A lapsed video game fan discovers the lasting power of muscle memory

A lapsed video game fan discovers the lasting power of muscle memory

Some games are hard to pick up again after a long absence. I’ve got a 75-percent-finished save file for Demon’s Souls on my PlayStation 3. I doubt I’ll ever go back and finish it because you need to be steeped in that game to find success. I know that if I go back, I’ll have to relearn a hundred little tics and techniques that I acquired when getting into it the first time. (That said, I also know from past experience with similar games that the relearning process won’t be as hard as I always imagine it will be—after all, I figured it out the first time.)

But some games are like riding a bicycle—a phenomenon I witnessed last week when I brought a Wii U with Mario Kart 8 over to A.V. Club editor-in-chief Josh Modell’s place for an evening of kart-racing fun. Josh is something of a lapsed video game fan, but he needed no instruction; he picked the game right up and even kicked my ass in a couple of races. Do you have any “bicycle” games that are permanently lodged in your muscle memory? Tell us in the comments—and share your weekend gaming plans, as always.

John Teti: What are you playing this weekend?

Josh Modell: Probably nothing, but I played Mario Kart 8 with you last weekend.

JT: I was surprised by how good you were at it, since you don’t play games too often anymore.

JM: I don’t, but I think I had muscle memory specifically for Mario Kart, and even more for—I realized as we were playing—whatever the Crash Bandicoot racing game was. Which is basically the same game. Total ripoff. I think even the buttons were the same. The button for weapons, the button for gas. I played a lot of that and really liked it, so I think that all came back. Plus, I played—whatever the Mario Kart was on the Wii.

JT: It was just called Mario Kart Wii.

JM: [Laughs.] Okay, Mario Kart Wii. I played that. With and without the steering wheel. And I also used to play another Mario Kart. So it all just came back, which doesn’t surprise me because I played so much of it. Like, the original Super Mario Bros.? I think I could win that with one life, even though I haven’t played it in 25 years.

JT: What other games are like that for you—games that are like riding a bicycle? I know you were into Resident Evil.

JM: Yeah, except the last Resident Evil I played—the one you tried to convince me not to buy but I did anyway, and it was terrible—it was too different. Like, the ones I used to play, it looked like—I don’t know what the video game term is.

JT: The third-person perspective?

JM: Third-person perspective, right. But it was really distant. You were pretty far removed from the guy. But Resident Evil 6 had this—still third-person, but over-the-shoulder perspective. A lot closer. I played it for like 15 minutes and couldn’t do it. It was too different. Other than that, I don’t know. Ms. Pac-Man, I could fuck that up any day of the week.

JT: Before we finish up, can you describe your wife’s Mario Kart playing technique for the readers? Because I don’t think I’ve ever seen that particular approach before.

JM: Well, I don’t know if I can describe it. So there’s this—the knob? [Pantomimes a controller.]

JT: The analog stick.

JM: Okay, the analog stick you use to steer. And you would usually have your thumb on top of it to steer. But Erin uses this claw technique on top of it.

JT: The whole hand—every finger!

JM: Every finger holding the tiny little nub. Trying to steer that way and oversteering, and then oversteering the other way.

JT: I’ve never seen someone steer so much in a racing game.

JM: But I enjoyed it very much. I’d like to play it again, but I don’t have a Wii U. Or I could probably just get out the old Wii version.

JT: That one’s not as good.

JM: Not as good? Why not? The graphics are better on the Wii U one?

JT: It’s not just that. Didn’t you read my review?

JM: No.

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