Privilege is a funny thing.
The idea of privilege seems to have recently (ish) surfaced as a way to grasp a concept that has been around practically since the dawn of man: some people just have it better than others. Ultimately, privilege has always been and always will be an issue: right down to the genetic level, some people are simply better equipped for certain situations than others. Of course, it’s one thing to be born with biceps more capable of mastodon slaying, and quite another to be born simply “the right color” and have society treat you better as a result. One is a privilege of environment, the other is entirely societally made.
In my own life, my best friend, practically since high school, is a person who grew up, literally, five doors down from my home, went to all the same (pre-college) schools, eventually majored in the same field, played in the same woods, ate at the same restaurants, had at least one parent working in the educational system, and generally has always had a similar, innate inclination toward nerdish pursuits. He’s also a black male of West Indian heritage. I’m, as you may have guessed, white. In just our daily lives, I can see the complete opposite reactions people have to him (scary other) versus me (normal dude, kinda looks like Harry Potter). One particular event springs immediately to mind, and that was a recent incident when a parking lot attendant who hadn’t spoken to me for ten years finally decided to start being Mr. Question Man the minute my friend tried to pull his car (complete with wife and children) into the private lot. “We don’t get many of your kind here.” I never once considered that something I do on a daily basis could be such a hassle, but, here you go, can’t even park your car without being reminded you don’t look exactly like you’re “supposed to”.
But that’s the thing about privilege, practically from the moment you’re born, it becomes an inextricable part of “you”, and nigh-impossible to comprehend from the other side. This (aside from general dickery) is why people get so upset about being indicted with privilege: it is impossible to “accuse” someone of having privilege without, essentially, stating that there is something wrong with someone’s core self. This, taken rationally, is not true at all, but on an emotional level, a “check your privilege” translates to, basically, a “yo mama” joke (“Yo mama is so white she gets served right away at the dining establishment of her choice.”), it’s a disparaging remark at something you can’t change… kinda like racism. To be clear, I’m not saying condemning someone for having privilege is racist (“Isn’t that exactly what you just said?” “Shut-up.”), simply that even accusing someone of having privilege is a touchy subject, because it seems to insult not only the person, but all of that person’s accomplishments, which, theoretically, could have nothing to do with privilege at all. Or, that’s what the privileged like to believe, at least.
So, all that said, Nintendo is Nintendo because of the privilege of Nintendo Power.
Super Mario Bros. 3, no question, is an amazing game. It also contains, not including wandering Hammer Brothers, 90 levels. There is no save feature, and, from the information within the game itself, I would say that one out of the three “warp whistles” are easily acquired. For the record, I want to say that the warp whistle way the heck at the other end of World 2 is something that an inquisitive player might discover by identifying a weirdly placed rock, but the other two… I wouldn’t expect to find those by accident. Flying up over a ceiling in a fortress sounds easy, but is wildly unintuitive when you consider the layout (and powerups) of a rarely revisited area. And ducking on a white block for the proper number of seconds to hide behind the stage’s foreground? That has never made any sense. Don’t try to tell me Princess Peach’s letter explains everything, either, because that royal pain couldn’t even translate “goomba” properly.
And I don’t remember ever being young enough to believe a video game “move” I saw in a movie would actually work in reality. Screw you, Wizard.
But, despite all this, many of us finished Super Mario Bros. 3 with no problems, because, of course, we had Nintendo Power (or knew someone with Nintendo Power). I think I played Super Mario Bros. 3 “straight” for a whole two weeks before I received the news that I could skip straight ahead to World 9 from World 1. Hell, I still remember being at a friend’s birthday party (and said friend had everything, including that all-important NP subscription), and witnessing the magic of the warp whistles for the first time. Suddenly, a game that could take hours and hours to complete was nothing before an informed player, and Bowser’s defeat was at hand. Super Mario’s world was mine to control.
If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice I’m lauding SMB3 for the ability to skip great swaths of its content. But that’s the thing about video games of the era: due to creators with wildly different design philosophies (and seemingly random advancements in programming), the average player didn’t have a clue how long a game would (or even could) be. If the credits didn’t roll after an hour (or the game didn’t loop back to level one), you were left with an annoying choice: there were no saves (and passwords were not mandatory), so continue on and maybe reach the end, or stop now, and resume on another day when you’re more rested… but will have to complete that same hour of gameplay again. You think “Oh, I have OCD and have to complete the game 100%” is bad today, try the “good” old days of not having a clue what 100% could even be, five levels or ninety.
But Nintendo Power was here for all that. Even if there wasn’t a cheat code to grant invincibility, 30 lives, or level select, there was at least a guide (usually with maps!) that told you what you were in for. Remember that Donkey Kong and Final Fantasy both appeared on the same fledgling system, so a guide to “what the hell is happening” was almost mandatory. Today, we tout “hours and hours of gameplay” as some kind of golden bullet point, but back then, without information on what was coming, that was practically a threat.
