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Playing Every NES Classic with My Inner Child, Part 3

Wherein I bask in the beautiful glow of Mario, Donkey Kong, and 420 Pac-Man.
December 16, 2016, 2:58pm

Hi friends. It's me! The lady who is playing all of the NES Classic games with her inner child, telling you what I think of these games in 2016, and what a bratty baby-to-nine-year-old me would have thought of them. For some of those, I can actually tell you how I felt as a young'n, but for others, I had to get creative. You can read the earlier installments here and here.

Super Mario Bros.

Recently, I got the chance to speak with Shigeru Miyamoto, the famed Nintendo designer who created Mario (and Zelda and Donkey Kong and Pikmin and Wii Fit and oh my god, so many brilliant things). It was about Super Mario Run, the new, iOS one-button platformer.

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I had no idea I was going to speak with Mr. Miyamoto until I was actually at the venue, to play a demo of the game and speak with NOA President Reggie Fils-Aime. And I was internally freaking out (in a good way) at the opportunity to pick the brain of the guy who made this game, which would inform my own child-brain forever, influencing everything from my favorite genre in my favorite hobby to the career that I chose for myself.

Super Mario Bros. didn't just influence me as a child, it really is just brilliant. It cemented the 2D side-scrolling platformer. It made traversal and exploration key gameplay features, and really effectively taught players how to excel at this style of game, without requiring any explicit tutorializing.

Little five-year-old Danielle (I got my NES for Christmas of 1989, despite my dad's amazing "don't you need to be TEN to get a NinTENdo?" red herring that year) wasn't super great at the game, but I didn't care. It was bold and beautiful and really fun to play, even if I sucked. It always hinted at a wider world around it's courses, and a strange, wacky fiction.

Super Mario Bros. 2

I played a ton of this game during weird spurts in my life. Around 1989, not too long after its release in 1988. In elementary school, when it was released on SNES on the Super Mario All-Stars collection. During a particularly nostalgic kick in my mid-20s.

I always loved this game. I never knew why some people considered it a weak link—it was just different, what with its veggie-throwing and even-weirder enemies and floatier physics. I always played as the Princess, because of course I did. She has the best jump and she's a girl! Girls are the best, after all.

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But what strikes me, playing it as an adult, is just how great those digging mechanics are. It's really just the opposite of a jump, with an appropriately slower result. The jumping on flying objects/throwing them mechanics are also incredibly satisfying, especially when you smack birdo in the face with a well-placed egg.

(I like Birdo! This is not an anti-Birdo sentiment, it's just fun to throw eggs, ok?)

And the visuals! The colorful, dreamy landscapes and soft edges are still so evocative. The dream logic of the entire world is constructed so beautifully—and oddly—that I think I can still envision every single level of the game, in order, with all sound effects and music in place.

Get Doked the right way, my friends. Play Super Mario Bros 2.

Donkey Kong

Above: Donkey Kong, played by champion Dean Saglio 

If you are familiar with my work, you probably know of my undying love of the Donkey Kong Country series, the beautiful, bold, games that enlivened the elder days of the SNES, and now grace the 3ds and Wii U. Tropical Freeze is the best 2D platformer of the past few years.

And it all started here, with the 1982 arcade version and this 1986 NES port. It's a sort of proto-platformer, of course, a bit primitive and stiff compared to the fluidity of later Mario games, but it still holds up better than most games from its era.

I actually played this when I was younger, but not in the 80s. On the very eve of the millennium, Donkey Kong 64 (the only kinda bad Donkey Kong game I've ever played), required you had to find an arcade machine in the factory stage and beat all the normal boards. At least, you had to do that to get one of the secret coins that unlocked some totally rad thing that I've since forgotten about.

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Baby Danielle probably would've enjoyed the sound effects and not much else. But that squeaky little walk sound is timeless.

Ghosts N Goblins

I'd never played this before, but I read a great deal about it in the Electronic Gaming Monthly's of old. About how hard and well-designed the game was, how pure, how spooky.

Looking back, that kind of deeply reverent praise is reserved for the Souls games now, and I think, like those modern games, I see the appeal, even if I really don't have the patience for them (except Bloodborne. That's my exception.)

Ghosts N Goblins kicked my butt real hard. I was in my underwear (in the game!) within like twenty seconds of starting out, and I never got very far. Dead in the first graveyard. Just a collection of cartoon bones laid to rest.

There's no way my NES and its controllers would have survived if I played this as a kid. As much as I hate being terrible at things now, I was maybe not the best at swallowing a lil humble pie as a young one. I was actually only 2 when this released, so I would've likely had the same response to playing it as I did my baby sister who was born that year: "When are we going to bring her back?"

Pac-Man

Above: NES Pac-Man TAS "12 levels" speedrun by Shaun Moore

As a game, Pac-Man holds up beautifully. It was one of the few single-screen exercises that actually really makes sense as a single screen: a maze where the fun is about fast movement and finding the right path, not taking your time to explore. It's simple, has style, and it does risk-reward brilliantly.

I think I actually did play this one, at least, back in the 90s, in an arcade cabinet we had at my local YMCA. It was definitely the only arcade cabinet at that place, but it saw a lot of use. I also had a 420-loving roommate in college who used to play this all night on one of those knockoff arcade machines that's basically a stick with a bunch of ROMs in it (sort of like the NES Classic, but cheaper and less Nintendo-sanctioned).

We used to talk about life, man.

Sometimes you eat the ghost, and sometimes… sometimes the ghost eats you.