Mad at Toad

The new year has arrived. With our personal retrospective on 2020 online, it is now time for crisp, new texts full of memorable and intense moments that caught us while playing video games. I’m kicking things off and decided to come to terms with my loathing of Toad. That’s that mushroom guy from Mushroom Kingdom who is so very cheerful all the time. Some time ago, when my father held a controller in his hand for the first time and entered the castle in Super Mario 64, Toad was the first character he encountered: “Why, it’s Aladdin! What’s he doing in Mario’s castle?”

The Toad lore is a bit strange. Initially, they seemed to be a bunch of identical lackeys to Princess Toadstool, and presumably every Super Mario Bros. castle had a different minion proclaiming that this really wasn’t the right castle and that you’d narrowly escaped lava death without any actual reason for it. Some years later, there was that one Toad that was allowed to humbly participate in all the whacko sporting events and in return was given a certain personality and, more importantly, a voice. While the whole Toad issue has since become much more complicated and the addition of Captain Toad called into question everything that seemed to be known about the Princess’ servants, I’m really only interestes in this specific sporting Toad for this story.

The Super Mario 64 start screen made me hear Mario’s voice for the first time. You might think it would be an unsettling moment when a beloved, but silent character suddenly speaks, but Charles Martinet’s performance convinced me with that single sentence: that’s-a-him – Mario! But they weren’t done with Mario. In fact, that single line opened Pandora’s Box, because just a few months later, seven other Nintendo icons needed their own voice for cheering and screaming in the fiercely competitive Mario Kart races. Among them: Toad. For me, the best part of the whole game has always been Toad’s yell when he gets hit by a shell. It was a blend of bewilderment and pure agony. As if he couldn’t believe the intensity of the pain he was experiencing. No one suffered better than Toad. Combined with his limitless self-conviction, that seemed to be grounded in… nothing (“I AM THE BEST”), Toad thus became my most beloved driver – thanks solely to his enthusiastic voice actor.

With this weird personality, Toad made his way through several N64-games, before that same voice spoiled an entire game for me and made me break my reset button. Mario Golf didn’t last long in my console. Whenever I hit a ball into the bushes (“Out of Bounds”), a flag-waving Toad appeared, telling me to better not hit the ball into the bushes, accompanied by a commiserating sound of disappointment. As if it was some kind of information I might need. In reality it was just him rubbing it in. Regrettably, I hit the ball out of bounds a lot lot, because I had to familiarize myself with the complex peculiarities of this hyper-realistic golf simulation. And so I had one too many encounters with Toad and his damn flag.

Having my own ongoing shortcomings rubbed in by the preposterously sized ego of a servant spiced with the sound of pity infuriated me in a way that no game has ever done before or since. This jolly dwarf had the nerve to teach me the basic rules of this game for preschoolers with compassion! After only a few minutes of playing Mario Golf, I yelled something like “F&%K YOU, TOAD. F$=K YOU AND YOUR WHOLE FAMILY!” as I moved toward my N64, boiling with rage, and hammered the reset button into the console so hard it wouldn’t come out ever again.

This did not affect the functionality of the sturdy hardware, but the defect button still bothered me for years and served as a reminder of this inglorious episode. It wasn’t until last year that I remedied this flaw by unscrewing my N64 and releasing the button from its cemented prison.

Not that I would know if the game series is actually any good – I’ve never touched the game or any of its sequels again, and don’t plan to ever change anything about that. Supposedly, though, the GameBoy version with some role-playing elements is the best of the lot. The N64 version came out in 1999 (when I was 15!), followed by versions for the GameCube, GameBoy Advance and 3DS. Toad continued to be my favorite Mario Kart 64 racer besides Bowser, but I still never forgave him (or myself?) for what he did to me on the green. And they say golf is a relaxing sport.

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