Word association: what’s the first thing you think of when I say “Mario”?
If you said Lemieux, then you’re one of the few people actually upset with the NHL lockout.
If you said Andretti, then can you teach me why car racing is so exciting?
If you said Lopez, then do you consider “The College Years” as part of the real Saved by the Bell?
But knowing my audience, the majority of you likely thought of Nintendo’s mustachioed hero of the Mushroom Kingdom. He’s easily the most recognizable video game mascot there is. Well, assuming you’re not a complete bro.
As your standard boy turned manboy, I’ve played on my fair share of Nintendo consoles. As that child, it was my job. As an adult, it is my privilege. I figured it would be worthwhile to review my experience through the ages on every Nintendo system I’ve ever touched.
But where’s the fun in talking about Mario, Link/Zelda, Samus, Kirby, and their respective series? You’re aware of how fun Super Mario World was and how utterly laughable Wind Waker turned out not to be (shame on you for judging strictly by early screenshots). No, today’s review from past ’til still-past is obscurity-laden.
Note: No DS and no Wii reviews. I’ve played them (hell, I camped out for the latter, because I am awesome), but the current gen doesn’t offer the nostalgia I experienced throughout, so I left those off the table.
To the 8-bit!
NES Game of Choice: Marble Madness
Resident Evil, Silent Hill, and Dead Space are all series that elicit fear from the player; they’re intended to play that way. Marble Madness was not, but this game may be the most frightening interaction I’ve encountered.
Scene: Chicago, late 1980s, living room. This chilling music plays throughout.
You’ll notice the start screen music is hopeful and inviting. It doesn’t warn you about the nightmares to follow.
Okay, so this is overly dramatic, but those were genuine feelings as a kid playing this for the first time at my cousins’ house. Without the proper reflexes, I had no chance to keep that marble from flying off the edge. The tiniest unintentional fall would turn your sphere into dust. The race against the clock turned into a battle for my sanity, and I hadn’t even dealt with the stress of kindergarten yet!
Just like any NES game, Marble Madness had its formula. Once you memorized all the levels, you were going to be square with your turn-timing and speed-tempering. Playing it as an adult, I’ve come to enjoy my time with the game, but it’s like watching Pet Semetary when you’re 6 and 26: it will always come back to haunt you.
Fun: 7.8 of 10
Fear: 10 of 10
Actual Favorite NES Game: Duck Hunt
Reason for Moving On: Never have, never will.
From Old NES to…still oldness.
Game Boy Game of Choice: Kwirk
Let me also mention what Kwirk’s Wikipedia starts with: “Kwirk and his girlfriend Tammy, a tomato herself, were both out ‘painting the town red'”…
Scene: Friend’s den, 1991, portable console as big and heavy as a brick in a 6-year-old’s hands.
Why is Kwirk a tomato? You can’t even tell on the tiny B&W Game Boy screen. All you see is a miniature sphere with sunglasses. I suppose the graphics couldn’t ketchup to the box art. And why sunglasses on produce? Did he think he was cool as a cucumber?
Sorry for all the puns! No need to get saucy with me.
As a game, it was forgettable. The only reason I recall it at all is because I have a memory for random and trivial parts of my life. I can picture the room, the friends, the couch I was lying on, and the screen. I can’t picture the fun of the game. I have a heavy love for puzzle games, but Kwirk brought nothing unique to the table. Well, except that he was a tomato, and we apparently didn’t have enough food-based characters to interact with since VeggieTales hadn’t come out yet.
Fun: 4.3 of 10
Pun: Tom-8-to out of Nin10do
Actual Favorite Game Boy Game: Yoshi’s Cookie. Yeah, I loved that game, and it’s also a food-based puzzler. But…cookies! And Yoshi! What more needs to be said?
Did you expect Pokémon?
Reason for Moving On: Batteries are expensive.
What happens when your Nintendo puts on a cape?
Super Nintendo Game of Choice: Lion King
What, a boy can’t like Disney?
Scene: Party Shop, Spring of 1996, upstairs.
Mostly a generic convenience store, the Party Shop used to have a video & game rental on its second floor. The SNES was still going strong despite the upcoming emergence of the Nintendo 64. A chubby, bespectacled baseball fan has enough money to rent a game as he walks home from school on a gorgeous Friday afternoon.
But why Lion King? Because Aladdin was reeeeeally hard.
I liked Disney. Hell, I like Disney. I don’t mind that they purchased Lucasfilm, and I definitely didn’t mind spending my hard-earned (or mooched-for) cash on one of its games for a few days.
Regarding the gameplay, I actually loathed being Young Simba. His scheme was pretty dull. We’ve all played games where you defeat an enemy by jumping on it. Remember that whole spiel about Mario? Yeah.
But Adult Simba? Bad Ass Cat. BOOM. POW. SLASH. ROAR. THROW. CRASH. Sure, it played akin to Double Dragon, but you were a lion, not some piddly-ass street punk. You were the king of the jungle, and you were voiced by Matthew Broderick. That’s right- you were Feral Mewler.
