35 years later: My video game life growing up with Mario

Since September 2020 Nintendo has been celebrating Super Mario’s 35th Anniversary. As a fan of all things moustachioed-plumber-related – I’ve loved it. Of course, there’s an obvious commercial angle. But, personally, Mario has always held a very special place in my heart and is probably one of the main reasons I love video games as much as I do. Coincidentally, today is March the 10th. Yes, believe it or not, it’s Mario (MAR10) day! So, what better opportunity for me to look back at my life and share what it was like for me, growing up with Mario.

Back to the beginning…

I think my dad got me into video games. He isn’t particularly big on them now, but I have early memories of him telling me that he was the Donkey Kong champ at the local arcade. Donkey Kong introduced the world to Jumpman (later Mario) and so it’s apt that it was probably the reason we got our first console. I suspect that hearing his favourite old arcade game could be played at home led to him buying us the console. Looking back now, I can’t be sure if we had an original Nintendo Famicom (NES) or a simple knockoff. But in my faded memory, I can picture the traditional red and gold trim.

There were a few games that I played a lot back then on that console – Circus Charlie, Balloon Fight and Tennis, for example, stick out as games I played tons with my dad, my uncle (a big Game & Watch fan back then), my aunt and my brother. However, nothing quite compares to how much I played Super Mario Bros. I was obsessed. I remember thinking I was the best Mario player around. Sure, I had never beaten the game – but no one could do that, right!? Then my best friend came over. He announced his (much) older brother had just gotten through to the last castle and saved the Princess.

Nothing quite compares to how much I played the original Super Mario Bros.

I was stunned – partially in awe and partially in pure jealously. How could this be? I remember immediately switching on the console and spending the rest of the evening trying to do the same. I actually got to the castle that night. But either because of my young age or tired brain (or a little of both), I never figured out the correct combination of pipes to enter to reach the end. And so as the timer blinked to 000 again and again and one by one my lives ran out (no saves back then) the familiar death jingle echoed through our old TV. I never did manage to rescue the princess that night. But I was hooked. Video games were well and truly my thing. I did eventually save Peach and to this day Super Mario Bros. is probably still my favourite game of all time – and these days I try to beat the game at least once a year.

So much Mario, until…

As you can see in the pictures and judging by my age (I’m 34 now) you can tell we got the console a substantial time after it was available in the States. So not only did I get to play Super Mario Bros. but by that time, the NES also offered up Super Mario Bros. 2 (a re-skin of Doki Doki Panic) and even Super Mario Bros. 3. I can’t even remember waiting between games – I must’ve jumped from one straight into the other. And while I enjoyed other games, the wonderfully mad platformers set in the Mushroom Kingdom and beyond were my comfort zone. I played them again and again during those early years. Sometime later, I also got the original Game Boy – a big glorious black brick with a magical green LCD screen where I could play Super Mario Land and then later Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins. Mario was now available on the go and still couldn’t get enough.

And then, just like hitting a special invisibility power-up… Nintendo consoles basically disappeared from South Africa. I know some lucky locals were able to enjoy every generation – but for me, they just didn’t exist. And while I explored other platforms (my ‘PlayStation and Xbox’ years) I not only missed out on the SNES (which had actually been around for ages in other countries) but also the N64 and even the GameCube too. That meant I didn’t get a chance to see Mario star in one of the greatest games ever (Super Mario World). Or see him become a baby and explore Yoshi’s Island in a couple of adventures. And while I later got introduced to and fell for Crash, little did I know that just a few years prior it was Mario that basically invented that 3D platforming genre in Super Mario 64. I didn’t even know that he was exploring an island paradise in a fun (if less polished) adventure called Super Mario Sunshine game just two years before I enjoyed Crash’s third adventure.

My parents got me the fantastic see-through purple GameBoy Advance and my brother had a stunning, red Gameboy Advance SP…

Over those years, Mario was still in my life, though at that time he only appeared on my handhelds. My parents got me the fantastic see-through purple GameBoy Advance and my brother had a stunning, red Gameboy Advance SP (which he recently gave to me as a present). Mario popped up in those all the time. Later the DS (and all its subsequent iterations) introduced me to the updated side-scroller in the New Super Mario Bros. series and later even 3D Land gave us a new Mario stuck somewhere between 2D and 3D. However, during my later teen years and young adulthood, Mario had been nowhere near my TV. And it wasn’t until much later where I finally ‘saw’ my favourite red plumber properly again.

