Welcome to the second installment of The 3rd Party Memory Card, inspired by Mr. Birthdayweek Boy Concelmo's similarly named feature. The premiere installment was pretty heavy, what with all the cannibalism, so if you're expecting this episode to be a bit more light and carefree, you've made a pretty safe bet. I suppose the title pretty much gave that away. Anyway, let's get started with the moment, this time from one of the few early NES games still worth playing.
Was there any doubt?
I could go on and on about the remarkable physics, the brilliant level design, the stunning (for the time) graphics and music, and the way everything coalesces into magic, but that's not what this article is about. If you are a gamer, you have played this game. This is one of the games everyone must play, and it would be shocking if you have not given its popularity, lineage, multiple re-releases, and the ease with which you can NOT find a ROM
and NOT emulate
After hightailing it through seven or less worlds and (possibly) getting pretty damned annoyed that the princess is always in another castle, the skilled and determined player reaches the 32nd level of the game, 8-4. As it turns out, this is Another Castle, the final level of the game. There is no explicit outward indication that the end of Mario's quest is near, although the difficulty and design of the preceding stages may provide a clue. Shortly inside the castle, however, there are even more clues.
None of the preceding castles featured enemies from the other levels. The obstacles before consisted solely of fireballs, rotating bars of fire, and lava pits. Pipes had never featured in a castle up to this point as well.
Cheep-Cheeps flying out of lava? Yeah, this is almost certainly the final level.
Mario dodges the Cheep-Cheeps, crosses the lava pit, and reaches this pipe, the next step in the hell of a pipe maze that makes up 8-4. If the player didn't figure the end was near yet, going down this pipe will leave little doubt. This is:
The Moment: What the hell?
You got water stage in my castle!
You got castle in my water stage!
Mario emerges from a pink pipe to find himself in a short, flooded section of the castle, replete with bloopers. Bloopers, and fire. Underwater. The wacky relationship between fire and water that the player put to good use earlier in the game has suddenly been employed by the enemy to turn the tables. While this section isn't the hardest to navigate, it is fairly difficult to navigate while still keeping your Fire Mario/Super Mario powerup.
Which is very cruel, as the final room of the game awaits upon emerging from the flooded passage, and Mario's final obstacles are a trickily positioned hammer brother and a hammer-throwing, fire-breathing Bowser. Shigeru Miyamoto is a real bastard sometimes.
The streamlined simplicity of Super Mario Bros. makes it difficult in a way to pinpoint any one moment of the game as memorable. Sure, there are lots of aspects of the game that are iconic, but defeating Bowser at the end is much like defeating him the previous seven times, and the ending isn't particularly noteworthy. The game stays pretty fresh throughout, but there is very little that sticks with you beyond bits and pieces like "Oh, yeah, that part with the bridge and the goombas in 3-1 where you can get the 1-up, that was cool."
This moment, the flooded part of the final castle, sticks out in large part due to the music. The castle music and underwater music are both heard several times already throughout the game, there's nothing especially about hearing them one more time in the game. What stands out about this moment is the juxtaposition of the two tunes. Without warning, right in the middle of the final castle, the tone changes from desperate and foreboding to whimsical and happy on the strength of the music. In addition, the change from the black, gray, and red palette of the castle to the green, blue, and pink of the sea also has an effect. This section stands out in contrast to the rest of the level, and to the rest of the castle levels.
Reading about it, this moment may not seem all that special or different from any of the other set pieces in the game that one can recall. However, every time I play Super Mario Bros. and get to world 8-4, I'm always a little bit amused by the sudden contrast and the illusion of whimsy that the music imparts while I'm desperately trying to keep my fire flower. Nobody wants to try and get past that hammer brother without a fire flower.
It's not an epic moment, it's not emotional, but depending on your sense of humor, it's a bit funny, and for me certainly qualifies as a moment I always remember.