So I'm playing Mario Kart: Double Dash!! with Erica while we digest our dinners, shortly before she goes back to studying for her Biochemistry exam.
A minor digression: We're pretty good at this game, she and I. The game permits two players to divide the tasks of "driver" and "gunner", much in the fashion of snowspeeders in The Empire Strikes Back. Communication is important; luck is important; being able to sense your teammate's next move is important. We work well together, with the easy, practiced synergy of lovers. We're not perfect, but we're getting there. She uses the standard controller; I use a wireless Wavebird. We've been playing for months, and it shows.
Our latest goal has been to get a perfect score on each of the Grand Prix cup races in the game. For four of the cups, this means we have to finish first of eight karts in four consecutive races. We managed this within a few weeks of buying the game. For the grueling All Cup Tour, however, we need to finish first in sixteen consecutive races. We've had the game since Christmas, and we still have not accomplished this goal. The amount of skill required is nothing to scoff at, but once you add seven computer opponents using red shells, undodgeable blue shells, and completely unanticipated lightning, the amount of sheer probability you're up against is staggering. Not only do you have to do everything right to win, but also the computer karts must play "nice", or squabble amongst themselves while you steal the glory.
We were four or five races in when my least-favorite course (Waluigi Stadium) came up. I drove it perfectly; the computer opponents never got a look at me after the second lap. Erica's gunning was sublime.
We were ten races in when I drove Donkey Kong Mountain (my second-least-favorite) extremely well; Erica managed a bank shot with an unguided green shell that effectively shut down our closest opponent. She honked the horn as we drifted across the finish line. Ten perfect first-place finishes, and all of the truly hard races complete.
Another digression: since we are pursuing a perfect game, we typically quit whenever we come in second. Second place is only worth eight points out of ten. Our standing top score right now is 156 out of a possible 160. That's two second-place finishes in a string of sixteen races. We so rarely come in third that it doesn't really bear thinking about.
We are fourteen races through, and still easily beating everything they send us. The course is Mario Circuit. We've done every tough race; it's a cake walk from here on out. Mario Circuit is one of my favorites, actually, because the corners lend themselves to coordinated power slides (each player has an important role in a power slide - you can gauge how well two people work together by how precisely they power slide). That course and Yoshi Circuit are courses on which I always say, to the Gamecube, "you must respect my cornering." I always beat the computer on these courses. Always. Even if it's with a hair's-breadth power slide on the last turn of the race, I always win.
You can already see it coming, can't you? Can't you? But what makes a suspense story work is this: you know I didn't win that fourteenth race, but you don't know what went wrong. You can't know. I've planted the seeds, but you can't see it coming.
No shit, there I was. Halfway through the last lap of Mario Circuit, neck and neck with two other karts. My second-favorite hairpin (a downhill left turn on dirt, into a 90-degree right turn) is visible up ahead. I pull the left trigger, begin sliding left, and immediately the blue sparks shoot up from my tires in a fiendish rooster tail. I release the slide and accelerate clear of the pack. I enter a second slide to the right, drifting through four or five item boxes. I've got my item (Erica's holding it, at the ready, because she sees how close the race is): we're holding a mushroom, a nitrous turbo boost. A short S-turn left-and-right, then a 90-degree left turn over a bridge, and we've won. This race is close, but not the closest we've won this evening.
S-turn. Goombas to the left of me, goombas to the right. I pull the trigger to start the last power slide left. Erica is waiting to punch the mushroom and launch us over the stone bridge. A white picket fence looms in front of us and I yank the stick to the left to execute that last turn... and the fence keeps looming. Our speedometer drops, and we coast to a pleasant but terrifying stop against the fence. The controls are not responding. In a blind panic, I punch the START button to pause the game, but the light on my controller is out. I toggle the power switch on my controller. No luck. The batteries in my Wavebird are dead. I lunge forward, swapping her controller for mine, and she pauses the game.
We're against the fence, though. We must have taken three, four... possibly five whole seconds to pause. We just sat there. We replace the batteries with a sense of dread. We unpause, correct our course, and sputter across the finish line... in fourth place. Fourth. Place. Six points out of ten. We are not only going to miss our perfect game, but we have, in a single stroke, dropped under our top score. There is no doubt in my mind that we would have won that race.
We ran the last two races anyway. My head wasn't in the game, and we came in third place on Rainbow Road to end the evening. Our total time was almost a minute faster than our previous record, but our score was a shameful 152. I'm going to pick up some fresh batteries on the way home tonight. I want a rematch.