bought for the Wii and the last major title Nintendo released on the console.
It's been five long years or more since my time with the Wii formed my most cherished memories of the console: the multiplayer magic of gathering friends and family in a living room and spending time with each other around games. But that's exactly what playing Mario Kart Wii this holiday season brought back.
We were gathered around the TV, Wii Remotes in hand. It had been years, but by some cosmic magic everything played out exactly as it always had—exactly as we had forgotten it ever did. My sister demanded the GameCube controller. My Mom drove the Wild Wing and never came in ahead of eighth place. We were racing and laughing and cursing each other out, and Dad came in asking what all the noise was only to walk away half-hearted to hear it was Mario Kart.
"It's just a game," he later shouted, "calm down!" Of course he was shouting just as loud all throughout the Rose Bowl only a few hours earlier. It was that kind of affable, harmless hypocrisy we always loved about him, and here it was again, just like always.
The game was a little clunky, and the controls weren't nearly as responsive as I remembered them—certainly they couldn't compare to the much more recent Mario Kart 8. It was visibly outdated, with some blocky textures and background details that honestly looked pretty ugly compared to today's games.
None of these warts felt at all worse than I remembered. I just didn't mind it then, because it's what was new. And I didn't mind it now, because it's all so much of what makes playing Wii special, no matter whether you're playing in 2007 or 2017.
We drove on Maple Treeway, Koopa Cape, Coconut Mall, Toad's Factory, and so many other courses we'd taken for granted at the time, not realizing how deeply we loved them. Before dusting it all off I couldn't have recalled any of the game's music if I tried, but there in the moment every harmony, every single note of the melodies, all came rushing back like they'd never gone away.
Alongside this rush of couch-top catharsis came too the echoes of everything I loved about Wii's entire library, single-player games included. The carefree delight of Kirby's Epic Yarn. The awe-inspiring ambition and grandiose adventuring that defined Super Mario Galaxy. Every single detail about Super Smash Bros. Brawl.
It's not like these feelings were anything new—in fact they were all too familiar. The same sense of finding beauty in a game's age is exactly what I felt each time I realized the Super Nintendo was some time ago, when Nintendo 64 was no more, and when the GCN should be hooked up again.
This time there were a few more physical sensations it hadn't occurred to me were a thing of the past—the slight rumble of the remote as you scroll past the various "channels" on Wii's home menu, or the delightful dread of hearing a Blue Shell's approach blaring from the middle of a controller.
Indeed, little touches like these came together to give the Wii experience an identity uniquely special. But at the core of this feeling was every rush of joy, frustration, adventure, family, and fun that comes with any of the most memorable video game consoles when they reach a certain age.
This time it was Wii, but the feeling hit as magically as it ever does. This was nostalgia at its purest. Playing Wii is fun again.