The first memory I ever have of beating a video game was around the new millennium. I don’t remember the exact year all this time later, but everything else is crystal clear. My two baby cousins, kids who as far as I’m concerned are my two younger brothers, were sitting on my family’s old raggedy green couch. They were little, I mean real little, the youngest couldn’t have been older than 2 or 3. We were in my basement, in this tiny, weird corner that was hidden away and blocked off from the rest, where my PlayStation 2, a TV, and a couch that wasn’t nice enough for guests all sat. The N64 was at our feet and its classic game, Super Mario 64 was booted up.
Hours and hours had been poured into the game, I have no real recollections of beginning to play, no idea how I got as far as I did. I’m sure my younger cousins don’t even remember the event, honestly the youngest probably didn’t even know what was happening at the time too much. But this day was something special, all three of us in that room could feel that. I was going to beat this game.
Time slipped away, the outside world melted and ceased to exist, it was just us, in that tiny alcove in the basement, doing battle with the mightiest of the Mushroom Kingdom’s foes. The N64, floor, and our fingers covered in cheeto crumbs and sweat. My time had finally come to face off with Bowser once and for all.
That final level leading up to Bowser is still there in my mind. It’s hidden behind some cobwebs, tucked away, but deep within my mind it remains. The final fight with him though, that I can recall in grim detail. Every second, footstep, and terrifying mistake. I had been here before, many times I had summoned the courage, braved the obstacles that stood before me and made my stand against this scourge of evil and villainy… I always lost.
This time was different though, I just knew it. It had to be. I had figured it all out, I knew I had. I grabbed his tail, spun him around and tossed him. BOOM! The explosion rocked and shook the screen. That was easy though, I had been here before, the first hit wasn’t what I wanted. He was mad now, I knew that, I knew what I needed to do, running around, jumping over anything in my way I grabbed his tail again and tossed him. BOOOOM!!! The second blast seemed louder, even as I knew it wasn’t. This was rarified air, tossing him twice, I was in the midst of legends now. This was the stuff of heroes, of people written in history.
I was close, one more, that had to be all, right? Everything got blocked out, I was standing now, I don’t know when I rose, screaming, running for my life, as Bowser seemed both larger and angrier and yet also more vulnerable than ever before. This, to quote “Hamilton”, was my shot. I sure as hell couldn’t waste it, couldn’t throw it away. Who knew if it would come again. Dodging, jumping, and moving Mario as much as I could, I wove my way to Bowser. I don’t know how he didn’t see me, but I grabbed his tail, I couldn’t believe it, this was totally uncharted waters. I dug my palm into the stick on the N64 controller, spinning and turning it like nothing had ever been rotated before, I had just one shot, it had to work, he had to hit the bomb, he just had too. The speed built up, he was going faster faster, I lined it up best I could… oh god maybe he was going to fast. The thought flashed through my mind for one quick second, I wouldn’t be able to get back here. No. No, this was my moment, I had this. My younger cousins didn’t know whether to look at me or the screen. I let go of Bowser and sent him flying, towards what I hoped would be my glory.
This moment and the ensuing chaos is a second frozen in time. Me rocketing into the air, as my cousins looked on awestruck, me coming back down and falling to my knees, getting buried by the dog-pile of my cousins. The impossible had happened. Do you believe in miracles, Al Michaels had screamed all those years before? YES, YES! I screamed back.
This is the memory I always think of when I talk about Super Mario 64. I talk often of how much I love this game, of how it easily makes the list of my favorite games. Part of me wonders if I really was just putting this incredible high on the list. I haven’t played the game in years now. The first game I ever beat. Frozen in time, preserved through the ages, that moment endures. It’s part of what makes games so special, the story behind why we play, the story of us playing. It’s a mini-narrative within the larger game. There are a million Mario playthroughs, but no two is exactly the same. No other is mine. No other, is the first time I beat a game.