And, really, I feel like Nintendo Power, with its Classified Information and maps galore, is a significant reason a number of games and franchises are considered “retro classics” today. No one would fondly remember Contra if they couldn’t pass the first level on a meager three lives. Castlevania II could have killed the franchise with its obscure graveyard ducks. And, sad confession, I never would have completed Super Metroid without the Nintendo Power Strategy Guide-provided information that a super bomb would detonate the Meridia glass passageway. I had my best fifth graders working on a solution to that Zebes maze, and we came up with nothing! And, let’s not kid ourselves, “beating a game” holds a significant bearing on your memories of the experience, while petering out because you can’t endure it any longer leaves a poor impression.
But what about on the other side of the aisle?
Kid Chameleon, surface level, is pretty much a Super Mario Bros. 3 clone. It’s a platformer, your main offensive maneuver is jumping on enemies, and your greatest threats are bottomless pits and moving platforms. Kid Chameleon’s main hook is taking the “suits” of SMB3 and turning them up to eleven. KC can transform into a variety of different forms, from the murderous Maniaxe to the agile Red Stealth, and use the different abilities of each suit… errr.. helmet to traverse the area. Each powerup helmet, of course, confers additional life, but, unlike SMB3, some helmets are mandatory, depending on the level. The Berzeker form is a charging rhino that can push blocks out of the way, and Micromax can fit into small passages; both skills are completely mandatory to finish certain levels. This is incorporated well, though, as, while I generally disparage required powerups, the levels and traps here are built to be challenges focusing on “can you survive this area and keep the required powerup?” There’s even a “give up” option (rarely seen in 8/16-bit games) so you can instantly restart a stage if you know you’ve gotten yourself into an unwinnable situation. This isn’t SMB3 (because what is?), but it is a very good, very thoughtfully designed platformer.
But there’s one thing everyone remembers about Kid Chameleon, and it’s not that the levels are carefully crafted, it’s that there’s so many of them. Kid Chameleon has no save points, no password system, and no immediately obvious “skip to the end” button, so every time you start Kid Chameleon, you’re starting it from scratch. This is daunting, as, like most platformers, the difficulty ramps up in the later stages, but you still must succeed in the earlier stages with all of your reserve lives intact, else it’s going to be a bumpy road ahead, and one that likely leads back to level one. I remember desperately hurling myself against the game as a kid, and, amusingly enough, even now, as an adult using save states to randomly pop in and out of the game, I still feel physically tired as I get to later stages that, in my younger days, I would only ever reach roughly around bedtime. Kid Chameleon practically is exhaustion to me. It is the game that introduced me to entropy. I never beat Kid Chameleon as a child, despite trying time and time again. I thought such a task impossible.
But the sad thing about Kid Chameleon? I thought its challenges were insurmountable, and, now, in the age of wikis and faqs, I know that KC contains 103 levels, and that’s counting the “small” Elsewhere stages, because, without those, we’re down to 71 actually challenging stages. That’s less than Super Mario Bros. 3! That’s less than Super Mario World! I beat both of those games! I beat every last bit of both of those games! I can barely believe it, but Kid Chameleon was within my grasp, and the only thing holding me back was my own fear that the game was effectively endless. The end was within sight!
But, back in the early 90’s, I had no way of knowing that. I was a Nintendo kid with a Genesis, and maybe five games for the system, so I didn’t have a Sega Visions subscription, and, honestly, if you’ve ever read that magazine, it was exactly the propaganda rag that detractors always claimed NP was at the time. Nintendo Power wasn’t just a way to convince easily-led children to buy Abadox (though it certainly was that), it was a way of making a new generation an informed population, and granting a group of people that would one day identify themselves as “gamers” a chance to actually know their hobby. I love Contra. I love Castlevania. I love Super Mario Bros. 3. I love them all because I know them. They are not the maze of mystery that, even today, Kid Chameleon remains. I could tell you, from one blurry screenshot, Mario’s exact location in Super Mario Bros. 3, but I just played Kid Chameleon, and, seriously, I couldn’t tell you the name of the stage for most of the screenshots in this article that I just captured.
And, ultimately, that’s what privilege is. It’s looking at your past, looking at your accomplishments, looking at what you know to be true (Super Mario Bros. 3 is good stuff), and acknowledging that maybe, just maybe, there were some outside influences that formed those ideas. Super Mario Bros. 3 is a great game! That incidentally had its own movie. And cartoon. And strategy guide. And months of magazine coverage. Kid Chameleon barely had a six issue mini comic book. It’s also about as well remembered as Super Alfred Chicken. You mean there were other platformers for the Genesis besides Sonic the Hedgehog? You mean Sonic the Hedgehog 2?
Check your privilege, Nintendo. There’s a kid in a white t-shirt that could use a sequel, but he’s getting stopped by the doof that thinks he’s a security guard. Why not be a little more understanding of the ones that didn’t have everything?
FGC #97 Kid Chameleon
What’s Next? Random ROB has chosen… Bleach: Soul Resurrección for the Playstation 3! We’ve got to save Heaven and Hell with Ichigo… but is he his own worst anime? Please look forward to it!