While it’s difficult to ponder being in one’s mid-30s in the year 2020 (in addition to being alive in 2020 at all; what a shit year), I am particularly grateful for the gradient of technology I grew up in. As a kid I got to experience the cruder era of home computing and the heyday of the console wars, and in the earliest portions of those salad days I would sometimes visit my grandparents’ house, and in either the basement or the den you could find a NES.
The game library wasn’t terribly expansive – Super Mario Bros/Duck Hunt, Blades of Steel, Contra I think was all, and more often than not I’d have to perfrom the traditional NES rite of:
- blinking colors on TV
- remove cartridge
- blow into slot
- reseat cartridge
- power on
- repeat until game works
The uncomfortable controller didn’t dissuade from attempting to figure out how to get Mario from point A to point B or how to not die in Contra (an impossible task even now), and it became increasingly clear that I sucked ass at platformers (and at non-sports videogames in general).
Mario in particular was everywhere. Many of my friends had NES consoles, whereas the best I could do was watch the crummy Mario Bros. show on television or play with the Super Mario Bros 3 McDonalds Happy Meal toys (which I loved). Thankfully via visits with friends and relatives I got to experience a fair amount of NES games, including the aforementioned third Mario game, Donkey Kong, Dr. Mario, Paperboy, and others.
My parents showed mercy on me with the Super NES console, and with my first few seconds of playing Super Mario World memorably marked by my dad’s disgusted utterance of, “well, we’re never going to see him again,” I should be lucky they didn’t immediately trash it. That was my first proper experience playing a Mario title, and over the years my relationship with the Mario Bros. franchise has had several visits, predominantly lately with Super Mario RPG, Super Mario 3D World, Super Mario Odyssey, and Paper Mario: The Origami King.
For all of that, there’s something magnetic about playing a Mario game that harkens back to the historic first few titles. I was consistently drawn to the Super Mario Bros U Deluxe game in the Switch Store, and even though it was grossly overpriced at $40 (on sale!), I took the plunge.
My first mistake was watching an excellent documentary on Super Mario Bros 3, as it glazed my eyes with nostalgia and fondness for Nintendos’ golden years. The second was thinking I was any good at platformers.
The story of Super Mario Bros U Deluxe (which I’ll abbreviate to SMBUD going forward) is typical nothingness, which is just fine. Bowser and his cronies interrupt a delightful picnic-type thing at Princess Peach’s castle, hurling Mario, Luigi, Toad, and Toadette miles away to a grove of trees that, a total shock, segues into a sprawling series of fantastic biomes full of collectibles, power-ups, and colorful enemies.
Gameplay-wise, I don’t exactly know how to quantify it. It’s very fun, while at the same time baffling in how infuriating certain obstacles get. Getting through levels is no sweat, but the 3 coin challenge for each stage literally had me shouting. My wife and dogs were subjected to me groaning and roaring over how difficult some of the star challenges were, even when playing as the invincible Nabbit.
The non-story challenges are essentially for people who excel at platformers and want to really test their mettle. I could barely make it through the easiest ones.
In short, I had fun, but I also didn’t.
I’ll probably take a short break from Mario titles for now, just to clear my head and restore some patience (and fondness) for the fun, vivid world I enjoy so much.