The year is 1997. There’s an excitingly large present under the Christmas tree. It’s rectangular, bulky, exactly the shape it should be to fit your dreams. You’ve been thinking about it for months. The day finally arrives, and in front of your smiling family you tear off the wrapping to reveal a brand new, factory sealed Nintendo 64 console and a copy of Super Mario 64.
You deal with the lesser priorities of the next few hours with difficulty. Grandma has had her kisses, the Bond film draws to a predictable close, and the cracker toys are discarded on the carpet with the Quality Street wrappers. Christmas dinner feels like forever. Your parents give the all clear, and you tuck the lusciously weighty package under your arm and bolt upstairs.
Each slot of a new connector into your television set feels like sex. The adrenaline is palpable. It’s on. The first sounds: a coin being collected, and ‘It’s a-meee, Maaaarioo!’ You don’t know whether to follow the on-screen command and press start, or spend hours bending Mario’s stunningly rendered face. You do it with a sense of vague reluctance for a couple of minutes, chuckle slightly, and press start. You load your first game. Peach has a voice too. ‘Mario….please come to the castle…i have baked a cake for you’. Lakitu gives you a lengthy tour of the castle grounds accompanied by some sweeping orchestral music.
Come on, come on……Mario bursts out of the apple green pipe with the same sound effect you’d been hearing for years past. The camera settles, and your thumb gently pushes the analogue stick. Mario moves. Your heart is in your fucking mouth. Mum pushes her head through the door. ‘What’s it like then, Graham (or whatever)?’ You tell your Mum in not so many words that you can barely contain the sense of wonder and awe, let alone describe it. You share the next few hours with your new favourite video game, grinning from ear to ear with every second that passes.
The year is 2007. A decade has passed since your original experience with Super Mario 64, and you’ve been gagging for a sequel ever since. The Gamecube brings with it an element of hope in the form of Super Mario Sunshine, and although the game holds your attention for a good few months and is undoubtedly a superb videogame, it doesn’t quite bring the same magic as that original leap into 3D a few years ago. You’re not that fussed on the F.L.U.D.D. mechanic, nor the strangely trippy character design. You scour the gaming media for any new information on a true sequel. Miyamoto seems content to toy with the hardcore fans; hinting that a true heir to Mario 64 is indeed in the works. The Gamecube era comes and goes. Finally with the first real details of Nintendo’s revolutionary new console, it’s announced. Super Mario Galaxy.
You’re not quite sure what to make of the new gameplay elements seen in the new demos, or the fact that it’s set in space. You wonder whether placing their new project in space is the ultimate last resort for creative moguls running out of ideas. Your anticipation, however, remains feverish. Each month that passes brings new delays, but finally, nearly a year after the Wii’s launch, Mario Galaxy hits shelves. Early reviews suggest that this is Mario’s true return to form, but you attempt to restrain any hope until you can experience the game for yourself.
You are astounded to find upon playing the game that you are experiencing those same feelings of pure joy as you did a decade ago. The storyline is typically thin, but this is Mario, not Tom Clancy. You find yourself chasing small bunnies on a sphere, and are surprised to find that though this is an inherently simple act, there’s something so right and yet so alien about Galaxy that you can’t put your finger on.
Maybe it’s the disorientating feeling of running underneath the planet, knowing the game’s gravity system will keep you in place as tightly as you attempt to keep Mario in his. You’re not sure. Your first few galaxies are met with similar joy. The wonderfully playful, awe-inspiring soundtrack seeps its way deep into your brain. Each ten minute segment of play seems more enjoyable that the one before it, and within these are a further series of classic moments that you know you’ll be experiencing again and again in attempt to recapture that original sense of splendour.
You marvel at those gameplay mechanics you doubted back in March, whether it’s using the remote steer a ball-riding Mario through a frustrating yet immensely satisfying obstacle course, or dragging him through a spike infested ghost chase. Each hugely entertaining yet slightly short-lived boss encounter, inventive new environment, secret and surprise entices you to rifle through the game, poking your fascinated nose into every nook and cranny. It occurs to you that you never want Super Mario Galaxy to end. You realise that once again, you can barely contain the sense of wonder and awe, let alone describe it. You share the next few months with your new favourite video game, grinning from ear to ear with every second that passes.