Renting Super Mario RPG in the 90s made it a co-op game
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars is by far my most played single-player game of all time, despite the fact that I never played it until recently. To me, Mario RPG is kind of like a movie you’ve only ever seen on cable. You never sit down to watch it to the end, but you catch enough of it that you finally feel like you’ve seen the whole movie. My unconventional experience playing Mario RPG is the result of repeatedly renting the game over the course of a year and working with the help of another kid I don’t know and have never met . For me, Super Mario RPG will always be a cooperative game and a perfect representation of the idiosyncrasies of gaming in the 90s.
If you walked into a Blockbuster video in 1998, you’ll find a corner of the store filled with PlayStation and N64 games for rent. Most millennials probably have fond memories of the first time they rented Metal Gear Solid or Banjo-Kazooie, but I didn’t have a current-gen console back then. Instead, I was across the street at my local Schnucks grocery store, swapping newspaper coupons for $1 Super Nintendo rentals. My favorite game, of course, was Super Mario RPG, despite the fact that I could never get past Tadpole Pond.
I was only allowed to play video games for an hour after school every day, so every time I got to Mallow’s, my rental ran out and I had to return it to the store. I would try to renew it, but there was always a waiting list for the only copy of Schnucks’ game. By the time I recovered it, I invariably found my save file overwritten. So I would restart, play Tadpole Pond, then start the cycle all over again. I must have repeated this process half a dozen times before one day I got tired of rebooting and just started playing on another save file.
At first it was confusing. I was in a new town that I didn’t recognize, and there was a weird guy in my group who was wearing a blue cape and was shooting bullets with his finger. It wasn’t long before I came across a tip that took me to an island full of Yoshies, and I knew I had made the right decision. I stopped worrying about what I missed and continued on to Moleville, recruited Bowser and finally made my way to Booster Tower before I had to flip the game again.
A few weeks later, when I rented the game again, I was pleased to find that the save file hadn’t been erased, but was now even more advanced than where I had left it. . This time I am in Nimbus Land where I learn that Mallow is a long lost prince. I still don’t know who Geno is or why I’m even looking for featured pieces, but I give a fuck about Birdo, so I guess I’m on the right track. All the things I don’t know about the adventure seem to make everything more exciting, and I start thinking about the other person playing the game alongside me. I imagine they are like me, fed up with losing their save file over and over again, and decided to make this silent deal with me to complete the game together. I wonder if they’re as confused, and having as much fun as I am anyway.
I defeat Valentina without really understanding who she is, then enter a volcano and fight a dragon, followed soon after by the zombie version of the dragon. It’s the best game I’ve ever played. If you’ve played the game, you’re probably already tense about what happens next.
No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get past the Axem Rangers on top of the airship. I fought them over and over again, but their attacks were just too strong and they got hit so many times in a row – it was just impossible. I returned the game to the store defeated, but with the hope that my partner would have enough time to figure out how to beat them.
The last time I rented Mario RPG is one of my fondest gaming memories. When I loaded up our save game, I found not only that they had outrun the Axem Rangers, but that they were were stopped just before the final battle with Smithy. I didn’t realize at the time that there was no way to save after finishing the game, so my eight-year-old mind decided that my partner had gone all the way and decided to leave me win the final victory. I beat Smithy, finished the game, and returned him to the grocery store with a thank you note in the box, hoping my invisible friend would rent him again to see if I had managed to beat him.
I didn’t play Super Mario RPG on my own until the SNES Classic came out in 2017. It wasn’t until then that I finally saw half of the game I had missed before. . I had no idea there was a haunted pirate ship or an evil wedding cake in this game, and finally seeing them the other half reminded me of my weird co-op experience and the mysterious partner who got me. helped get through this. Those magical moments when you share a fleeting experience with another player always seem to move me. Whether it’s a game like Journey or Dark Souls that intentionally incorporates these moments, or just an unusual encounter with another person in an MMO, I always enjoy connecting with a stranger during an experience. of shared play, and I’ll never forget how Super Mario RPG, however implausible, made that possible for me.
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