Iíve been thinking about the Famicom a bunch these past few days, dredging up old/repressed memories. So one day I says to Brandon I says, ďDid I ever tell you people about this craziest of hacked Mario games that I got back in the dayÖ?Ē
With those words, a tale of woe and adventure began, a quest in search of an artifact borne of madness and evil, buried deep within the subterranean layers of my large, comfy, and pink Canadian home. A team of archaeologists was gathered consisting of myself, my parents, and the nagging emails from Brandon Ė here to encourage us, of course.
My parents are still worried about me spending too much time playing/writing/thinking about games. They fear that the entirety of my waking life is spent focused on games. I know not if they are aware that the very relics that we seek were cohort to the development of my nigh-obsession. Nevertheless, we were going to delve into the depths of the crawlspace to retrieve the revered, holy artifacts that are my Famicom, its Disk System, and the stash of mostly pirated games from Hong Kong of which one is the root of all this.
Not many have been in the crawlspace, or even know it exists. Itís usually disguised as a pantry in the room connecting the side of the house we live in with the side of the house set up for my grandfather to live in. If you lift away the large wooden sheet that is most of the floor of this little pantry, a few stairs are revealed that lead into the crawlspace. This underground space is rather claustrophobic, and the large numbers of tightly packed, mostly identical cardboard boxes could lead you to believe that itís the lost tomb of someone significant. The fact that we have to shift these boxes around in order to find the one that we want suddenly makes it feel like a terrifyingly real game of LoLoís Adventure or something thereofÖ one wrong move, one moment of paranoia from a teammate, and you may find yourself trapped UNTO DEATH.
I was driven by memories of a Disk System game I recalled to amuse the other Insert Credit people. This is a Mario game. Well, more like a long-lost, largely forgotten bastard child of SMB1, whose bastardity is the result of an unholy union with Loki, Belial, and the demon drink, among others.
Allow me to describe this game as I fatefully described it to my fellows:
I've got a very obviously pirate disk of a Mario game, which plays as no Mario game I have ever played. It has some SMB3-esque image printed on the insert, though it may as well be "Super Mario" handwritten in blue ball-point pen in typical Hong Kong pirate fashion. To this day I'm still not sure if it's a corrupted game or a cleverly designed hack version, though I'm inclined to believe that no game could have been so divinely corrupted as this one. Such was the magnitude of its depravity that to this day, my brother and I refer to it still as the one and only "Crazy Mario."
It must be said though, that Crazy Mario is one of the most incredible Mario games I have ever played. It defied standards and conventions, and used the engine of SMB1 to produce an experience that was both challenging and surreal. And by surreal, let me say that the throwing of turnips at masked midgets in SMB2 (US) has got NOTHING on Crazy Mario.
Allow me to offer a rendering of oneís first experience of this drug.
The game loads.
You press start.
You are small Mario, but immediately you sense something is amiss, for you are colored as though you have been imbued with the magic of the Fire Flower. You hesitantly press the B button, to find that small Mario suddenly snaps into Super Mario form to hurl a fireball, then snaps back into small Mario immediately after the fireball has been thrown. You try this again, and find that that is indeed the case; small Mario is shooting fireballs and distending himself. You press the A button, and find that you do not jump, but rather make passage through the air as if it were mere water. And while swimming through this joyous aquarium, this air, you find also that you can fling flame in flight as small Mario. Then, you come across that first, mystical question-marked block, and as you swim towards it eagerly, you accidentally miss and hit a neighbouring brick... but wait! You have smashed this brick with your head, even though you are merely small Mario! It becomes increasingly obvious to you that this is no ordinary "small Mario"; this is some sort of erstwhile-medicated ďsmall MarioĒ who is very much in flight and possessed with a sense of Super Powers in the process. As you swim into position to fireball the incoming Koopa Troopa, the unfamiliarity of flight where you would normally be earthbound disorients you, and you see yourself greeting said Koopa face first. You grimace in anticipation of the impact, and your ears already instinctively hear the familiar tones heralding Mario's death as the Koopa's wrathful pixels draw near. Suddenly, you find that the familiar dirge does not play; Mario has not been slain, but rather, his fateful collision with one of his many foes has made him grow bigger. Small Mario has become Super Mario by touching a normally lethal enemy. This seemingly alien Super Mario still holds the powers of flight and fire, as well as his lesser form's remarkable ability to smash bricks with his head. Coming into contact with another typically harmful enemy shrinks this uber Super Mario into uber small Mario. By this time, you are fully drawn in by the sheer strangeness of this world; this isnít so much the Mushroom Kingdom as it is the Shroom Kingdom. You are then compelled to test the seemingly immortal avatar that is Mario by sending him to the ultimate deus ex machina: you fling him into a bottomless pit, perhaps not as an act of malice, but as an act of discovery. Mario thus perishes.
