Earlier this week, a miracle happened. During a family get-together at my aunt’s house, I stumbled upon an ancient relic—a portal to a past generation. Cloaked in dust, sitting in a long-neglected cupboard was a small black box with unmistakable curvature.
A Nintendo 64.
The console—discontinued in 2003—can still be found in dorm rooms and frat houses across the nation, but no longer holds the iron throne among gaming systems. Instead, the machine has been relegated to an antique. Much like a weathered jersey, or a battered trophy, it sits as a reminder of former glory. Of midnight conquest in Hyrule, and late-race heroics in Mario Kart.
The machine’s most impressive release may have come in 1998, when in a stroke of brilliance, Nintendo released Mario Party—a game for groups to face off in friendly competition. Players each pick a character (I always chose Luigi) and start an hour long Battle Royale, pitting family head-to-head, ruining casual and committed relationships alike. Of the 100+ games of Mario Party (or any future iteration of the game) that I’ve ever played, I can think of only one that didn’t feature a screaming match, and that’s because I had chicken pox and my friends let me win.
The creators of this heinous, all-consuming monstrosity fell ill to some stroke of evil genius when they decided to mask a soul-crushing, happiness-ripping game in shiny, friendly packaging. By advertising unattainable enjoyment, they signed the fate of thousands, if not millions of friendships worldwide. I lost more acquaintances than I can count over the board game. I almost broke a window, and nearly cracked my cousin’s skull when I threw my oddly-shaped controller at her for stealing my star with three turns to go.
When I cleaned off the console’s cobwebs, and plugged in its archaic cords (it has those old yellow/white/red tv adaptors), I figured those fights had only happened because we were children, when we fell for its stunning graphics, and seductive gameplay. Now, I’m nearly 20, and my friends and family are even older than I am—we could play Mario Party and stand totally immune to its allure; we couldn’t possibly fall into the same destructive pattern.
As always, I was wrong.
I fired up the system, and blew on the cartridge for safe measure (something we later learned you aren’t supposed to do). We chose Pirate Land as our battlefield. I was confident—a decade ago, this was my bread and butter. Not only were we playing on my home turf (my cousins from California joined the fun), but now the fight would take place on the same map that I transcended reality, changing from the mere video-game mortal I once was into the dominant, console-crushing demigod you all know and love.
The premise of the board game is simple: travel across the map, besting foes in mini-games to earn coins. As the game progresses, players can purchase stars at marked locations with their coins. At the end of the round, the character with the most stars wins.
I got off to a less-than-ideal start, quickly falling behind both in stars and in coins. My enemies—Yoshi, Wario, and CPU Mario—trounced on my lifeless avatar as he crawled his way to fourth place. Each time I rolled the die, I marched no more than three paces. Each time I passed a vendor, I was too poor to purchase an item. The first four times I attempted to cross the map’s central bridge, I was catapulted back to the start—a side-effect of my own hubris. My confidence was replaced by pain. My smile replaced by frustration. Profanities flew across the room, often mumbled so as not to pass through the ears of our fans—two innocent toddlers who took a liking to our yelling.
With five turns remaining, I still claimed the title of biggest loser. I’d lost nearly every mini-game, and religiously returned to the start of the map. Then, something magical occurred.
I stumbled upon a hidden box. Inside of it, a star.
Star Tally: Yoshi: 2, Wario: 2, Mario: 1, Luigi: 1.
A comeback was mounting. I won the next two mini-games. Momentum was on my side.
“You’re a thief,” screamed one cousin as another stole his coins. The other stood up, ready to defend his honor. To insult his character was to insult his very being.
I resigned myself to third place. A respectable finish, considering I spent 80% of the game in last. With two turns to go, I landed on another hidden box.
“No fucking way.”
Star Tally: Yoshi: 2, Wario: 2, Luigi: 2, Mario: 1
Tensions began to boil. Luigi was three spaces away from the market, and had enough coins to buy a genie’s lamp—an item with the power to transport the user directly to a star.
I rolled a three. Destiny was beckoning.
I purchased the lamp, and waited for the final turn, taunting my opponents with the obvious—I held the weapon to their demise. I had the power to ruin them, and lay waste to the adapted pirate ship map that caused me such misery. On my last roll, I called upon the genie. In his infinite wisdom, he asked me to climb into the saddle on his back, and surfed the sun and the clouds to our final destination: a third, title-clinching star.
I bid my supernatural guide adieu, and ascended to my throne; a prince among serfs. A noble among plebeians. A god among the penniless.
Star Tally: Luigi: 3, Yoshi: 2, Wario: 2, Mario: 1.
In my reign of terror, there was no code of law. No topic of ridicule off limits. As the almighty, I crushed my foes, and vanquished my enemies. Though my adversaries bested me in both coin and mini-games, it was me, Luigi, who was crowned champion. A fervor of revolution rose just before my rise. Chants of “for the watch,” rang clear.
But the insurrection was silenced. There was one true king.