Sneakily taking the hinges off the doors of perception

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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later. Support Elizabeth on Patreon.


  1. Bennett
    April 20, 2015 @ 1:27 am

    Video game advertising from the nineties is uniformly awful. Unpleasant, gratuitous and, as you say, ostracising. Made all the worse by knowing they were deliberately made to be that way because these were traits a significant number of their audience were aspiring to have. I wish I could say Nintendo steered clear of the worst of these instincts, but the wretched "Willst thou get the girl, or play like one?" commercial comes treacherously to mind.

    Between gender segregated toy catalogues, and centrefolds of B. Orchid appearing in official magazines, I find it a minor miracle that I got through my younger years more or less unafflicted by the boys' club mentality that was the unfortunate public face of video gaming. I'd like to say it was because I was clever or kind or socially minded, but I was none of those things when I was eight.

    I think I owe it all to having my earliest gaming experiences under the guidance of female gamers – having my Aunty help me find Dr. Fred's lab in Day of the Tentacle, or being told of secret pipes and warp zones by the older girl in the children's ward. I learned from an early age that not only did girls play video games, listening to them allowed you to discover more about those games than you'd ever know on your own. It's a disgrace to Nintendo and Sega alike that neither ever once tried to teach me that.

    Oh, and Super Mario World is awesome. And gnarly, and tubular, and groovy, and mondo, and outrageous, and funky. And way, way cool.


  2. Matt Marshall
    April 20, 2015 @ 1:33 am

    I spent a lot of this article confused as to what the Genesis was, until I realised you were talking about the Mega Drive (apparently it was only called Genesis in North America). The SNES wasn't grey and purple in Europe either, it was grey and light grey. I'm not sure how much these things actually matter, but they do to me, dammit!

    I don't think it's fair condemning the Mega Drive as sexist or 'boys only' based on one advert as both systems would have had lots of pretty terrible 'boys only' adverts. I mean heck, I seem to recall the flagship characters for the Mega Drive being Sonic and Tails (cute woodland animals) and a massive push for Ecco the Dolphin (who was a dolphin).


  3. SpaceSquid
    April 20, 2015 @ 2:21 am

    While I'm absolutely in agreement that Sega's marketing strategy was grotesquely testosterone-charged (at least in the UK), roping in Sonic's difficulty seems an odd way to try and underline the point, mainly because it didn't have any. Both Sonic and its first sequel were notoriously easy to complete by the standards of the time (Sonic was almost certainly the first game I ever actually completed, with the possible exception of Altered Beast – the game that came with the Mega Drive and was similarly pitched at the easiest end of the spectrum).

    I'd also point out that the ending sequences are vastly less different than implied here; in both cases you run through crowds of cute animals you've saved (go you!) and see the credits interspersed with sequences from the game and a characteristically awesome Nakamura tune. Only the very final screen differs, with the "Try Again" juggling rather than Robotnik's angry sulking.

    So no. It's a famously easy play where continues are sprinkled upon you like spring rain The game is difficult to "beat" only in the sense that plenty of games are difficult to achieve 100% completion on (a definition of game beating that perhaps says more about the author than the difficulty of the game).

    Even still, Sonic must represent one of the easiest possible iterations of the "100% approach", requiring as it does only six objects, each one of which is literally at the centre of its own easily-accessed bonus stage. Had gaming vocabulary reached the point of referring to such things as "secrets", Sega would have violated trading standards by referring to the Chaos Emeralds as such.


  4. SpaceSquid
    April 20, 2015 @ 2:23 am

    he SNES wasn't grey and purple in Europe either, it was grey and light grey.

    Thank the Gods! I was worrying my memory had gone monochrome…


  5. Matt Marshall
    April 20, 2015 @ 2:48 am

    The first time I saw a picture of an American SNES I got so confused, it is totally un-SNES-like (I imagine the same effect is had the other way round, but still…)


  6. Elizabeth Sandifer
    April 20, 2015 @ 3:20 am

    This is probably an appropriate place to remind site regulars that

    1) The Nintendo Project has always been my one overtly American project.

    2) The "casually make statements of opinion as though they are objective facts" tone that occasionally enraged people about TARDIS Eruditorum is essentially the default style here.


  7. Elizabeth Sandifer
    April 20, 2015 @ 3:21 am

    (Which is, of course, not to fault any commenters or object to the discussion, so much as to note that there's lots more where this came from.)


  8. Matt Marshall
    April 20, 2015 @ 3:25 am

    Oh of course, and as an American blogger it is your prerogative to refer to things by their US names, I was just commenting that I had to wiki 'Genesis' before I realised it was a Mega Drive.

    (And in response to the commenter below, I found Sonic really, really hard. He moved too fast! 🙁 )


  9. SpaceSquid
    April 20, 2015 @ 3:38 am

    (And in response to the commenter below, I found Sonic really, really hard. He moved too fast! 🙁 )

    I'd never considered that as a possibility, actually. Fair enough. Though the game was designed to make the really high-speed sections essentially risk-free, and included them not to ramp up difficultly but to show off the speeds the processor was capable of, speeds the Super NES couldn't match. I dimly recall various games journalists at the time saying the Mega Drive's speed was essentially the only thing the system had going for it compared with the Super NES aside from price.


