When I think of the late 80s, I think of Nintendo. The home video game system was everywhere and I even have distinct memories of unwrapping mine on Christmas sometime toward the end of the decade while my aunt, uncle and cousins were visiting. The star of the show, of course, was Mario thanks in part to his inclusion in every system they sold. But, the oddly named plumber continued past those early roots to amass one of the greatest game franchises of all time, not bad for a guy who first appeared in Donkey Kong.
Since I’m focusing on 1988 this week, it seemed only natural to look at that year’s second entry in the Mario Bros. series. While I remember waiting in line to buy Mario 3 at Toys R Us when it came out, I don’t actually recall how I came into owning this one. I do remember playing the heck out of it and enjoying it even though it seemed so different than the previous entry (thanks to the fact that it started out as a completely different game). While the other one had Goombas and Fire Flowers, this one had radishes, Birdos and mysterious night-bringing bottles of potion.
Everyone had their preferred character for different reasons. Mario was a solid all-around player, Luigi could jump the highest, Toad could dig the fastest and the Princess could hover-jump. I always played as the Princess. That ability to just coast over enemies and danger was my bag, though it can easily get you into trouble when dealing with flying enemies.
This past Christmas, my folks got me a Hyperkin Retron 3, that’s a system that plays old NES, Sega and Super Nintendo cartridges on modern TVs. Sure, I’ve got the NES and Sega hanging out in the garage, but one system that works all the time easily trumps those finicky relics of days gone by. So, with this week’s theme in mind, I dug out Mario 2 and gave it a few run-throughs on the Retron to see how my skills stacked up.
The first play-through, I used Princess all the way and eventually got to the sixth level before biting it big time. Thanks to memories I was able to dust off, I even remembered where the warp pipes/pots were in a few different levels, though my ability to recall where the life-increasing mushrooms were failed me more often fcbthan not. 6-1 was a real killer in every sense of the word with the Cobrats shooting me in the face, the Pokeys cactusing me and the Panser’s relentless fireballs.
The second time around I decided to play through as far as I could without warping which wound up not exactly being the case as I stumbled upon a tube to World 5 by accident. I didn’t feel too bad about that given the fact that I was dying at an alarming rate. I realized while playing that this game is a lot more about timing than the others. Since you can’t run somewhat safely behind a group of bouncing fireballs that’ll take out your enemies, you’ve got to time all of those jumps just right to avoid the Shy Guys, Snifits and Tweeters (oh my). The same goes for grabbing Birdo’s eggs (which I still rock at) and throwing Mouser’s own bombs back at him (which I don’t). Not having that timing down is what really got me into trouble. As a kid, I was an expert, but a lot of water has passed under that bridge in the meantime.
I was also reminded of how damn frustrating games were back then and how they’re probably even more so today. I’m so used to re-spawning right where I was or being able to save and come back, that I’d almost forgotten about the days of leaving a game paused all Saturday so you could get back to it that night or the crushing defeat of losing that last life on the final board before beating the game. I didn’t even realize I was just one world away from the end when I died on 6-1, but even if I was playing better than I was, it would take me the same amount of time to get to that place with hopefully a few less deaths along the way to give it a shot. However, it was that constant replaying of these levels and games that ingrained them so deeply in our memories. I couldn’t help but chuckle when I dropped that vial of red stuff near the tube on 1-3 and skipped around to World 4. I have no idea where I even learned that trick (I wasn’t much of a trial and error gamer as a kid, so I’m guessing it was from a friend with a subscription to Nintendo Power) but it’s still lodged in my brain somewhere.
I intend to use that knowledge, plus these amazing MarioUniverse.com maps of the levels if need be, to beat this game in the relatively near future. I’m not sure if I’ve ever actually defeated this game, so if I have to look outside of my own realm of knowledge (in other words, cheat) then I’ll do that.