22nd November 2017 The MALESTROM

A Postcard to Nintendo

Postcards, nobody really sends them anymore. They represent a bygone time. In fact writing in general is an almost long forgotten art, like yo-yoing. Which is why I should draw your attention to something else which has been pretty much lost to the depths of time, until recently that is. The SNES mini. If Nintendo made food, it’d taste as delicious as that first slice of chocolate cake as a kid. And the Super Nintendo would be the sweetest cherry on top. I’m Dan Brown, an old school gaming nut and I’m going on a journey, not the kind you see on ‘X Factor’ or ‘Strictly,’ the kind where only truth exists, a fantastical adventure back into the heady days of my gaming childhood.

Now I admit I may have something wrong with me. Perhaps I am not what you would class as an ordinary person. However, I know there are others out there like me and hopefully you’re one of them reading this. This is not a review of the SNES mini per se. Rather the experience of the time swallowing rabbit hole I found myself falling down, when playing the SNES mini for the first time, and of course a postcard to the beloved creators who opened the light filled portal.

Having had a number of pounds drop onto my lap recently, I went in search of my next gaming adventure. I was on a quest if you will, to find the original soul of gaming, when games really were games. I was following the scent back in time, back up the Núng river if you like, to a time when games were more primitive and man lived free, before the corrupting influence of 3D rendering engines and build your own RPGs.

My quest led me to looking into the purchase of a new mini Commodore 64. Does this really exist on the market. Apparently it didn’t yet, and swallowing a deep lump in my throat, I accepted that was for another day. No the universe had its own plan and I mustn’t have been ready to head that far up river yet. The deepest jungles of programmable BASIC and the Commodore games, some of the greatest ever invented, are still on ahead, if I survive till release. Which lets face it, is by no means a certainty.

In the absence of a ticket way upstream, I found another route. It was to a port a long way up the river. The port named Nintendo, or more accurately the SNES mini. Sweet effervescent  joy bubbled in my mind as I wandered down memory lane to the ‘golden age’ of gaming. Mario Kart 1, Super Mario World, The Secret of Mana…. breathe slowly now. These are truly gifts from on high.

So having purchased this bundle of fun I set off and headed straight to the jungle where I could find The Secret of Mana. This was the main reason I’d bought the console. I remember it was one of the best games I had ever played. With RPG’s (role playing games, for the uninitiated) it’s like watching a film. A huge film you can get lost in. And I love getting lost. As I get older, the more I need a depth of story, to retreat from the world – into beautiful fantasy.

Nostalgia can often blur our rose tinted vision, but Secret of Mana did not disappoint on this re-visit. The music and graphics alone are good enough reason to own this, and then the story is phenomenal and the fighting mechanics really lovely. What an amazing game.

I was the king of Mario Kart. In my house and everywhere else. Things were different back then, before the internet, you didn’t have all the world connected relaying their highest scores and you couldn’t watch their play-throughs. It was just you and the people around you. Things were slower. High scores were reported in magazines. In print. Ink etched forever indelibly on paper. What a beautiful time it was.

Me and my brother used to rinse Ghost Level 1. Every day after school we’d be on the time trial, I think we got so ridiculous at it, having figured out all the tricks of the turn and power turns, etc. I seem to remember getting the times down close to even less than a minute, which is pretty good for a nine and six year old.

This game remains spellbindingly good. Even 25 long years after its release. The graphics are pixelly and possibly a little weird, yet wonderfully crafted at the same time. It’s so fast, the game play is utter rock and roll. Literally, there is such simplicity in the controls, yet such finesse in the turn and power slide. They made a game you could master, and led you beautifully through the process. It’s thoroughly rewarding at every stage. It celebrates each victory with a fish ceremony. A fish ceremony!

The music is quite simply amazing, everything about this game is beautiful. I for one love it, and I know millions are with me.

The rest of the games are also just as good as I remember.  It’s striking just how fast the gameplay was on the original! And the SNES mini is just as fast. It’s an old console that out performs many modern machines. Probably because the games were simpler, less intensive. There’s no load time, the colours are stunning and I find the pixel based graphics a pleasure. The new SNES mini comes with a couple of new features, the best of them being the ability to just switch off and switch on again without needing to save. Pretty handy.

Nostalgia as mentioned earlier obviously has to be recognised. There is enchantment walking through the old woods. Good memories. But, good games are timeless. Here’s the argument. You don’t play chess because its retro. Or because its old school. Or because its nostalgic. You play it because of the game. Any timeless game is an amazing one. So no game on any device is really retro. Its just another living game ready to be played now. Just like snakes and ladders or marbles, or conkers. It’s the classics that never get old. Now could be any time. In many ways they all belong in the present. It’s the good ones we keep.

As for the rest of the games…

Contra III is a harder yet still wonderful arcade style game. I’ve got so used to games holding your hand a bit more, being well, dead easy, I didn’t remember having to actually put blood and sweat into completing some of them. Pilot Wings is always a treat. Great controls and early 3D graphics. Super Mario World is a gem of perfect gameplay. Final Fantasy III is actually really good. The story is so well written. Its like immersing yourself in a magnificent movie. That’s what I don’t think people get about these games. You get to fully immerse yourself in something as epic as say Lord of the Rings. Completely losing yourself in the breath taking stories. You’re playing it – you have to fulfil your role in it.

There are downsides to this console. You can’t buy other games for it. It is a tragedy that Mario All Stars could not be present. Truly. I would be angry at missing out on playing Mario 2 again, but how could I feel anything but love for this group of people who have made me so happy. Indeed playing the SNES has brought back joy I’d forgotten could be garnered from gaming.

I am going further upriver soon, to the perfectly tiny versions of the NES and Commodore 64, when the boat sets sail of course. I’ll be sure to report on my travels. There’s just something about those games from way up the river, deep in the forest. Something pure and unpolluted about them, something primitive. Its like the limitation in the medium made them better, made them have to think more, be more ingenious with what little they had. Nowadays slap a 3D engine on and its a winner. There’s just so much less creativity in those games, as beautiful to look at and enjoyable as they are.

Minecraft is a really good exception to that rule. Its simplicity makes it seem like it was born further upriver, like its soul is older than its days.

Computer games sharpen you up. You learn from them. I stopped playing games for fifteen years, and I blunted. There was me thinking I was advancing my life by getting on with other ‘more important stuff.’ What a waste of 15 years.

Anyway the conclusion is, the SNES mini is amazing, the games are amazing. They will never get old, they will never die. They will always remain young and beautiful, like the elves in Lothlórien, ever under the spell of the lady of the wood.

Nintendo, all in all I’ve had a wonderful trip,

Hopefully speak soon.

Enchantedly and ever yours,

Dan

Anyone who hasn’t already got themselves a Nintendo Classic Mini: SNES can order one HERE

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