Welcome to number three in my on going review of 2010. It is not coverage of the best games, or the worst, but instead a look at those titles that became emotional touchstone for me over what was a difficult year. This time it is New Super Mario Bros, and it focuses a little more on the memories around the game than the game itself.
New Super Mario Bros holds a particularly conflicted place for me in my memories of 2010. After the usual blanket TV ad campaign that Nintendo subjects all Japanese audiences to, interest was high. While it released in 2009 limited funds in my UK account meant I was forced to wait some time before I was able to import a compatible copy. During this wait I was constantly being asked by my girlfriend of the time when I was getting it. This was a woman who barely tolerated my gaming, but here was a game she wanted to play and that we could play together.
On its arrival at my door she was suddenly keen to share my hobby. After this her first question everyday upon arriving home from work was if we could play. Sometimes I even found myself reluctant about playing due to commitments to cover other titles, but I always tried to make time.
We would laugh and enjoy hours with it each evening. At first I would play sloppily, ensuring she did not feel out classed. She quickly improved however, and within a few days it was no longer necessary for me to handicap myself as she was happily bouncing her way through levels. Frequently it was her completing a stage as I died in my unthinking haste. While I would still pick up her Luigi and throw him around in an attempt to maintain an illusion of my superiority, the truth is she was probably my equal (even if she never believed me when I told her).
It is the beauty of New Super Mario Bros that at this point everyone of a certain age is almost certain to have had some exposure to it or one of its forefathers. With just a few additional, well-demonstrated controls the d-pad and two buttons are enough to make it through each of the games archetypal levels.
I had only played the game with her, at her request. I never indulged in solo player sessions, preferring instead to keep it for us.
But my memories of it are bittersweet. While I look back on it fondly it marked perhaps the best of my final days with her, and indeed overlapped painfully with our break up. Key among my negative recollections is a day we had a visitor. A mutual friend from a local karaoke bar, and while I cooked my girlfriend entertained.
Most people may not appreciate the inherent difficulties of an intercultural relationship. Touchstones are sometimes hard to find. It isn’t that there aren’t any connections, but when meeting new people of the same culture there often seems to be an ease that can’t help but make the other partner jealous.
So it was this day. As I cooked the two of them sat playing Mario and laughing. I was already worried about them, knowing there was some attraction, but their enjoyment of each other’s company really started to grate on me as I worked. Their ease in conversation was made all the worse by the time they had been spending together at the bar he worked at, and the struggles we were both silently starting to feel in our relationship. And as I beavered away in the kitchen Mario’s jaunty tunes provided a theme tune to my anger.
I could elaborate at length on the problems of my relationship; suffice to say that my feelings that day were symptomatic of a larger issue that plagued my ex and I. It crystallised the fact that it would not work, that we were unhappy for reasons neither of us could rectify, however much we wanted to.
That day sealed the fate of my relationship. It still hurts and is inseparably intertwined with New Super Mario Bros. Now playing it I feel only melancholy where there should be joy. Each jump deadens me a little inside until it becomes impossible to continue. Our save file will forever sit at world six. A game designed to bring people together did so, until I found my person gone, replaced by a horrible loneliness.
Logically I should sell it, remove it from my life, but I cannot because somewhere in all the hurt having it on my shelf is still a comfort. Even with all of the loneliness and pain it reminds me of, it still holds memories of the good times.