Mario’s Game Gallery, or The Place Where Reality Crumbles

I haven’t played much of Mario games in my life. It may sound wild, especially for an American reader, but I didn’t own any Nintendo console up until I bought Switch some five years ago. Along with Switch, I purchased Mario Kart 8 Deluxe to see what’s all the fuss is about—it’s okay, I guess—and back in the day, I played the very first Super Mario Bros on a Chinese NES rip-off called Dendy. That’s basically my whole experience with a franchise featuring this weird and creepy pseudo-Italian plumber.

There was also Mario’s Game Gallery. And it wasn’t pleasant.

Mario’s Game Gallery, also known under the much creepier title Mario’s FUNdamentals, is a game released for home PC and MAC in the mid-90s by Interplay. It’s a bundle of five traditional board games—checkers, backgammon, Go Fish, domino, and a variation of Yahtzee called «yacht.» The shtick is that you play all those games against Mario himself, voiced for the first time by Charles Martinet. All the cards and board pieces are expectedly themed around the Mario franchise.

There was a massive market for casual games for kids back in the day, so Mario’s Game Gallery is pretty much a product of its time. I played the game when I was seven or eight and pretty much enjoyed Corel Wild Cards, so everything was set for me to like this game too. Unfortunately, I wasn’t apparently included in Mario’s Game Gallery’s target audience because this mustachioed creep annoyed the shit out of me.

He cheated. He cheated all the time; I’m sure about it. His dice throws were not always perfect, but they were perfect at the most critical times—usually as a dramatic tie-breaker. He usually made me lead a bit at Go Fish until totally crushing me by forming book after book and leaving me far behind on points. Always with this Mona Lisa’s smile on his face and his cow-like eyes. A smug fuck.

What made matters even worse were his encouragements. «You are such a good player,» «You are so good at this game,» «I really enjoy playing with you»—all this while his yoshis swallow my koopas alive. Like, you see me losing embarrassingly, so don’t you dare to patronize me! He is also the most impatient adversary—real or digital—I’ve ever had while playing board games. «Hey, what is taking so long?» he asks, rubbing his cleanshaven chin, tapping his fingers on the table, and making other annoying sounds. Let me fucking think a bit, won’t you?

And his stupid jokes… «Knock-knock. Who’s there? Jamaica. Jamaica who? Jamaica me cuckoo crazy!» Hilarious; thanks, Mario. No, you can’t have «my Little Toadies,» go f…ish!

Anyways, these were my actual memories from Mario’s Game Gallery before deciding to play with this sleazy bastard again. Thanks to the Internet Archive, the game can be played in a browser. I’ve played a few games, won a bunch, lost a couple, and you know, it’s fascinating how exaggerated and inflated retrospective emotions can be. I remember myself being furious while playing this game—frequently rage-quitting even—and while Mario is still annoying, impatient, and somewhat patronizing, his behavior is more or less what can be expected from a character whose purpose is entertaining children while playing checkers with them.

Or is it my grown-up perception that is twisted? The game was made for kids, not grown-ups—maybe I was right back then?

Perhaps I became an annoying, impatient, and patronizing adult myself. Can it be that I turned into what I had always despised?

Oh, the horror…

How would I know what games my future children shall play?

How can I know what is true and real?

Yellow walls, visually infinite green table. I’m shivering, sweating, and my hands are shaking. He sits in front of me, tapping his fingers on the table and piercing me with his glassy stare. «Mario thinks you’re fantastic,» he tells me.

Why would you lie to me like that?

Am I fantastic?

Am I?

Go fish, Mario.

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