Mario World was magnificent. Platforming, a friendly dinosaur, a magic cape, shy ghosts, evil turtle things, hidden levels and exits. Mario World was a tease. The map would show you some mysterious level, in the middle of a lake, or off in a corner. You knew finishing other levels in a straightforward fashion would never take you there. Somewhere or other, you had missed a secret exit.
Yoshi, a baby dinosaur, was your pal on this adventure. Despite Yoshi being just seconds old, the urge to mount him was irresistible. He was soon your steed. You were now battling for two. Get hurt while riding Yoshi (so to speak) and you would dismount, with Yoshi making a run for it, often to his death.
One level in particular drove me crazy. Ice levels, a common feature of Mario games, made movement awkward and frustrating. On this one I slipped to my death again and again. Whether I fell down a hole or collided with a beast, I died and died and died. Then I completed it. And from then on I could repeat that level and hardly ever die. I didn’t learn a secret, I just succeeded once, and could then repeat that success. Just seeing the achievement allowed me to repeat it. Maybe there’s something to positive visualisation after all.
I never fully completed Mario World. I don’t know why. I finished the main part of the game, saving the Princess from the evil, bouncing, lonely Bowser. Yet I never found all the secret levels. Little did I know that failure would later become a regular theme of my life.
Mario Kart was another favourite. Narrowly ahead on a final lap, with bananas being lobbed ahead to foil me, the music speeding up to signify that the end was near, this gave me an adrenaline rush you really shouldn’t get from a game. Rainbow Road was a special hell. Complete the other cups in Mario Kart and you’d gain access to the Special Cup. Rainbow Road awaited there, a floating, barrier-free track. You know, like if you got a rainbow and folded it into a race track in the sky. And cars could drive on it. You didn’t automatically fail by driving off the track. Lakitu, a mysterious chap in a cloud, would bring you back to where you fell. But the amount of time lost to this process was enough to rest first place from your grasp. And, of course, if you fell multiple times, you’d be lucky to place in the top four. I fell. A lot.
I had played Street Fighter II even before I had a SNES, and I loved it. So soon as I saved that pocket money, it was purchased. I almost always went Ryu. Ken was essentially the same character but didn’t look as cool with his stupid dyed-blonde hair. On harder levels Blanka and Guile would drive me crazy, but no one drive me insane like M Bison did.
Bison was the only character close to Ryu in the cool stakes. He’d turn up for a bout in a hat and big stormtrooper boots, then discard his cloak off right before the fight. Cloaks are gangster. On my first go-around with SFII, my friend and I spent hours trying to defeat Bison. One would try, winning one of three rounds at best. Then Bison would flame-on and start flying. That’s hard to compete with. We’d quickly be vanquished. One would slam the controller down in frustration, the other would pick it up. Rest and repeat.
This time around was different. Defeating Bison was like conquering the ice level in Mario World: I managed it once, and then it was easy. I discovered a little tip that would soon become handy in actual street fights: if someone flies at you while on fire, jump over them. Then turn and toe them in the ass. Once I had the timing down on that move, it was over. Though occasionally my timing would break down and I’d land on his fiery ass instead. Once the timing went, it was hard to recover. Bison fights became very much a binary match-up. Either I’d win easily or be utterly destroyed. No draws, no close fights, destruction or Perfect.
I had a selection of basketball games too. I had NBA Live 96 and 98 if memory serves (97 must’ve been a bad year). Live games were easy back then. Winning wasn’t a challenge, but winning by 80 points was. You could get a rebound, hit the turbo, take a running three, and it would often go on. Pah, basketball is easy.
Tecmo Super NBA Basketball was easy too. I had a strategy which you don’t see in real basketball much. Get out on the fastbreak and get to the hoop. Wait for a defender to catch up. Dunk once he gets there. He’d very likely foul you for the and-one. Now here’s the clever (and even more unlikely bit): deliberately miss the free throw and chase the rebound. Go back up and try to dunk it. You’ll probably get fouled again, getting either the and-one again or two free throws. Again, try to miss the last free throw and keep the process going. I could get ten to fifteen points in a row just doing this. Realism. Tecmo also liked to mock your human notions of linear time. If you went up for a dunk, a cut scene of you throwing it down would play. But if you, say, held down the shoot button on the move, you’d land without scoring. Even though you’d just watched a clip of a dunk. You’d rise up, see the player dunk and the crowd would roar. Then the cut scene would finish and the whistle would blow. Travel. “But I just saw me dunk!”. No you didn’t, Tecmo would say.
Give ‘n Go was less well known. I’d played the arcade version (called Run ‘n Shoot. Supposedly the name was changed as it sounded too violent), and thought it was amazing. It wasn’t really. But still, it had a behind the basket camera angle, the players looked meaty, like actual athletes. You could pull off some tasty dunks, make double-clutch layups, and even change your mind on a shot and pass off in midair. For the time, that was quite advanced. The SNES version wasn’t hugely different. Though having a home copy made it obvious how cheap the mechanics were. You had better have a big lead going into the fourth quarter, because the computer team will score, but you won’t. As soon as the fourth starts, your opponents become sharpshooters and defensive experts. They’d hit most of their threes. They’d manage to get out on fastbreaks despite your best attempts. And most annoying of all, they’d lock you up. You try to drive and they’d body you out. Rise to shoot and you got blocked. Even if you managed to get in for a layup, a defender would be there for the block. If you avoided the first defender with a double-clutch move, a second one got you. You had to be up at least ten points to have even a chance of winning. Realism.
The Madden games were good, but only hardcore players would finish a season. The game couldn’t save your progress. Instead, after every game, you were given a massive password to note down that you had to enter when resuming your season. Imagine adding an extra 5-10 minutes to each game for inputting and writing down passwords, then checking you had them correct. Not fun.
And there was the console itself. The advantage of consoles over your fancy-pants, disk-based console was in saves. If you got a second-hand game, there were generally save games on them. So if you were a bit naughty you could have a peek at what was in store for you later in the game, or pick up where the last person left off.
SNES’ were prone to problems. Dust getting in the cartridge space was common. There wasn’t a SNES owner in existence who didn’t have to blow inside the machine to clear the dust out. The pins inside mine started to weaken too. Games would only work when inserted at certain angles. Eventually I had to place a book on the cartridge to keep it at a suitable angle. As the problem got worse, the book got bigger and heavier to keep the angle more acute.