As you can see, this is no ordinary Mario game. The rules of Mario have been dramatically warped; so much so that you will even be at first deceived to believe that this game will be an easy ride with the heavenly powers that Mario seems to be blessed with.
This notion changes as you proceed to the castles and their dungeons, for there the game truly leaps through the looking glass.
Youíre inside one of the castles. Imagine a ceiling and floor of indestructible iron blocks, connected by a broad stairway shape of such blocks. This stairway is but one block thick, but is completely impermeable; there are no gaps for either small or Super Mario to fly through. Careful probing of each block with Mario's invincible skull shows that there are no fake blocks. One clue presents itself before this impenetrable barrier: a trampoline. There is no way back, and the trampoline would spring you headlong into the iron blocks. Nevertheless, you have learned the value of curiosity in this game: you leap upon the trampoline. At first, you hear nothing but the dull thud of Mario's cranium slamming into iron, but you tentatively tap the A button as he lands on the trampoline to boost him harder and faster into the unmoving barrier above. After a few nasty collisions, Mario miraculously rockets through the heretofore unbreakable, seemingly insurmountable barrier. Any other Mario in an ordinary world could never have hoped to perform such a feat, but this is no ordinary world that you are playing in, nor is this any ordinary Mario that you are in control of.
There will be times when you don't want to be Super Mario, as his size makes it more difficult for him to make it through some tight spots. There will be times when you will perform what seems to be the reverse of SMB3's famous flight off the screen to find the first warp whistle: this Mario will instead risk his otherwise immortal existence by flying into a pit and swimming forwards in order to pass a solid wall of iron blocks that is literally screens wide. The innovation here is at times reminiscent of some Wario games, where getting hit cannot kill you, but can transform you into an undesirable form. The surreal puzzles and symbolism contained therein hint at a design that is miraculous in its vision and its use of the humble SMB1 game.
I will confess that I haven't beaten Crazy Mario because my Famicom Disk System is no longer functioning nor readily available, I never had the skill (or the intoxication) to solve some of its mazes, and I've yet to find a rom of it online to examine with an emulator. Nevertheless, it remains in my mind the most wonderfully bizarre handling of Mario made in 2D following its legendary founder.
But letís be honest; weíre lazy folk with more important things to do, and so this grand expedition in the depths of my house has been abandoned. No, not because Iím frightened of what monsters hide within that fell corridor that dwells apart from time itself, where ancient treasures like a full set of the North American episodes of Samurai Pizza Cats and my beloved Famicom slumber. Nothing like that. It was justÖtoo hard to find.
To this day, I still feel that there was something about the Famicom that still sets it apart from all other consoles, and itís neither its lovely 80ís stylings nor the fact that it was my first. Maybe itís the fact that games were still so very experimental, that it seemed simultaneously blessed with endless creative newcomers and many genre-refiners. Maybe itís the boundless innovation even in those tried-and-true games, as epitomized by Crazy Mario. Maybe itís the fact that as player 1, you held a monopoly of power over player 2 since only you had the start button, and hence only you could spite the other player by interrupting the flow of the game at critical moments. Or maybe that player 2 could retaliate by karaokeing (is that a real word?) through that accursed microphone of doom.
Maybe the answer lies in slamming my head against a wall till it all makes sense.
The answers will break through.
I know it.
--Gabriel Leung has a headache
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