I’m not sorry for that one.
This is the last time I remember using cheat codes to skip levels. I didn’t mind eating/collecting bugs as Timon & Pumba, but I really wanted to avoid being the underpowered lion cub. Pause-B-A-A-B-A-A a few times, and BAM! All grown up.
Fun: 8.9 of 10
In Terms of Disney Songs: “When You Wish Upon a Star”
Actual Favorite SNES Game: Super Mario RPG
Reason for Moving On: Rattlin’ controller.
Let’s move on to the Virtual Boy.
Hmm. Okay, next!
How’s about an enjoyable 3D experience?
Nintendo 64 Game of Choice: Wave Race 64.
Don’t you just love that Nintendo would just slap “64” at the end of their titles to differentiate the games from the predecessors? Kept things simple. Which Mario Kart do you want to play? Super? 64? GBA? DS? Wii?
Scene: Living room, January 1996, planted right in front of the TV with my one game.
Wave Race 64 was my only N64 game for the longest time. If I had received any additional games for Christmas, Wave Race 64 (have to differentiate!) would’ve likely been left to gather dust. I’m glad it didn’t, because I lived for this game.
Well, until Super Mario 64 came out.
This was Tony Hawk without the painful looking wipeouts. Sure, there were still crashes (and I experienced them at an alarming rate), but you landed in the water after doing irresponsible tricks on your Jet Ski. Handstands? Riding backwards while sitting on the front? Backflips?
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t attempt these on my bike. I’d also be fibbing if I claimed I didn’t come away with permanent brain djasimge.
Never won many races, nor did I ever become an expert at the game, but that game engaged me with just its practice mode for months and months.
Then, of course, Mario. Never looked back.
Fun: 7.5 of 10
Brain Bruises: Can’t count that high anymore.
Actual Favorite N64 Game: Ocarina of Time. Duh.
Reason for Moving On: Screen-Lookers. You know who you are, jerks. You ruined Goldeneye for EVERYONE.
Hey! Remember when you held the console in your hands? Let’s do that again!
Game Boy Advance Game of Choice: Earthworm Jim
Scene: School Bus, Fall of 2001, stuck in a toasty wool band uniform.
Didja know: Earthworm Jim’s initials of EWJ have more syllables than his actual name? And that he’s an earthworm? Enjoy that trivia.
The Earthworm Jim series (originating on SNES and Sega Genesis) was just about as weird as you could get without being completely avant-garde.
Though this game is a port from older consoles, I still enjoyed it on the GBA. Loads of weapons (including your own wormy self), strange enemies, and cows-a-plenty populate the series. Have you ever watched Rocko’s Modern Life as an adult? This game falls along the same lines; it’s a child’s game that definitely has some adult themes that you wouldn’t have caught as a youngster.
I think I ended growing my hair out so I could grab my ponytail and pretend to pull my head out of my supersuit (which was admittedly less buff and more flabby than EWJ’s) and use it as a whip.
Okay, so that’s not true at all, but I had you going, right?
Fun: 8.1 of 10
Worm Measurement Scale: From 1cm to 4m, let’s say 3.3m.
Actual Favorite GBA Game: Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga.
Reason for Moving On: Gave away the GBA. Yeah, you’re thinking “what a philanthropist,” but I’m just a normal guy. No need to praise, people.
And now we’ve reached the final (and most underrated) system we’ll touch on today.
Gamecube Game of Choice: Soulcalibur II
Scene: Dorm room, late 2005, the aroma of cheap beer permeating throughout the hall.
I generally avoid getting serious or intense when playing video games, sports, or anything meant for fun. What’s the point? I’m not big on bragging or rubbing a win in someone’s face. Sure, I will silently go nuts in my head after winning a game of dodgeball or Mario Kart, but I keep it inside.
But when it came to SCII? Ohhh, man, all bets were off in that room. I wasn’t the best (the man who was would’ve power-bombed me through a table if I had ever beaten him), but that was the competition. As geeky as it could all be, many of us went at it nonstop. When certain people walked in the room, you knew just to toss them the controller and start up the Gamecube.
Aware that the previous video is from SC3, but that is a prime example of how our games went.
Plus Link from the Zelda series was in there. I had to play it.
A variety of characters (all with their large array of weaponry) and adjustable gameplay kept this game lodged into the Gamecube disk tray. I was never bored with this game. Even when Soul Calibur III came out, I’d still go back to the GC version and relive the intensity.
Fun: 9.2 of 10
Fear of Real-life Physical Destruction from Opponent: Marble Madness of 10
Actual Favorite GC Game: Super Smash Bros. Melee
Reason for Moving On: Wii is backwards compatible.
The further I get into adulthood, the more I realize just how little I get to sit down in front of the TV and play an actual console game. Sure, I putz around on some PC games, but a keyboard is not a controller. Sometimes you need to go back and try out childhood again.
Anyone up for some co-op Kirby Superstar Saga?