There’s an artful chaos to the work of filmmaker Sion Sono. His films are almost always hyperviolent. Their plot structures overwrought, strange, and unlike anything you’d see in Western films. Sono’s often been labeled as the most-subversive working director in Japan: from his four-hour long epics to his intense, twist-heavy dramas. Like no other director, Sono’s work is synonymous with chaos.
But there’s a colorful chaos that only a video game can truly illustrate. Games are the rare thing that’s wholly engaged with nearly every single sense a person can partake in singlehandedly: employing them with the agency of touch in the crux of it all. There’s music that comes close, like anything on the noise or hardcore spectrum. There’s movies that come close (like anything directed by Sion Sono). But they’re still passive, we’re not in the mix of the chaos—we only bear witness to it. Even so, there are few games that are total, unbridled chaos. And Mario Kart, for better or for worse, has nearly always been one of them.
Baby Park is Mario Kart chaos at its most emblematic, its most cacophonous. It’s kind of the worst. But it’s also the best. You don’t fall on one side of the spectrum of loving or hating it; you square deeply onto both. It’s short, maybe boring. But it’s Mario Kart at its craziest: every player is perpetually in close vicinity, as bananas trail paths and shells fly far. Baby Park encapsulates the mania of Mario Kart as a whole: its frenetic items, its high-speeds, its essence as a game best played competitively in the context of a race. Baby Park looks insane to an outsider, but drifting around turns yourself, feels natural.
I used to hate Baby Park. I’d groan when a friend would choose it back in Double Dash. And when it popped up again in Mario Kart 8, I felt my cynicism bubble again. “Why don’t we play a real track?” I’d say, pointing at any of the number of set, full-length tracks in the game. It wasn’t until Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, the recent Switch port, that I understood the hellish, circular embrace of Baby Park. Driving around its devilish seven laps, four more than usual, I finally understood Baby Park. I accepted it into my heart.
In nearly all Nintendo games, there’s a level unchallenged polish. In any Mario game, platforming is as perfectly precise as intended, unlike the floaty jumps of indie platformers of late (of the Limbo and Little Nightmares variety). In Animal Crossing, the music shifts on the hour; the game’s perpetually slow pace of slice-of-life activities harmonious with everything in the game itself: from its fishing, to getting to know your neighbors. It’s rare though, for Nintendo to let their games run rampant. It’s evident in Breath of the Wild—a game that thrives on exploration and experimentation—and it lives in Mario Kart, in the depths of the adorably color-schemed Baby Park.
For the unfamiliar, Baby Park is the smallest of Mario Kart tracks. The player drives around and around a baby-themed loop, pink dolloped onto everything. There is nothing beyond this loop—no cutaways, no turns, no jumps. It’s just one big ol’ circle. And any wrong drift could spell a player’s downfall. Baby Park thrives on what really sets Mario Kart apart from other kart racers: how quickly its polish can dissolve into madness once all hell breaks loose. This has been present in the series’ many iterations of Battle Mode, but in Baby Park, everything’s put to the test. Baby Park remains first and foremost a race to the finish line, in the midst of being a free-for-all of items, like Battle Mode. And it's hellish.
There's nothing quite like a game embracing chaos. Whether it's trying to survive as you attain five stars on Grand Theft Auto, using a Guardian's laser against another foe in Breath of the Wild, or just cruising the compact track of Baby Park, trying desperately to skid across the finish line while dodging the dozens of items flung in your path. Chaos in games gets your adrenaline percolating in ways it doesn’t in a game that's purposefully structured to deliver an intense sequence. Chaos is when a game crushes under the weight of its own interactivity and systems, and gives the player sweet, intense freedom. Especially as a Bowser on a comically small kart and a Baby Peach on a monster truck try to spell your doom, one shell at a time.