Monday, March 11, 2013

Strange Super Mario 64 Cartridge

(AKA "Haunted Mario 64")

I always liked Super Mario 64 when I was a kid. I remember playing it at my aunt’s house all the time. Well, one day, a pop-up appeared out of nowhere as I was watching gameplay footage on Youtube. I was a little startled, and was about to close the window, until I realized that it was showing a mint condition copy of Super Mario 64 for sale. There was a picture and everything. I usually don’t trust these things, but the feeling of nostalgia overpowered me, and I wanted to buy it.

The whole business was peculiar, seeing as how the owner of the game wanted the buyer to send an envelope containing ten dollars to an address listed on the site, instead of using something like PayPal. What made things even more strange was that when I tried to gain access to the website (I wrote down the URL) after encountering…problems with the game, the page was nowhere to be found.

A few days after the ten dollars was mailed, I got a package containing the new copy of the game. The first thing I noticed when I opened the small box was that the ‘official sticker’ with Mario flying in the air was apparently peeled off or something. In its place was a piece of duct tape with ‘Mario’ crudely written on it in permanent marker. I felt a little ripped-off, but as long as the game worked I didn’t care.

I got out my Nintendo 64 and put the cartridge in. The screen turned on with the familiar Mario face that you could stretch and twist aimlessly. I remembered laughing all the time at the results as a kid and decided to mess around for old times’ sake. I moved the cursor over to Mario’s ear and pulled it to Elven proportions. I was going to do the same to the other ear, when the TV suddenly produced loud static. Mario’s whole head started deforming and twisting in ways I didn’t even know were possible for the model. Random sound effects from the game started playing along with the static. As all this was occurring, I could hear a faint voice whispering in Japanese. The voice was stammering and whimpering.

I immediately shut off the game and tried again. I didn’t bother with the Mario head this time. I just selected a new file and started playing.

When I selected the file, the game skipped the opening monologue with Peach and the courtyard outside. Mario was just placed right inside the castle. Creepier still, Bowser didn’t say anything either. I tried to ignore it and played it anyway. However, I also noticed there was no music. There was only dead silence. There weren’t even any Toads around to talk to. The only door I could enter was the one that led to Bob-omb Battlefield. The other doors wouldn’t respond to my button commands.

The portrait to Bob-omb Battlefield wasn’t the usual picture. It was a stark white canvas. I was still trying to convince myself that these were just minor glitches, and that they wouldn’t affect the gameplay at all. Once I entered the portrait, the image suddenly changed from a blank canvas to the Lethal Lava Land painting. You know, that slightly unsettling image of the flame with the evil smile? That’s when I started getting really suspicious.
The mission menu came up, and yet another weird detail was present. Instead of it being “Big Bob-omb on the Summit,” the mission was called “TURN BACK.” I have no idea what drove me to press A, but I did.

The level seemed fairly normal. Everything was how I remembered it. I thought I could finally enjoy my favorite childhood game, but then I saw him…Luigi. I was absolutely shocked. He was never in this game. His model wasn’t even a Mario palette swap. It looked like he had a completely original model. Luigi just stood there until I tried to approach him. He started running at unexpected speeds. I followed suite and went through the level. Strange things happened as I pursued him. Each time I would pick up a coin, the enemies and music would get slower and the scenery would look darker in color and more morbid. It kept gradually getting worse until I collected a fifth coin. That’s when the music just stopped. The enemies lay down on the ground like they were dead. I was seriously freaked out, but I kept chasing Luigi.

I went up the hill, and no cannonballs rolled down trying to knock me over. I really wasn’t surprised at this point. Luigi was always just out of my sight as I ran. Once I reached the summit, I saw yet another object out of place: a small cottage, and it was all that was seen on top of the hill. Luigi was nowhere to be found. The cottage was certainly odd looking for a Mario game. It was old, plain, and broken down. Regardless of my fears at that moment, I had Mario enter the cottage.

