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Vol. 2, Issue 10
February 1, 2000
Birth of a Gamer:

Waxing Nostalgic

by Heather "elki" Haselkorn

Ah, the good old days. The days when innocent children could pop a video game cartridge into an NES and play and play until their thumbs were sore and it was past their bedtimes. I remember that time fondly. I decided to try to revisit those days by making use of loony’s massive collection of consoles and games and I discovered, much to my dismay, that sometimes there just isn’t any going back.

Looking at a shelf full of familiar favorites and their new, 3-D reincarnations, I settled on Donkey Kong 64 and Mario 64. Both these names brought back warm memories of my old Atari, and of the NES and Super NES that became fixtures in my brothers’ room as the years went by. I figured DK 64 would be a revamped version of Donkey Kong Country, arguably one of the most fun games in existence. And Mario, well, that’s just Mario...who couldn’t have a good time playing that?

I tell ya, though, you just can’t judge a new game by its previous incarnation. Donkey Kong 64 was indeed the brightly-colored, cartoonish game I expected it to be. Considering that I’ve been playing a lot of dark, violent, and frankly, depressing games since this column debuted, the silly plot and childish gameplay were a refreshing change. Basically, King K. Rool and his evil crew of alligators are out to destroy Donkey Kong and his island. They capture his friends and steal the golden banana hoard. Your goal in this game...free your friends and reclaim your bananas. No problem! I envisioned 3D versions of Donkey Kong Country, swinging from tree to tree, throwing barrels, and eating bananas. I hit start to bypass that annoying hip hop sequence at the beginning and began the game.

The first thing I had to do, though, was play a tutorial. I think I’ve complained enough about tutorials, so I won’t make you read through another litany. I did get my first lesson in using a Nintendo 64 controller, though. You have to remember that the last time I held a controller was about 5 years ago, and these things have really changed over the years. I am now up-to-date on the proper technique: One hand near the stick thing (sorry, the technical name of this highly sensitive piece of equipment escapes me at the moment) and one hand near the key pad. When did this get so complicated?

I got through the tutorial, all happy and excited and expecting to have tons of fun. And then I found out that I just can’t play this game. First, there’s the fact that the game is not a side-scroller. There’s no reason this should bother me; after all, I’m already used to that in computer games. But for some reason I just couldn’t translate on-screen depth perception from a computer monitor to a television. I had no idea which way to go. I swam around the islands a bit, talking to other characters and trying to find my way to the first level. Fourty-five minutes later, I finally found the island that was actually the beginning of the game. I don’t know why it took so long...I just kept getting lost and basically swimming around in circles. I know that the game does give directions about which way to go, but frankly, I just wasn’t paying attention.

Anyway, I finally found the first level. There I am, swinging on vines, climbing trees, having a great time, but getting nowhere. How frustrating! I was almost in tears by the time I just gave up. loony game over, pointed out a vine that I could climb, showed me to Funky’s store where I bought a gun, showed me how to aim and fire, and then basically took over the game until he suddenly realized he already had a saved game which was much farther along than mine. Two hours had passed and I just didn’t want to look at it anymore. I couldn’t believe how disappointed I was.

Still, I hadn’t yet played Mario 64. I figured it would be like all of the other Super Mario Bros. games I used to play as a kid...just plain and simple fun. True to form, I found myself in the midst of a brightly colored cartoon world with my pudgy little plumber buddy trying to save Princess Toadstool. Maybe it’s just my own perverted mind set, but I have to wonder about the beginning of the game. The princess invites Mario to her castle to eat a cake she just baked. Hmm...I wonder if that’s all he’s going there for. Well, the dating habits of video game characters aren’t any of my business, so I’ll just let that thought die there.

Again, I had some trouble navigating the 3-D landscape. Particularly troublesome was the camera. I could never find the right angle. Either I was too close or too far, and at times I couldn’t see Mario at all through the trees and hills. I also got dizzy, which was a surprise because I thought my bouts with simulator sickness were a thing of the past. And there was this one feeling that I couldn’t shake. Call it dejaz-vous if you want. I just couldn’t help but feel that I’d played this game before. Maybe I did, a couple of years ago on a visit to my brother out west, but I doubt it. I didn’t have to learn how to do anything new. I could already jump, run, pick things up, climb, and everything else. It was just intuitive. Within half an hour I had pretty much gotten the hang of moving around, and in spite of getting lost a few times, I managed to diffuse the big Bob-omb in the first level and win a star. For the first time since I began writing this column, I actually saved a game so that I could return to it later. That was really a momentous occasion.

Still, there are a couple of drawbacks (in my book) to Mario 64. For one thing, those pesky camera angles. Maybe that’s why I got so dizzy, all that zooming in and out. But then there were other things. The reason that I loved the old Super Mario Bros. games is that they were so simple. You followed the screen from left to right, jumping on enemies, hitting blocks, and collecting coins. It was perfect simplicity. Although I like this next generation of Mario games, I can’t help but notice that in adapting the game to new technology, its creators had to leave that element of simplicity behind. And it’s unfortunate. Not that this is an extremely difficult game to play, but I just feel that there’s something lacking.

I guess that old cliche is true. You can’t go home again. You can go to a place that looks like home, with familiar faces and names, but something is always different. No matter how many improvements developers make when they update old favorites to new tastes, I can’t help but feel that some of the spirit has been lost. I’ll never touch Donkey Kong 64 again. And while Mario 64 is a great game that I can’t wait to continue playing, I long for the old one. So I think I’m just going to sit in a corner tonight with my GameBoy Color and play Super Mario Bros. until my thumbs hurt and it’s past my bedtime.

-Heather "elki" Haselkorn actually enjoys this.


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