I moved to New York City from Tulsa in the summer of 2003. I feel like I say this a lot, but that was a strange time in my life. I had upended everything I had known, while in the process making some personal decisions that hurt those close to me, not least of all the girl with whom I moved to New York. At the time we found our apartment, we were engaged; by Christmas following the move, we were no longer dating. It should tell you something about the exigencies of living in New York that we continued to live together for another year and a half after that.
In that first year, I saw Peelander-Z at Pianos on my 21st birthday, left college due to inability to pay, worked as a barista for the first (but certainly not the last) time, and met several people who would become my best friends in New York, including some fucking guy. In addition to all that, I went back to Oklahoma to reconnect with my friends and family every few months. Given my frequently-shifting personal circumstances and relationships, each visit proved to be a little different and occasionally surreal. With all that change, I needed a constant. That constant was Super Mario 64.
At that time, I usually stayed at my family’s house when I visited. That meant, among other things, being reunited with my Nintendo 64. During the PlayStation/N64 generation, my brother and I had bargained that, when we no longer lived together, I would take the PlayStation and he would take the N64. Say what you will about the relative merits of each system; for my part, I think it would take a pretty staunch defender of the Nintendo faith to argue that it was a better system than the Sony back then. Nevertheless, I got the short end of that trade, as by the time I moved out, I had a PS2 that I had purchased entirely with my own money and that happened to play all of my PlayStation games. The upshot there is that I did not get to play any of my N64 games after I left that house.
Growing up, my brother and I had a longstanding tradition (if you want to call it that) of taking a fresh save file of Super Mario World and beating it to completion. All it took was a free evening and a few simple words: “You want to star-96 Mario World?”
After my move out of Oklahoma, the tradition evolved. My brother and I obviously saw less of each other, which allowed such disasters as his ponytail/patchy beard combination to happen outside of my watch. (I say this from the distance of years, because I also had long hair and it was not good times.) When we did see each other, it would be for five days or a week of consecutive nights. Sure, we could (and did) play Mario World just like in the old days, but we also added Super Mario 64 and its 120 stars to our repertoire.
I’ve probably completed Mario 64 a couple dozen times, give or take a few. I am no expert, but I like to think (rightly) that I am pretty fucking good at it. Given the, ah, checkered history of 3D platforming games to that point, I can safely say that my time could have been much worse spent.
Most of those playthroughs were alongside my brother. We grew up playing games together, watching each other play, helping out on tough puzzles, and snarking like a couple of jerks. Over time, we developed a harmony that no one could ever have imagined when we were younger and fighting over whose turn it was. By the time of these nostalgic trips through Mario 64, we didn’t even need words. We would just start the game and pass the controller off after every star or every death.
He got his turns following my deaths much more frequently than me after his; it can be hard to play well when you have a sarcastic ass commenting on your every move. But over the course of a few days, we would get through the game, patiently and occasionally hilariously knocking out each star. We would toss Bowser around like a recalcitrant baby and rescue Princess Peach. Again. It was the same old story, wrapped in a new and awesome package and we played it over and over.
In the sea of turmoil that was my life, my brother and Mario 64 were the Penny to my Desmond. Only, you know, with much less romance and many more gay incest jokes.
My brother lives with me now. Over time, as I grew more stable and more accustomed to my life in NYC, I visited Tulsa with decreasing frequency. At the moment, the reasons for another visit might be limited to funerals or weddings. (Both, if schedules align.)
Unfortunately, we have not played through either of those halcyon Mario games since he has lived in New York, because I don’t know where our old consoles are and also I am too lazy to get it together and buy them on the Virtual Console or something. If it came to it, though, I don’t have an iota of doubt that we would get through it just like old times.
We still play (different) games together, just as always, and we still snark on each other just as much, and he still gets all the best burns at my expense. Even with a world of change, some things remain.