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 enjoyer of good games, 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 days of my gaming childhood.

I have something wrong with me certainly. So how much of a translatable experience this may be is indeterminable. I proceed not to review the SNES mini per se. Rather to illucidate my experience of this time swallowing rabbit hole I found myself tripping down, when playing my lovely SNES mini for the first time. And of course this is a postcard to the beloved creators Nintendo otherwise this headline would make no sense.

Having acquired wealth recently I went in search of a gaming adventure. I was on a quest if you will, to find the original soul of gaming, when games, I felt, really were games. I wanted to follow the scent back in time, back up the Núng river, if you like, to a time when games were more primitive and disconnected. Where there was no game but ‘sandbox’.

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 with deep regret I accepted that must be for another day. The Universe must have had its own plan. I can’t have been ready to go that far up river yet. The deepest jungles of programmable BASIC and the Commodore games, some of the greatest ever invented, if I may be so bold, are still on ahead, if I survive till its release, which is by no means a certainty.

In the absence of that ticket way upstream, I found another route. It was to a similar 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.

Onto Mario Kart. I was the reigning king in my house and neighbourhood. But things were different back then, before the internet. You could be the best player you knew. The interconnected world wasn’t relaying their higscores and playthoughs. It was just you and the people around you. High scores, if you ever saw them, were reported in magazines. In print. Ink etched forever indelibly on paper.

My brother and I destroyed Ghost Level 1 every day after school. We obviously broke all the world records having figured out all the tricks of the turn and control. I was shocked to think how we were at ages 6 and 9, but then I remembered that getting older just means getting worse, and its the young people who are amazing at stuff.

Mario Kart 1 remains spellbindingly good. Even 25 long years after its release. The graphics are pixelly and even a little weird. But they’re wonderfully crafted and its just beautiful. It’s so fast and the game play is just so responsive. There’s such simplicity in the controls, yet finesse in the complexity of the turn and power slide. Its a game you can master, and leads you beautifully through the process. It’s rewarding at every stage, celebrating each victory with A Fish Ceremony!

The music is quite simply amazing. Everything about this game is beautiful. Mario Kart glorified. Mission successful.

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 and less intensive. There’s no load time. The colours are stunning. The pixel graphics are an absolute pleasure. There’s a few new features with the SNES Mini, the best of them probably being the ability to switch off and switch on again without needing to save in game. That’s handy.

Nostalgia has to be recognised. There’s enchantment in the old woods and their good memories. But nostalgia isn’t the only draw. Good games are timeless. You don’t play chess because its retro. Or because its oldschool or nostalgic. You play it because of the game. Any timeless game is an amazing one. So in that sense no game on any device is really retro. Its just another living game ready to be played now. Just like snakes and ladders,  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. Complete all the levels. Go on I dare you.  Final Fantasy III is 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 epic stories. You’re playing it – you have to fulfil your role in it.

There are a couple of downsides to this console. You can’t buy other games for it. It’s a mini tragedy, pun intended, that Mario All Stars could not attend. I’d be angry missing out on Mario 2 again if I could feel anthing but love for these people who’ve made me so happy. Indeed playing the SNES has brought back joy I’d forgotten actually existed in the soul.

I am going further upriver soon, to the 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. The limitation in the medium made them better, made them have to do more with less. There’s less creativity in most games these days.

Minecraft is one of many good exceptions. Its simplicity makes it seem like it was born way 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, 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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