Take care of yourself. It’s important. It’s a lesson I need to re-learn often, and deciding what game to play can be overwhelming. Combine that with one of depression’s quirks—the sensation of having to force yourself to do things that you like—and it can be a serious block. But everyone likes games, so if you’re having a bad day, might I suggest the N64 classic Wave Race 64?
Full disclosure: I haven’t played it in a while. Both my copy and my entire N64 are missing, so a lot of this retrospective will be from memory, though watching the intro and listening to the soundtrack has become a regular part of my own self-care routine, and that’s one of the main reasons for this recommendation. Most of the tracks are energetic and warm, and when they’re not so happy, they’re usually still energetic in an intense sort of way.
Another reason why I’m making this recommendation is that Wave Race 64 exists in a semi-forgotten spot in Nintendo’s classic library. In its time, it was a popular enough tile to be re-released as part of Nintendo’s Player’s Choice line, but I don’t hear it talked about much anymore these days, so I’m guessing you haven’t played that in a while if you used to, and that’s fun. It’s an unexpected choice to break up your day.
There’s a relaxing element in going with an older game, too. There’s no pressure to get your ranking up or to finish the game quick, so you can understand and participate in the inside jokes and discussions online. This is just a game forgotten by the accelerated movement of internet time, so pick it up and play at your leisure.
Once you beat a difficulty level, you can use the options menu to change conditions to that level such as the weather or number of laps. This can be used as a way to make return visits to the game more relaxing. The bad news is that you’ll still have to beat that difficulty level under normal conditions first. Similarly, in order to unlock a course in two-player, the non-competitive time trials, or stunt mode, you will have to first reach them in the main game. So we have some potential accessibility issues, but it’s not that bad.
I know everyone’s skill level is different, but I’m not exactly the most skilled at video games, and I was able to clear easy and normal mode. That unlocks all the courses except Glacier Coast, but Glacier Coast doesn’t seem all that special to me. If you have trouble getting that far yourself for any reason, mail me your copy of Wave Race 64 and I’ll beat Easy and Normal for you for free plus shipping and handling. That actually sounds like fun for me. Please do that!
You can also adjust the racers’ stats. This is really cool because I always thought M. Jetter had the best controls out of the box, but these days, I want to play a girl character instead, and there’s only one girl-coded character here: A. Stewart (the one that wears pink!). This system makes it a little more comfortable to pick your racer for aesthetic and personal reasons. The best part is that—unlike the conditions customization—you are free to utilize the stat customization feature in attempts to progress through the game. An added bonus comes in the form of a screen in the options menu that lets you rename the characters. Being able to choose your own name in a game is always nice.
A modern game that makes me feel the same way that Wave Race 64 makes me feel is Splatoon. In terms of gameplay, Wave Race 64 and Splatoon are far from each other; the former having a lack of more than two-player support, the latter built entirely around an online multi-player community—not to mention the difference in genre. My mind makes the connection, though, mainly because they both have aquatic aesthetics and evoke feelings of friendship.
In Splatoon, we see details like the presence of inklings talking together in the plaza like a visual representation of the interaction going on in Miiverse. Meanwhile, though Wave Race 64 isn’t backed by any online community (none incorporated into the game, at least), that theme of community and friendship is present here, too. The intro brings us warm and exciting music, helping the tropical setting to make the water feel inviting, all while two of the characters jet-ski together in the non-competitive setting: Dolphin Park, a sandbox area that lacks the option for races. The award ceremony cutscene at the end of the game also suggests the competition between the racers is friendly, as the top three ranking racers are shown congratulating each other.
The latest Wave Race title we’ve seen is Blue Storm, all the way back on the Gamecube, and I think the world is ready for a sequel—or at least a spiritual successor. It would be nice to see a union of the positive feelings of Wave Race 64 with Splatoon’s own positive vibes of and, of course, its online multiplayer mode and community. Maybe when Nintendo realizes Miis are bland and populates their party games with Inklings/Octolings instead.
One last thing: there’s a mode where you get to play with a dolphin for as long as you want. Go play Wave Race.