We may all hate them, but babies have it easy


Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island (1995)

I want you to sit back and see if you can think of your earliest memory. I’m not asking this in the hopes of you giving me your accounts, photos or videos of being breastfed – although if you do, please send them to the usual address. It’s just interesting, isn’t it? You may very well have memories of yourself from back when you were a crying, gibbering, clumsy, self-defecating mess, and I mean from before you turned drinking age. No matter how great you are today, you know that squawking child that caused irritation to every member of the public in a 400-yard radius and prompted mass tutting and unspoken, polite disapproval?  That was you that was, and we all hated you.

OK, maybe hate is a strong word. But babies are awfully irritating aren’t they? And ugly too. Everyone thinks they have the cutest baby, but have you seen newborns?! They are ugly, bruised gremlins with scrunched up faces, most of them have bodies like the Michelin man. Some even come out of the womb in a manner that could only be described as excessively hairy.

For the most part though, they’re all tarred with the same ugly brush. All of these observations would be rather crass to bring up in polite company, however. So when you are invited to look at your pal’s new baby for the first time, you’d better behave properly by peering in, looking down at little Geodude and going “awww”.

Let me give you my two earliest memories, although I’ll warn you up front that they are both banal to an incredible degree. The first one relates to the old cot I used to sleep in. I can still hazily picture that particular cot now: a sort of 1980s wooden deathtrap, more suited to restraining animals or storing guns and ammunition than giving young children a cosy night’s sleep.

I wasn’t exactly much of a sleeper as a lad. I’m not even really much of a sleeper these days, come to think of it, but one night in the early 90s I’d had enough. I had places to be, the dark landing or the dimly lit bathroom perhaps, somewhere where I could go and eat cigarettes and small coins in peace. Those were my treats, you see.

Even on my two little feet with my knobbly knees stretched to maximum capacity, I could have only stood about two foot high. When it came to Operation Breakout of the Cot, I wasn’t exactly suited for the mission. But I was choc full of determination and grit, and with no witnesses around to impede my progress, I was able to have a clear run at it.

Improvisation was key – I set up a wee makeshift platform from my beloved red and blue blankets that I always clung onto tightly at bedtime, two blankys that are still around the house somewhere. I threw a few more pillows onto my makeshift structure and finally I had the booster I needed to up-and-over past the unsanded wooden bars and hotfoot it out the door.

I dropped to the floor with a thud that I can still remember, and crawled out to the landing. Light, and Freedom! I can’t remember what happened next, but you would imagine that I fell asleep and was re-captured almost immediately, before being brought back to prison, which would go on to have additional iron bars and motion sensor alarms installed. Still, what a rush!

The second memory I have is even more mundane, but quite a bit more troubling. I’m back in that wretched cot again, and I’m on my feet. It’s early morning, and I have nowhere to be, no people to keep happy, no traffic or public transport to contend with and certainly nobody to tell me when I can and can’t play with my teddies.

But I do seemingly have a craving, which my mother responds to by bringing me… a glass of Coca-Cola. Could that be considered child abuse these days? It won’t have done wonders for my budding baby teeth, that’s for sure. I gave up that awful stuff years (too many years) later and swapped it out for Coke Zero and Diet Coke, which are of course far better options and which I’m sure are probably as healthy as water, perhaps moreso. Still, when you have those sobering moments of introspection, where you cast your mind back to determine where your life went, it’s those thoughts that rise to the surface, vivid and bright. Could this be where I went wrong?

Makes me wonder if Mario has any vague memories of the tropics of Yoshi’s Island. You hope he doesn’t at times, because some odd, potentially traumatising stuff goes on. To start with, he gets separated from his twin brother Luigi while being delivered to their parents by the stork. Wait, Mario and Luigi have parents?! And there’s no sexual intercourse, insemination, impregnation? Is any of this canon? Lord knows, but it’s probably the most we’ve ever found out about the Bros.

Anyway, Baby Bowser and Kamek the Magikoopa actually try to abduct the babies, and succeed in doing so where Luigi is concerned. Mario gets knocked out of the sky and drops about 5,000 feet onto Yoshi’s back. Well, I’ve heard of plenty of people getting lumbered with unwanted children, but that kind of luck is on a whole other level of horrendousness. Not once on my journey through Yoshi’s Island did I see a post office, so where could any potential child benefit for Yoshi come from?

Then the actual levels begin, and you’ve got Piranha Plants trying to eat you, mischievous Shy Guys taking liberties, bosses that grow storeys tall in front of your very eyes, and all the while there are Toadies waiting to abduct Mario. There are even sequences where Mario gets a Star powerup, gains the use of his little knobbly legs and starts darting about in his nappy, but not before Yoshi turns into a helicopter and flies around the place, weaving in and out of ghosties, but all of this only leads to a famous sequence in which Yoshi touches Fuzzy and has his first LSD trip. This is all in the first handful of levels, by the way, and things only get nuttier and more joyous to play from there.

This all takes place against lush crayon-drawn graphics, a sight better than Donkey Kong Country and more than a cut above the early 3D games that were grabbing the headlines at the time. You take a look at Tomb Raider in motion and then watch some of the boss battles in Yoshi’s Island, and you tell me which game has polygons rough enough to gouge your eyes out on, and which game massages your eyes. So massaged will your eyes be, they’ll begin weeping tears of joy down your bewildered face as you watch an enraged giant raven run laps around the patchwork moon.

Your senses will be brought back to Earth, inevitably, by the infamous shrill crying of Baby Mario when Yoshi finally tires of him and prepares to surrender him to the enemies. In truth, I can ignore the little brat’s crying all day – it’s the even more shrill countdown noise with less than ten seconds to go that gets me. Do you have a black enough heart to let Mario be taken? I say, why not? He’s being brought to a vast castle anyway. That Yoshi’s Island is a deathtrap, not fit for a baby. If anyone’s the irresponsible parent here, it’s not Baby Bowser (spoiler alert), it’s the fiendish clan of Yoshis keeping the little wouldbe plumber hostage.

The game itself puts you through much the same emotions as introducing a baby to the world. Some very hard work at times, lots of heavy crying and noisy confusion, times where you wonder was it even worth it to begin with, the sleepless nights and the parental conflicts, but too late to go back now. But by the end of it all, when the credits roll and the smiling Mario Bros are reunited and held up with love, you may just find yourself getting that bit emotional at this wonderful creation.

11 June 2018

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