A scientific calculator is no match for exploding Koopas

SuperMarioLand

Super Mario Land (1990)

When I revisited Super Mario Land not long back, I thought I was playing a calculator, never mind a Game Boy. We had to buy scientific calculators in school in order to keep up with some of the ridiculous maths stuff that was coming our way – things likes xs, ys, and many other letters – what was wrong with numbers? Then there was sins, tans and coses… we were getting hit by these daily, and even our shiny new calculators couldn’t deal with whatever on earth an asymptote was. But I used to be seething with envy at our school colleagues in the US, who had access to Texas Instruments calculators, machines which I’m led to believe are the Rolls-Royces of computation and arithmetic. We really were deprived schoolchildren. 

You could even program full games onto those Texas boys. These days, you might even be able to get Pokémon Emerald on there, and I can’t see much maths homework getting done after that. Back in the day, the most I could do on my calculator was use the inbuilt hexadecimal code to type out FEED.ME.BEEF. Our maths teacher used to lament, “you won’t always have a calculator with you in life”. Wrong about that one, wasn’t he? 

He also caught wind of the fact that I wasn’t doing my maths homework properly, instead preferring to get the answers directly from the back of the book. I thought, why double-job? But he went on to frequently tell the class, “Don’t do a Burkey on it”. So that’s right, peasants, I have an entire mathematical method named after me. I might even attract the attention of that Danica McKellar now. Alls I did was skip the dogwork. 

And so what? Who needs to learn how to do it? You get to the working world, and it’s all about cutting through the available resources and getting to the answer that some other eggheads have already worked out. The executive summary, they call it. Collegiate pencil-neck academics would call that plagiarism. Well, if you ask me, college actually unprepared you for the working world, if that’s the way they look at it. You can do pretty well any desk job once you know how to Google something properly. So what did I need a calculator in maths class for?

Super Mario Land is another Mario game from the bizarro world – I call this one Super Mario Twilight Zone. And I simply cannot believe its calculator presentation with the little midget sprites. If you’re playing on an original brick Game Boy, forget it. It’s just black and green blobs moving about, reminiscent of cells under a microscope, impossible to make out. The game looks and plays like it was designed on the back of a fag packet.

And it’s proper treat-size as well: you can beat it in 40 minutes slowing up, just so long as you’re canny enough to bag some extra lives at the end of each level, since you’ll be unused to a Mario game that plays like this and therefore you’ll die a fair bit. Anyway, there’s only 12 levels, four worlds of three, and more wild than that – two of them are horizontal shooters.

But by the end of it all, nothing ends up surprising you in this game. It’s just madman stuff happening morning, noon and night. Defeated Koopas explode for some reason. Your fireballs take one bounce off the floor and then just soar on upwards into space. You’re up against humanoid kung-fu fighters and realistic spiders. The last boss is a return to the horizontal shooter, against some alien non-entity called Tatanga. The Can-Can starts playing when you pick up a Star. There’s loads of bonus levels down the pipes but heaven knows when you’ll get an actual Mushroom from a block, it’s almost random.

And most crazily of all, there’s no Peach to rescue – this time, like the 1993 film, it’s Daisy who gets the shout. The game sold zillions, but I actually don’t think very many people beat Super Mario Land back in the day, nor did they read the manual, so nobody really had a notion who Daisy was. It was probably the reason why she felt the need to introduce herself every 10 seconds in Mario Kart: Double Dash.

But here’s the thing – when me and the lads have one of our long, Jameson-fuelled debates about who’s the top mot out of Peach, Daisy and Rosalina, the boys tend to be surprised when I pick Daisy. They all go for Rosalina, and I can see why. She seems to be 10-foot tall, and has what would have been called an emo fringe at the time. I think she’s immortal as well. All plus-points. So why Daisy?

Well, the Game and Watch graphics of Super Mario Land won’t have conveyed this, but Princess Daisy is a minx. By which I mean, she has that wild streak, a bit of a manic glint in her eye. I always say that there are some girls who, it’s dangerous to be left alone in a room with them because they’ll start taking their clothes off and cackling at you while you start coming over all Catholic and going “Gosh… golly, you can’t… well… that’s…”. She’d then jump on top of you, not even to rump you straight away but to wrestle with you first, and you don’t know what to do or where to look. You’re getting emasculated totally here, going beetroot red, but she’s well into it.

Anyway, that’s what I imagine Daisy to be. I think I’ve only ever encountered her in Mario Kart, maybe a Mario Tennis game or other, so I’m making wildly sexist assumptions here, but you tell me if I’m wrong. She’d just be crazy fun and nutty, like a box of doped up quokkas.

It’s why I can’t get on board with this whole thing of setting her up as a love interest for Luigi. I suspect poor, meek Luigi would be easy prey for someone as extraverted as Daisy. Still, if she plays her cards right, she could get a mansion out of it. It’s just a pity that the man in green won’t ever have the testicular fortitude to give Daisy what she needs.

Going back to Mario’s adventures in LCD if I may, it’s another set of jumping physics for you to get used to. But they’re not exactly award-winning, if I’m honest. Mario can jump in place, and then move off to a side. But when you wanna try a diagonal jump onto a moving platform, forget it – it’s anyone’s guess if you’ll make it or not. By the latter stages of the game you’ll be jumping on moving platforms that are about a gnat’s chuff in width and breadth, so this begins to matter greatly. But then it doesn’t matter at all when you’re put in a submarine and you’re turbo-firing rocks out of your way.

But I do like the game, you know, even if you get less than an hour’s juice out of it. I won’t fall in love with it or hold its hand or take walks among the flowers with it. It’s not Yoshi’s Island, if I can put it that way. And it’s not a minx that’ll tear your head off then give you a consolation shag afterwards.

But it’s like a cat – a delight whenever you see it again, but then it starts doing odd things and you just shake your head and steer well clear. Or rather, it’s like my old scientific calculator from school – almost dead, forgotten, grey and archaic. But you’ll get that same short-lived burst of giddy excitement when you type in 5318008 and flip it upside-down.

20 September 2019

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