Monday, August 22, 2011

A Super 25 Years of Mario Bros

With the Super Mario Bros 25th anniversary celebration last year and revisiting some old classics, it really got me to think back - to when the latest Mario title was what it was all about. Times sure have changed over the years. I don't buy games when they come out anymore or even within a year they've been out, which I generally used to do (unless it's a special occasion, as was the case with the Super Mario All-Stars special re-release). I'm not as enthused for a new Nintendo console as I used to be either. The big reveal of the Wii 5 years ago was great, but the unveiling of the Wii U in June wasn't quite as cool, partly due to the fact I'll most likely have my current Wii until the Wii U's successor comes out.

But it's looking back on those big moments that I remember most - what is pretty ancient today, was once the greatest thing ever...

I vividly can recall when we first got the NES and tried to set it up in my original bedroom, but ultimately put in in the living room because of connection difficulties. The Super Mario Bros/Duck Hunt combo pack was the only cartridge we ever had. I pretty much cared more about what was on TV than playing back then.

One day in class at Eckstein Middle School (probably 6th grade, '91-'92) still sticks out to me... I walked in and Super Mario World was playing, which had come out with the Super Nintendo (SNES) launch August '91. Never new why someone brought it in and besides TV commercials I believe it was one of the first times I saw a Mario game beyond the first one (although SMB2 came in '88 and SMB3 in '90 I hadn't played them). Yeah, the new Mario game looked fun and I sorta wanted that system... Just had no idea when.

Then came January 20, 1993 - the great Inauguration Day storm that wrecked havoc, wiped out power for a couple days and caused an electrical surge throughout the house, frying several appliances - including the NES. Losing it was quickly replaced with the fact we'd get the SNES. It wasn't long before we set it up and the journey in Mario World began began for Sarah (my sister) & I with the introduction of Yoshi.

With 96 course exits and tons of secret paths (complete with a brilliant special world within another special world), the game took awhile and was a lot of fun to play with friends around. From the original save files I can tell it was played through over twice, which was easy back then, especially during summer.

Meanwhile, I had seen ads for an exciting racing game called Super Mario Kart (which had come out last September) and I doubt it was very long before we got it. Mario Kart is up to its 7th incarnation, but this is where it all started. Sarah & I enjoyed playing against eachother & with neighbor friends, especially in summer months. We'd pretend the characters were us & friends and I'd take notes on character mannerisms. It's a relic now, but back then there was nothing quite like it.

Mario mania wasn't about to slow down. Another must-buy, the original Super Mario All-Stars came out August '93. Now I could play graphics enhanced versions of the Mario Bros games, which I had little experience with on the old system. It was also fun to rent games. Yoshi's Cookie was a cute puzzle game Sarah & I liked that we had for awhile as well as Mario Paint.

Fast-forward to Fall '95. A new game starring Yoshi with Baby Mario (officially a Mario World sequel but really a prequel) came out and I got it for Hanukkah. It was more of a simple game than its predecessor with completely different graphics and I enjoyed the egg tossing and Shy Guy stomping, finishing the game not too long after winter break was over.

May '96 had one of the most exciting releases I've ever seen with Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars - the result of Nintendo teaming up with Final Fantasy creator Square. I really didn't get the role-playing genre concept and what followed I could never imagine - Mario could freely walk around the various environments and battles were turn-based. There were new characters, teaming up with the Princess & Bowser, a rich story and my favorite soundtrack of any Mario game ever.

And it just got better from there. The SNES was on its way out and the Nintendo 64 launched in September with Super Mario 64. I couldn't wait to get it and I remember we rented them for a weekend early in '97. In August we went to Toys R Us and I picked Mario Kart 64 first (knowing that's what Sarah preferred). Though not really presents, it was almost like Hanukkah came early that year, between the game, system, controllers, etc. in one haul. When December came around I did get Mario 64 and it was truly revolutionary, moving Mario around in the 3D landscape with the new C stick. It really set the stage for today, with a whopping 120 stars to collect and many other elements still used in Super Mario Galaxy. I hardly ever play through an entire game twice but this was an exception.

As time went on, I got hopeful for a sequel to Mario RPG, but instead Paper Mario came out early 2001, with a lot of the same elements in a paper theme. I was disappointed it wasn't a direct sequel and never played it until a couple months ago, via the Wii Virtual Console service.

