We were eight years-old when we first met, though he looked a lot older than me.
He was kind of a friend-of-a-friend, I guess. I’d seen him and his brother around where I grew up, always larking about and making a mess. Honestly, I wasn’t sure we’d hit it off, and at first we didn’t.
My lasting memory of the first few months of our friendship was one of running about, jumping and climbing on anything and everything we could. An odd thing to bond over, perhaps, but eight year-olds do long for adventure, and we found ours. I couldn’t help but feel that I was holding our adventures back, however; forever the goof, I fell, stumbled and slipped trying to keep up as we sought ever more dangerous and fantastical Lands to explore.
Nonetheless, we had great fun, and my feelings about Mario remain inexorably tied to that first time we met. Super Mario Land on the Nintendo Game Boy was my first experience with the then eight year-old Mario. Though it may be a little odd, this means that Princess Peach, Bowser and the Mushroom Kingdom weren’t, and in some ways still aren’t synonymous with Mario for me. Even Luigi was absent from our first, definitive encounter.
Without Mario’s entourage, I focused my attentions firmly on the running, jumping plumber. The protagonist cluster of 50-odd pixels seemed surprisingly detailed. Amplified through the awed mind of a child discovering handheld video games, Mario positively brimmed with personality, however much he may have lacked vibrancy in the Game Boy’s iconic green and black display. In this way, Super Mario Land was closer to the earliest Mario outings than to the then contemporaneous, brighter, more detailed and embellished Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World.
There was, fortunately for me at least, one stark difference between Mario’s handheld adventures and the house-arrested ones: Super Mario Land was relatively welcoming towards the gaming inept. Earlier, I alluded to my clumsy nature in my adventures with Mario. I have never found Mario games easy, and Super Mario Land was the first step along that road. It was, I later learned, very much Mario with stabilisers, but try telling a young kid riding a bike for the first time that stabilisers make it easy…
Adventuring with Mario on a Super Nintendo a mere year or two later was a vivid, glorious experience, but the increased difficulty meant the original Super Mario Bros. trilogy and Super Mario World held me at arm’s length. I bumbled my way through Mario’s bigger adventures, but it wasn’t until years later that I would really come to terms with the difficulty. These 2D games were, of course, the template for the New Super Mario Bros. games, which I found more or less equally stand-offish, particularly by the time New Super Mario Bros. U had finished with me.
In truth, aliens and Princess Daisy aside, I find Super Mario 3D Land and World to be incredibly close in tone and lineage to the handheld Land games of the Game Boy days. The naming of SM3DL is a clear reference, of course, but it goes deeper for me. There is a different feel to these “Land” games. They may in truth be gentler, easier… perhaps even compromised, but to me they are a lighter, more playful take on the legendary Jump Man.
If one moment defines my time with that most famous of video game characters, it is the moment I pushed ‘START’ on Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins. The graphics and the atmosphere were more fleshed out than in its predecessor, but that did not mean that the console games had made their way onto the Game Boy. The bubbly Mario and moustache-twirling Wario gave a playful new spin to my imagination that I saw renewed (albeit without Wario) in the form of Super Mario 3D Land/World some 20 years later.
As the bigger, older Mario and I set off after the titular 6 Golden Coins in 1994, I found myself more able to keep up with him. We explored up hill and down pipe, before reaching that final castle. Usurping Wario was a triumphant and gleeful experience that marked me, though I didn’t know it then, for a future filled with video games. The dreams of children are often fanciful, ludicrous adventures. Mario’s certainly were, and those I shared with him then, and continue to share with him now are dreams of the most fanciful and ludicrous kind.
Cane and Rinse have covered a large slice of Mario’s antics, and you can find these Issues linked below: