My first Super Mario World experience was in second grade, when I was about seven years old. My family had moved into a small two bedroom apartment in Layton, Utah, while we waited for a space in military housing to open up. It’s weird, the things our minds choose to remember from that age.
I remember playing checkers with the Hispanic mother that lived below us. Her kids were too young to play with me, and other games were too complicated for me to understand. I remember an older guy, Ron, that lived in the next block of apartments over. He worked with my dad and had some medical condition I never noticed or understood. He also had a dartboard and a car so small that I could move it just by leaning on it while it sat in its parking space. I put more than a few holes in his wall. Sorry about your security deposit, Ron. That’s what happens when you let second graders play darts in your apartment.
This particular copy of Super Mario World belonged to an interracial couple that lived directly above us – maybe… John and Sherry? That sounds right. I don’t remember if they were married or just living together in a scandal that didn’t matter to a seven-year-old’s accepting mind. I do remember that they only had two games for the then-new Super Nintendo: Mario World and Super Star Wars. They let my try both of them (as long as they were the ones that got to beat them first).
Super Star Wars was tough! That whole landspeeder level… I just hung out at the top of the screen, avoiding all the obstacles with ease. I thought I was so smart, dodging everything like that. I mean, until I ran out of gas. I never beat that second level until my teens, when I was forced to come to the realization that it wasn’t so much tough as the game was actually just really bad.
Super Mario World, on the other hand, was something special. This world Miyamoto and Co. had created was bright, warm, and inviting. The controls were simple enough for anyone to get a handle on, and the learning curve was forgiving.
I had played the original Super Mario Bros. a few years earlier. My grandparents had been lucky enough to find a fairly-decent-shape NES at a random garage sale during one of our summer visits up north, and we brought it back to our trailer in New Mexico in the fall.
Come to think of it, the only thing I remember about that trailer in New Mexico was lying on the floor with my dad and my brother, playing Rygar and Mario. According to my dad, forgetting most of that period of my life was not a bad thing. All those trailer stereotypes were true, it seems. The cops were in the park for domestic disturbances nearly every night. Like everywhere I’ve lived, however, we were just passing through.
Super Mario World, however, has stayed constant in my life. Nearly 20 years later, it’s still the game I turn to when I can’t stand playing a single second of a “modern” game. And the familiarity… it’s like my warm security blanket. I know all the secrets, all the tricks. I can speedrun the game in twelve minutes without exploiting a single glitch. I don’t know if that’s a record, but it sure ain’t bad. If I could only play one game for the rest of my life, this would be it.
One random night at that apartment in Utah, we heard John and Sherry jumping all over the place upstairs, and cheering, and yelling all sorts joyous things. Turns out, they had beaten Mario World and were celebrating. I’m trying to remember any time a game has actually made me cheer. I’m coming up short.
Is it because games today have managed to take away the monumental highs and replaced them with a hundred smaller ones – a perk unlock, a trophy won, a new character skin discovered?
I may not cheer, but I remember the first time I played my favorite video game. Sitting there on the carpet, one floor above the room I had to share with my younger brother (I got the top bunk). A game that, to this day, makes me feel like a kid. Sitting there, cross-legged on the floor, amazed at the world, at my life, at what potentials my future held. But I wasn’t thinking about any of that then. I was just enjoying myself. I miss that.