As soon as the door closed, a disturbing picture of a hanged Luigi immediately popped up along with a very frightening scare chord. It sounded like a violin screech accompanied by a loud piano banging. Mario fell to his knees and sobbed for roughly five minutes before the screen irised out.
I returned to the castle. Mario just slumped out of the painting. The image switched from the Lethal Lava Land portrait to the image of Luigi hanging himself. The room was different this time. It was now a small hallway. Toads with blank expressions and white robes lined the sides of the hallway. There was another painting at the opposite end that completely and utterly scared me. It was a picture of my family. It wasn’t a photo from the time Super Mario 64 was released; it was a very, very recent photo. I remember posing for it the weekend before. I reached for the on/off switch on the N64. There was no way I was going to play any longer, however, when I flipped the switch, the game was still on. I flipped it back and forth, to no avail. I tried unplugging the entire system, but the game never left the screen. I was still able to control Mario, too. I couldn’t just leave it on forever, so I kept playing. I went to the photo of my family and jumped in. Only one mission was available. It was called, “Run, Don’t Walk.” I selected the mission. Let’s-a-go!

The level started in a flooded hallway with platforms floating on the water. Mario landed on one of these, and the camera turned to show what was behind. A silent black void was slowly approaching Mario. It didn’t look like anything, not even like finished graphics. It was just a giant, blocky, black blob. I started jumping from platform to platform. With no goal in sight, I kept running; the darkness slowly but surely kept gaining speed. This kept going on for what felt like hours, and I began to doubt there would ever be an end. Mario was going in circles. Finally, the black blob/void/thing caught up with Mario and enveloped him in darkness. He didn’t scream or resist at all. It simply consumed him.

Mario fell out of the painting and back into the castle. I lost one of my three lives. The room was different now, too. Some of the Toads were gone, and the painting looked different. My family and I were in the same positions, but our bodies were partially decomposed. It looked too real to be photoshopped. It looked more like someone took our dead bodies and posed them.
Regardless, I jumped into the painting again. There was still only one mission available. It was called, “I’m right here.” I selected the mission and prepared for the worst. Mario landed in a small dark room. There was no visible way out. The room was empty except for a piano in the corner. I knew what that meant. I was stuck in there with the Mad Piano. I approached it and it started chasing me as always. There was no way to damage it, so I had no choice but to let Mario take damage.

When he lost all of his health, the usual death animation didn’t happen. Mario was simply mauled by the piano. He fell as his blood and guts spilled onto the floor, and the camera panned to a top-down view of his corpse. A distorted version of the merry-go-round music from Big Boo’s Haunt played as the screen slowly transitioned from the in-game shot to a photo-realistic sketch of Mario’s dead body in the same view. It was very unsettling. I was crying softly as I gazed upon the image. I lost another life.
The photo of my family was shown again. We were even more rotten than before. The view zoomed into the painting, as if I was warping again, but I was greeted with a shot of Peach’s Castle from the outside. It was crumbling in ruin. The fields were on fire. The sky was pitch black. Bowser’s laugh played on a loop in the background as children mockingly chanted, “You couldn’t save her!” This went on for a long time until a close-up of Peach’s face accompanied by an extremely loud screech interrupted the loop without notice. Peach’s mouth was wide open as if she were screaming and her eyes were empty, black holes.

Mario fell out of the painting again. All of the Toads were gone, and my family and I looked positively repulsive. Maggots were wriggling around in holes in our flesh. Guts were spilling out of our bodies. My dad’s eyeball was hanging loose from its socket. It was too much to bear, but something still urged me to trudge on. I jumped into the painting, only one life remaining.
This time, there was no name for the mission, only a blank space where the title would be. I selected the mission and Mario landed on a very small island in the middle of the ocean. There was a solitary sign that read, “DIVE.” I did just as it said and entered the water.

The ocean was dark and empty. There were no fish, and I wasn’t able to see anything besides Mario. I swam downwards, and even though I kept going for quite some time, Mario never ran out of breath. I counted roughly ten minutes of swimming before I decided to go back up. Just as I turned Mario around, it came. A huge Unagi the Eel came out of nowhere and swallowed Mario whole. It went by so fast I wasn’t even sure what I saw. The Game Over screen didn’t appear. All that happened was a fade-out.

The photo of my family and I was shown again. We were skeletons at that point. Once again, it looked very real. I couldn’t move the camera, either. It stayed focused on the picture. I shut it off and turned it on again. I chose my file, but it went back to the skeleton photo of my family. I tried this about three more times before giving up. I desperately wanted to stop, but some force kept me from walking away. With nothing else to do, I decided to select the only other saved file. The camera once again focused on the skeleton picture, but this time they were in a different position…almost as if they were a different family.

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