Tipsy Pixels brings beer, Mario Kart 64 together
Competitors get serious about MarioKart 64. All photos provided by Tipsy Pixels.
My time at Tipsy Pixels crashed and burned on the very first lap of Kalimari Desert, when Princess Peach -- my MarioKart 64 character -- hit a bouncing, roadway-strewn gold bomb and fell out of first.
For nearly an hour, I'd sat amidst an impressively large crowd at Triple Rock Social Club, nursing a Tallgrass 8-Bit through 11 lead-up races. When my turn finally arrived, the three Pixelers beside me hurriedly chose their red-shell-wielding avatars before I could inch my joystick to Yoshi, my standard.
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Nevertheless, Peach and I started Kalamari well. With Tallgrass bolstering me, I hit the starter boost and burst past the track's foreshortened locomotive. But then, disaster! A bouncing yellow bomb drew in Peach like moth to a flame. I fell into fourth place, and that was that. The mega-boost didn't help, and a set of three red shells hit air and railroad fence. First to fourth, winner to failure, Princess Peach hung her gold locks in shame. I stepped off Triple Rock's stage as someone mockingly yelled, "Go Peach!" and returned to my well-wishers.
Hosted by Nels Lennes, Tipsy Pixels is a monthly, bracketed video-game contest at Triple Rock. Entry to the tourney is always $5, and the beers, from TP sponsors like Tallgrass, are always cheap. The idea is to get tipsy and compete at '80s and '90s-era video games before a beered-up crowd that cheers you on ("TOAD! TOAD! TOAD!"), boos your indiscretions, and mocks your failures.
Sunday's edition of TP was the event's fifth, a redux of MarioKart 64. Classics like GoldenEye, Super Smash Bros., and Street Fighter have also received the Tipsy Pixels treatment, but MarioKart 64 is by far the most popular. A line had formed outside Triple Rock before doors opened at 7 p.m., and all 48 spots in Sunday's tourney filled before 7:20 p.m. A black market for competitor wristbands could be found on the Triple Rock floor, and a friend of mine sold her spot to a shady, fedora-clad fellow for $20. "Beer money!" she exclaimed.
"Mario Kart is the perfect social video game. Hardcore gamers love it. People who never play video games love it. There's something universally accessible and fun about it," says event co-founder Pete Basgen, whose TP partner-in-crime is Minnesota Beard-Off founder Art Allen. "[Tipsy Pixels] has gone from an idea I had talking about old games over drinks with friends to a monthly event that packs the Triple Rock."
For my second race, I scored Mario, a solid karter but nothing special, despite the numerous times he's saved Princess Peach from the nefarious King Koopa (a.k.a., Bowser). I missed the starter boost, then struggled through Wario Stadium, the best course in MarioKart 64. I laughed through my failures, then realized the three players beside me were dead-silent, minus statements like, "I'll be okay if that fucking lightning bolt doesn't hit me." Intensity-wise, I was out of my league, but I still managed third place.
At the first MarioKart TP, I'd reached the semi-finals. This time, I went from player to spectator in two races.
As a spectator, there were many highlights. What makes MarioKart 64 so exciting (and frustrating) is that a player's standing can change in an instant. One player spent all of the Royal Raceway in first, landing every jump with a pleasing "THWOOMP!", then got destroyed by a spiked purple shell on the very last turn and fell into the water. First to fourth, just like that. Another highlight was a player who, as Donkey Kong, exploited a cheat on Frappe Snowland to get first place in 20 seconds. Realizing this, the entire Tipsy Pixels crowd yelled, "BOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!" Folks wanted Donkey Kong's balls and heart on a platter.
"Our winner," says Basgen, "was a local guy named Dan Edeen. The final battle was slow to start, then suddenly two people were out of it. They didn't take the loss lightly, and started hunting the survivors down in bomb mode. There were so many close calls the crowd was chanting, 'BOMB! BOMB! BOMB!'"
The crowd is what makes the event special. If you have the gaming system, you can play MarioKart 64 at home anytime you want. But can you play it in front of a hundred drunk, very excited people, whose enthusiasm for the raceway makes your heart pound and fills you with adrenaline shakes? Hell no.
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