Wiilcome back!

A few years later, my younger cousins bought ‘that’ strange motion-controlled gadget. I visited them to check it out of course, but by that stage, I had been swayed to think Nintendo consoles were ‘just for kids’. I was a ‘Varsity student now – I was supposed to be playing video games on PlayStation or Xbox, you know? What a fool I was! Of course, I had a quick look at Galaxy but never gave it a proper go. I had officially dropped off the Mario wagon. During the non-Nintendo years – kart racers had become one of my favourite genres. I knew Mario Kart was popular overseas – but locally Crash and his Nitro Kart friends had made a bigger impact. But then I remember listening to a podcast talking about Mario Kart 8. I quick search told me that the Wii U Mario Kart 8 bundle was on sale at Toys R Us – and then rest, as they say, is history. Yes, believe it or not – it took the ill-fated Wii U to reconnect with Mario.

As soon as I got back into the swing of things on a Nintendo system (as commercially dreadful as the Wii U was) I almost instantly remembered how good everything felt – controls were tight and games were colourful and welcoming. Mario Kart quickly became my main game and I played it constantly. Then, I bought myself Super Mario Maker – and was immediately drenched in the joy of reliving so many childhood memories as I built my Mario world around me. With my Mario obsession rekindled I read up and listened to every podcast about the topic and learned the fantastical tale of Mario’s creator Shigeru Miyamoto (who I someday still dream to meet) and the other notable people that have made the Mario Games (and by extension video games) what they are today (people like Satoru Iwata, Takashi Tezuka and Yoshiaki Koizumi to mention but a few).

Watching my wife play Odyssey and beat the game (her first time doing that for any game) just made it go full circle for me

Then, just when my Mario fever was hitting its fever pitch – Nintendo released the Nintendo Switch. A short time later Super Mario Odyssey arrived and I was off on new Mario adventures. Playing through that game gave me the kind of joy I remembered having as a tiny kid playing Super Mario Bros. And without spoiling anything – the New Donk City area with the song and then the final section with Bowser are now some of my most treasured video game memories. And aptly as I’ve grown older and life has moved on… later, being able to watch wife play Odyssey and beat the game (her first time doing that for any game) just made it go full circle for me.

My wife and I even got to team up as Mario and Peach ourselves!

35 years young…

As mentioned above – since September, Nintendo has been highlighting the Super Mario Bros. 35th anniversary… and as one of the world’s biggest Mario fans I’ve had a great time! Not only have I been lucky enough to enjoy reliving my favourite childhood game with the Super Mario Bros. special edition Game & Watch and the crazy battle royale Super Mario Bros. 35, but I also got to play through almost all of the 3D Mario games I missed out on during my Nintendo-console-less period. Sure, I hate the fact that Nintendo has for some reason decided that these will disappear when this month ends and 3D All-Stars could’ve celebrated the games more – but for me, it was great to experience these for the first time. During this time I’ve also been able to look into the future by driving a real Luigi Kart in an AR world (Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit) and possibly even seeing a glimpse into Mario’s upcoming 3D adventures thanks to the excellent Bowser’s Fury. For fans – this has been a pretty great celebration!

I’ve grown up with Mario. I’ve been around almost exactly the same amount of time he has!

I’ve grown up with Mario (I’ve been around almost exactly the same amount of time he has) and I love everything about the games. I love the crazy, nonsense premise. I love that a common chubby blue-collar worker is the hero saving the day by travelling through pipes. I love the powerups. I love Goombas, Koopa Troopas and even Toad. I even love…err like Bowser. Over the years I’ve loved virtually every iteration of Mario. And I can’t wait to continue to go back to Mario games I’ve missed (my personal video game goal is to beat every single mainline Mario game that exists). But in the meantime, it’s been fun to consider how much I’ve enjoyed playing videos games and how a lot of that joy has come from the Mario series and can’t wait to find out what in store for me and the red plumber next…

Do you have a favourite Mario story? Perhaps a treasured childhood anecdote? Share it with us in the comments sections and the best story will get a Mushroom Plushie.

Also, don’t forget to check out the local Nintendo store for 10% off for today only.

Nintendo Nerd, sharing my love of Mario with the world one pixel at a time.

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