So this is the part where I’m supposed to get really snarky and pretend that you don’t know what Super Mario 64 is. Perhaps I make another joke about how I’m opening your eyes to some obscure gem before moving on to describe the mechanics of a game that everyone over the age of 20 has heard of. You’ll then shake your head, have a laugh, go “ah Damien, you crazy scamp” then visualize yourself tousling my hair and handing me a shiny nickel before moving on with your day.
Well not today, buddy. I’m not your dancing monkey and I sure as hell don’t need your shiny nickels. (I mean, there is a donation button if you happen to have missed it. I’m not sure if you can give increments of 5 cents but it’s worth a try.)
I’d be lying if I even said I spent a lot of time with the game today. Truth be told, I did the full 120 star run once and never really felt the need to do it again. Make no mistake, Super Mario 64 is not only one of the best games ever made, but one of the most important. It created a blueprint for how 3D was to work in the medium from that point forward and to this day people are still clamoring for a direct sequel that could somehow revolutionize everything all over again. But for me, Mario 64 was a shining example of just what can happen when I get obsessed with doing something masochistic.
See, I have a thing for breaking games. Perhaps it’s residue from a more innocent time in my life when being an overworked QA tester sounded like a fun job, but even now, if I spend a lot of time with a particular title, I will often exhaust way too much effort in an attempt to figure out alternative paths or overpowered skill combinations. I’ll likely never be able to replicate my epic Symphony of the Night run where I glitched through walls for impossible completion percentages and eventually trivialized every boss in the game by simply walking into them with my shield, but I got pretty close on occasion.
When the Nintendo 64 first came out, I was actually in the middle of a hiatus from gaming. For some stupid reason, I thought I was too old for them and really cared way too much about looking cool to my peers, so I remained a clandestine fan, only following the industry through magazines for a while. I believe it was an issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly at the time that held a contest for any reader that could prove they made it to the top of the castle in Super Mario 64 without collecting any stars. This seemed intriguing. As you most likely know, collecting all 120 stars in the game allows you to use a cannon to shoot up to the roof and have a chat with Yoshi, but the cannon is unavailable until then. Years later, bedridden for a week from illness and with nothing better to do, I played the game for the very first time, not stopping until I’d seen everything.
It was after this that I remembered… no winner had ever been announced for that contest. Sure, the statute of limitations was long expired at that point, denying me any chance of winning the JVC boombox and Nintendo t-shirt that I’m going to assume were the prizes on offer, but that didn’t sway me, and I went on to continue playing, denying myself the fluids and rest that probably would have helped me recover much faster as I swore I was going to get on that goddamn roof. Even if I can’t win the contest, surely there has to be something awesome up there to reward such an incredible feat of dexterity.
This is the part where the written word fails me, as I’d be tempted to cue up a time-lapsed montage of my various failed attempts, getting ever so closer and closer to pulling off the awkward wall jump whilst “Holding Out For a Hero” plays in the background. Granted, I don’t have footage of me playing a video game ten years ago, nor do I have the rights to that song (yet), but you can imagine it in your head. If it helps, I was going to use a sepia filter at times and each transition was going to be a Windows Movie Maker star wipe… because, you know, stars and Mario and… yeah.
For the record, I did eventually make it up there. The reward? Three 1-Up mushrooms. Yup. That’s it. No gold Yoshi. No Princess Peach offering up her 64 bits. Not even a GTA-esque sign saying “you shouldn’t be here”. For the record, I did briefly consider taking a polaroid and sending it to EGM anyway, but I’m fairly certain I was put on a list, as I falsely believed for several years as a youth that I could simply mail them hand-written game reviews to be featured in their fine publication.
Their loss, really. My review of Rocky Rodent was Pulitzer-worthy.