It’s typical – when you look for ROMs, you get hentai. When you look for hentai…


Super Mario World (1992)

I’m going to let you in on a dirty little secret – I love emulating games, I simply love it. I can’t get enough of the stuff. Configuring BIOS, downloading Good ROM sets, jailbreaking modern consoles to get the bogey games up and running, come at me. Of course, I love collecting the actual legal physical games as well, but would I be unreasonable to suggest that ROMs and emulators are the best invention since sliced bread and recordable television?

In the same way that the boys and girls from black and white days would never forget the magic of hearing their first radio broadcast or seeing their first television transmission or even watching the first ever train snail on by, I doubt I’ll ever forget loading up my first ROM.

I know it’s sad, but look, some children are Macaulay Culkin and get everyone gushing over them, and some children are his brother in Home Alone who pees in the bed. Well, that’s who I was.

While browsing the Super Mario All-Stars GameFAQs board (fresh after my daily dose of blackjack and hookers of course), I saw many references to people playing on emulators. With great ignorance I posted topics asking what this magic was and where I could get my hands on some. I now see how heroin junkies come about.

These law-shattering topics were deleted immediately, but after spamming the board with 27 of them I finally got pointed in the right direction and off I went.

In those days downloading a 1-megabyte file took a few minutes, if you can actually believe that. But by God, was I willing to wait. Then, with my trusty keyboard serving as a makeshift controller, I loaded up Mario All-Stars and within minutes I was hitting up the ice world in SMB3, right there on my PC.

I just couldn’t believe it. To be honest, I still can’t really believe it or wrap my big bonce around how emulation all works, almost 20 years on. All I knew was, I now wielded the power. Games I had missed out on back in the day were now at my fingertips, and all for nowt.

There were even fans out there translating games like Seiken Densetsu 3/Secret of Mana 2. A sequel to my favourite ever game and I never knew a thing about it until that moment! There it was lying there in bed, spread-eagled and looking appealing, ready for all the action I wanted. Well, they say you never forget your first hard-on.

I used that PC keyboard to suffer through many a SNES game for years. Hell, I even tried branching out to what were then current N64 games. I distinctly remember attempting to download the recently released Majora’s Mask, and my download manager telling me there was an estimated download time left of 2 weeks.

A fortnight! A tough ask when the internet cost more money before 6PM and just one phone call would end it all. Perhaps this ridiculous time-frame was due to the inevitable awfulness of whatever site it was I found. For the site to actually have hefty enough bandwidth for massive N64 games, they must have had a billion ads and pop-ups to sustain its many healthbars.

The internet was a bit of a Wild West back then but still, finding the damn things and getting them onto your hard-drive was a terrible ordeal. Generally you’d find some “Top 50 ROM site” after a Yahoo search, where you’d struggle to see the actual link under several hentai and ecchi ads.

Then you’d click a site and it would ask you to vote for them, whatever that meant, and in many cases the hungry sods would want your vote three times, and even then it wasn’t guaranteed you were gonna get your EarthBound download started.

Amusingly, most of the ROM sites reminded you of the “law” where you were only allowed to download ROMs for games that you own, and if you didn’t own them you had to delete them after 24 hours, as if this was some sort of EU directive or universal law or something.

Needless to say, the police never came busting down my door because I’d gotten myself a dubious copy of Tales of Phantasia. Although maybe I’ve hanged myself here and given them all the evidence they need? Either way, it stands to reason that you probably shouldn’t take legal counsel from a site trying to sell you naked figurines of anime lolicons.

But then came the next watershed moment for me – ROM hacks. You gotta understand that as a mentally challenged young child, I filled notepad after notepad and copybook after copybook with either new course layouts for F-Zero SNES that I’d have loved to race on, or drawings of Mario levels that I’d love to be able to platform through.

So you can imagine that it wasn’t only my jaw that dropped when I found out about Super Mario World ROM hacking, and the wonderful editing tool Lunar Magic that made it all possible. Suddenly my dreams became reality. Yes, yes, I know, we’ve already established how sad I am. But this was huge news for me. Probably the greatest Mario platformer ever, or at least on par with SMB3, and now I can mould it to my own desires!

Or at least, to an extent. Laziness dictated that I never actually finished a Mario hack. In fact, I barely even finished a world. But that’s OK because there are probably thousands if not tens of thousands of custom Mario levels out there across hundreds of hacks, and some of them do sensational things to an already very fine game.

But where am I going? As always, I’m going on about tins of salmon and watchmakers when I should be giving you the lowdown on the game at hand. It probably goes without saying that kicking your Nintendo console off with a mainline Mario title is probably half the battle for console generation supremacy won, and when the SNES released with this massive title bundled, Sega ran for cover.

Famously, there are 96 exits (not 96 levels as was advertised) to find, and a battery backup for the first time in Mario-dom makes completing this task all the more convenient. It could be said that some levels are samey, owing to limitations at the time and the sheer number of levels (sorry, “courses”) to complete over 7 worlds (plus two more worlds hidden).

But with multiple paths through the game, many levels featuring two possible exits, the ability to control the ever popular Yoshi for the first time and classic powerups to be found, plus all of this presented in a 16-bit package with next generation sound and graphics, Super Mario World was a day one classic.

Mario controls beautifully and any deaths are your fault. Not that that matters too much because the game is a trifle on the easy side, but at least it means anyone can play – in fact, there’s probably no better introduction to the world of platforming games and all the nuances and what-have-yous that come with that. You can play through this sucker and come away with a beaming smile on your face, any day of the week. And if you’re not too afraid of the dark side, you can pick up a highly illegal ROM of the game and let your imagination run wild.

4 April 2018

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