At the end of 2001 came the GameCube, which I got with Super Mario Sunshine for a Birthday/Hanukkah present a year later, much to my surprise (as noted in an old journal). Soon I got laid off from a job at a printing place and pretty much played a lot. Mario Sunshine was kind of a step down from Mario 64, being more of tropical vacation sidequest to the Mario series that included goofy animated cutscenes and obstacle course challenges that required a lot of trial-and-error. I spent a year working at Target which still gave me plenty of time to play and I developed a routine of going through one game under a year and moving on to the next. Mario Kart Double Dash was fun as well as Nintendo's all-star fighter Super Smash Bros Melee. And although I was playing by myself by now, it felt good to get the GameCube setup after moving in to my place above the garage - at last getting to play whenever I wanted for however long.

After the second Paper Mario game came out late in '04 I finally decided to gave the paper theme a chance and I was happy with the result - a very colorful and humorous game with lots of strategizing you can't get in the main Mario series. During the adventure, I got the DS handheld for a Birthday/Hanukkah present at the end of '05 and when not playing Paper Mario, I enjoyed Mario Kart DS. Later I got DS version of New Super Mario Bros - a nice sorta side-adventure to the big Mario console games. By now I was working at Whole Foods which gradually reduced playing time to mostly weekends and added up to spending a year a half with Paper Mario always in the console.

Smash Bros Melee was fun enough that I didn't hesitate much to get the sequel Super Smash Bros Brawl as soon as it came out in March '08, shortly after getting a Wii. The game was above and beyond loaded with content, 36 total characters (including Sonic the Hedgehog) with an amazing story mode. Between all that and endless fighting matches I couldn't possibly put it away - but other games I wanted started piling up...and piling up. I finally "retired" it last year, which gave me the chance to check out Shaun White Snowboarding and Raving Rabbid Rabbits which can be played with the Balance Board (in addition to Wii Fit of course). Then came Super Mario Bros 25th anniversary and besides the first Paper Mario, I also spent some time with Yoshi's Story from 1998.

2011 began and at last, I got back into the Mario series with Mario Galaxy from 2007. The game has quickly proven to be the freshest experience since Mario 64, with amazing space exploration, crazy upside down-<->right side up platforming and star bit collecting - complete with Bowser's army attacking - the best cutscene to start a game ever. Though the fact there's already Super Mario Galaxy 2 (that I played when a friend let me borrow) just shows how behind I got and anything next-gen for the Wii U console and 3DS I won't consider getting.

And I can't forget 1989's Super Mario Land. I still remember getting to play it one day at school when someone happened to bring it. Eventually I got a Game Boy and a few games for Hanukkah - which I've played sparingly over the decades - but still have along with nearly every console, game and accessory.

Thinking back it's been great since the original Super Mario Bros and I wouldn't really change much other than spending too long on some games (It doesn't help I've gone 3 or 4 weeks without even so much turning on the Wii in some cases). I do kinda wish there'd be a new Mario World game where you simply get through the course (reaching either the main exit for the secret exit if there is one). That simplicity has continued on in New Super Mario Bros (DS & Wii) and will in Super Mario 3D Land but I'd like to see it in a Mario series game.

Now for some other game stuff. During all the Mario mania of '94, I decided I wanted try something with entirely different characters one day and bought Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster Busts Loose at Fred Meyer. It was a cute platformer based on the TV show I enjoyed watching that we played with friends a few times, but I didn't care to spend a lot of time with it. A real break from Mario came when Nintendo released Donkey Kong Country towards the end of the year. I was immediately sold on the awesome platforming and beautiful visuals with CGI-style graphics, a huge milestone for Nintendo at the time. The game was a lot of fun and had a real soundtrack (complete with the 'DK rap'), which I really liked. Mega Man X was another I got around the mid-90s - the only game from the long-running franchise I'd ever own. Great game and I'm still a fan of the blue bomber, though I was never able to beat it - just about the only time something like that has happened.

On the Nintendo 64 we had a solid variety of non-Mario games as well, including Wave Race 64 and 1080 Snowboarding (that Sarah liked) and Cruis'n USA. Also Mission: Impossible and GoldenEye 007 were a lot of fun, me being a fan of the movies the games were based on, before the games came out.

And as for The Legend of Zelda... That's a whole 'nother blog for another day with more insights.