There are moments in beloved games that really stay with you. Some leave such a lasting impression that they become part of you, little treasures always within reach. It may be something laugh-out-loud funny, poignant or heartbreaking, or perhaps a revealing backstory to a character. Then there are those triumphant moments where you fought your way through a major set of obstacles or vanquished a particularly difficult enemy. I have so many of these favorite, treasured memories! There are some that are indescribably special to me, even after many years.
*****Spoiler Alert***** – there are a few spoilers ahead for these two wonderful games!
Sidequests and Saving a Romance
I tend to love games with a major collecting aspect, especially recipes or special artifacts. Even better when there’s a tally log that keeps track of them. In The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask for the N64, it was all about collecting masks of course! I painstakingly tracked down each one, whether it was needed to progress in the story or not. Some unlocked important quests and some of them didn’t do much at all, but it still felt rewarding every time I added a new one.
The masks that unlocked a special side-story were my favorites, and the most rewarding of all of them was the hard-won Couple’s Mask. Obtaining it involved a very lengthy sidequest that included tracking down other masks and items. Its retrieval eventually culminated in the touching reunion of the engaged Anju & Kafei, which Link is instrumental in. The epic scene that plays out with them on the “final day” (when the Moon crashes down) was powerful. It stole my breath away and every event and action that led to it made it all the more impactful. The storytelling in Majora’s Mask really was second to none in the series!
Paper-thin and Perfectly Fun
But the game that brought me the most smiles and happy memories is the superb Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door (GC). This brilliant, ultra-charming RPG was a complete departure for the traditional Mario gameplay. And it remains, in my opinion, one of the BEST Nintendo games ever made. It has the perfect blend of memorable characters, awesome storytelling, and witty dialogue and humor that is missing in typical Mario fare! (Did I mention the main battleground is a theater stage where the audience applause dictates your upgrade points?)
It remains much-loved and critically praised, but was criminally underplayed by most Nintendo fans. If you’re like me and were lucky enough to experience it when it released, you were lucky indeed. (It’s regrettably never been ported or remade.) It is the single most purely fun gaming experience I’ve ever had – and this from a lifelong Zelda die-hard.
I remember my partner surprising me with the game in the fall of 2004. I had not played the original Paper Mario 64 yet, so I had no idea what to expect. By Thanksgiving, we had to go out of town to visit his family in upstate NY. I was well-hooked by TTYD though, so I brought my 19-inch tube tv and my GameCube with us on the trip. My guy dutifully hauled both upstairs to the guest bedroom where we would stay (and oh, the looks I got). I played late into the night, my newborn daughter sleeping soundly nearby, thrilled by the myriad discoveries in this new Paper world!
They Don’t Make ‘Em Like This Anymore
From climbing the heights of a fairytale castle and then facing off against the fearsome (but cartoony) Hooktail dragon. To meeting the penguin detective on board the Excess Express and making contact with a harmless ghost in one of the train cars. To eventually signing up with the Help Wanted desk in Rogueport town, for numerous sidequest jobs. To the Pit of 100 Trials, which I eventually bested I’m proud to say.
There were just so many cool and hilarious moments. Peach had a real personality (displaying moxy & smarts)! While being kidnapped on-board a spaceship, she developed an unlikely friendship with the vessel’s computer, who had a crush on her. And later, your evergreen nemesis, Bowser actually shows off his humorous side and makes for some of the game’s biggest laughs.
But the moments of Chapter 3 perhaps topped them all. Mario & sidekick become fighters in the Glitz Pit, where they battle in a stadium before roaring (or jeering) crowds. The gyms available in the lower ranks are pretty pitiful, with peeling wallpaper and springs popping out of benches. But as Mario rises through the ranks, so do his digs become more posh and upscale.
My most memorable moment? At one point, Mario & his partner have to sneak around in the rafters to do some covert detecting. When he is prompted to lean down to a hole in the flooring and eavesdrop over the diabolical conversation below, I had to burst out in laughter. What a hoot! I won’t give away what dastardly secrets are revealed there..
I still hold out hope that one day this gem will be given the HD treatment and ported to the Nintendo Switch. Many others are rooting for the same. Because it’s a crying shame so many have missed out on a true Paper Mario classic, where its once-stellar RPG formula was at its finest.