Why frustrating? Because Super Mario Bros. isn’t a game I’d call easy. It was a Mario title that was born before the age where every Mario game became noticeably easier than the previous (an age that began right around Super Mario World and for the most part continues to this day with very rare exceptions like Galaxy 2). In other words, even today, Super Mario Bros. can be tricky at times and to a three-year-old it might as well be fucking Demon’s Souls. Because of that, I will without shame say that in my younger years I absolutely sucked at Mario. At almost-age-four my reaction time wasn’t even close to prime and I didn’t exactly feel like memorizing every level of the game, because did you expect me to remember the layout to 8-1 before I entered kindergarten? This caused occasional angry fits from me as I promptly reset my NES and jumped into the more calming world that was Duck Hunt (which reminds me, how come with the point-and-click ready Wii did nobody ever think of remaking that game?!).
My understandable lack of patience at that age led to lots, and I mean lots, of game overs. I became extremely familiar with that damn jingle that signified that World 1-1 was your next stop, it was the original “First World Problem”. You know what else I became extremely familiar with?
The first Goomba.
The first Goomba is to Super Mario as the jump program is to The Matrix. It’s the first test, the first thing to ask you “are you ready for this shit?” You know how in The Matrix they say “Nobody makes the first jump”, right? Well the same rule should really be applied to the Goomba in 1-1 because, c’mon, a lot of you have been foiled by this little bastard (or his jerk cousin in Mario 3) at some point in your lives. Hell, that little buttface will catch me off guard sometimes if I’m just dicking around (or drunk).
My friends and I have a saying when we play Mario games, “Nobody dies on the first Goomba!” While we obviously say it in jest, when I sit back and actually think about the saying it almost seems like a subtle reminder that these little squishy bastards can still totally ruin your shit if you get careless around them, because you’ll definitely feel like a moron if you lose a fire-flower at the hands of a lowly Goomba. My friends and I also frequently use this saying because we’ve all been foiled by a Goomba at some point in our Mario-lives, and it’s damn embarrassing losing a life to one. You feel so embarrassed by it that it is likely that Shigeru Miyamoto himself rolled over in his bed and quietly smiled while laughing at you in his sleep.
My beginnings with video games are tied directly to this legendary first Goomba. He’s the first thing, besides my own recklessness, that poses any sort of threat to you and he also teaches you the most basic function of the Mario franchise – jumping. During all of my youthful attempts to slay King Koopa the first Goomba became both the something I quietly loved to see but at the same time something I hated to see. Seeing him again meant you had returned to a simpler time when the game was being nice to you, yet returning to this simpler time is a harsh reminder of your own failure.
And believe me, my young self failed a lot. In fact, conquering Super Mario Bros. gave me the same jubilation that I had when I beat Dark Souls late last year. There was an unrivaled joy, a sort of "king of the world" feeling, that made me feel like I had truly progressed as a gamer. Conquering Mario made me not fear failure anymore, and the first Goomba eventually became nothing but a welcoming sight.
When you think about it, the Goomba is really one of the most perfect basic enemies in video game history. While they are still hostile to Mario they will only prove harmful if the player screws up, at the right place & right time they can be ever so annoying, at the right place & right time they can also be ever so helpful, and are great to throw at rookie players who are just learning to play (because imagine how much 1-1 would suck if they threw a Lakitu or Hammer Brother at you instead).
In certain ways I'd say every gamer has a symbolic "First Goomba" in their gaming lives, while it may not be Mario related I'm sure every gamer has that one first foe that imprinted into their mind.
So here’s to you, iconic first Goomba. Nobody dies on the first Goomba anymore because the first Goomba, or his family, has inevitably claimed one of us in our quest to save the Princess. And while she may not be there when we reach the next castle, we have the comfort of knowing that you’ll be there when we return to our humble beginnings.
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