  10. Aylwin
    April 20, 2015 @ 3:51 am

    Ecco the Dolphin (who was a dolphin)

    And brilliant. And kind of trippy.

    Swim fast, young singer…


  11. SpaceSquid
    April 20, 2015 @ 4:01 am

    My favourite part of Ecco was how long it kept up the fiction that it was basically just an actual undersea life simulation; then went utterly batshit once the Asterite showed up. It was the console game cetacean equivalent of Twin Peaks.


  12. Froborr
    April 20, 2015 @ 4:26 am

    I was 11 when the Super Nintendo launched. I did not have one.

    The reason is simple: my parents were disabled and unable to work, and that kind of extravagant purchase was unthinkable. However, I did have an allowance of a dollar a week, because my parents considered it important that I learn to save, and my grandparents sent $5 on my birthday and a couple of other holidays, and so by scrimping and saving and shepherding my allowance, basically going entirely without candy for over two years, I managed to purchase a NES in late 1989. There was NO WAY IN HELL I was going to do that again for a SNES so soon.

    A side effect of this is that by the time I did acquire a SNES, it was with Donkey Kong Country rather than Super Mario World. (Which is a story for another time.)

    The result is that I have never owned this game. I played it a little on emulator, but found it generally uninteresting, especially compared to its sublime predecessor and even more wonderful sequel. Until, that is, the Hilariously Broken SNES came into my life.

    The Hilariously Broken SNES was the property of my ex, who brought it with her when she moved in with me in 2008. We named it that because it had a very specific and bizarre defect: it had lost the ability to properly handle circular motion. Anything in any game that moved in a circle was screwed up, but precisely what that meant from game to game varied considerably.

    In the case of Super Mario World, which was one of the handful of games she owned, it meant that the rotating platforms that show up in several levels didn't rotate. They stood in awkward, seemingly random positions (but always the same every time you played the level) until you touched them, at which point they would immediately and very rapidly fall to the lowest point of their circle and stay there forever.

    Needless to say, we didn't get very far in Super Mario World.


  13. Frezno
    April 20, 2015 @ 4:38 am

    I had sort of the same experience as a kid; we weren't all that well off, so I got an NES in 1990 and spent the first half of the 90's coveting the SNES. On rare visits to see cousins I would experience Super Mario World, brief and fleeting and alien. Then in 1995 I got a SNES and it came with Donkey Kong Country, so that was my platforming leap into the future which will no doubt be covered on this Project in due time as its own evolution.


  14. David Faggiani
    April 20, 2015 @ 5:27 am

    Amazing article! I look forward to the rest of the series so much.

    I presume you've seen this, Philip? 🙂


  15. SpaceSquid
    April 20, 2015 @ 5:36 am

    My family experienced a major upswing in finances when my father went from working to the council to working for a private firm, so my ownership history went from a ZX Spectrum straight to a Mega Drive. So much lost in that vast, terrible in-between.


  16. VariousVarieties
    April 20, 2015 @ 5:52 am

    Indeed, the concept became brutally literalized in a British ad for the console that, with no investment in subtlety whatsoever

    Well, a lack of subtlety is to be expected, given that the advert originated in Viz!

    Meanwhile, this is how Nintendo were advertising in the UK at around the same time. Watch the Mario All-Stars advert: I don't think I've ever seen a game advert that makes challenge into as big a selling point as that one did.


  17. Matt Marshall
    April 20, 2015 @ 6:04 am

    Oh right. Wow yes, that advert appearing in Viz recontextualises it a lot. You should probably mention that, Phil, it's important (though the decision to advertise in a magazine like Viz says pretty much the same thing as the content of the advert)


  18. storiteller
    April 20, 2015 @ 9:18 am

    My singular video game system was a Sega Game Gear and I loooooved dolphins, so Ecco the Dolphin was a particular obsession of mine. I loved being able to swim around and explore, unlike the hectic nature of Sonic and Mario. The weird SF/mystic trippy plot was even better. But man, that game and it's sequel were stupid hard puzzle-wise, at least for 10-12 year old me. I only beat the first one because I finally looked up the answer to the one puzzle and the other one I never did. I tried it again a few years ago and was just as stumped.

    More on point, as a girl, I never found the Sega to be particularly sexist. They had games I wanted – Sonic, who was punk but adorable; Ecco; and Jurassic Park – so I would have never considered they weren't for girls.


  19. Daibhid C
    April 20, 2015 @ 11:01 am

    Likewise; as I think I mentioned back when the Super Nintendo Project was first being discussed, I basically got into video games through my sister, who I always knew was better at them than me. She was also better at football than me, but I didn't care about football so much.


  20. Jarl
    April 20, 2015 @ 11:46 am

    The moment you said tubular, I had a knee-jerk reaction I can't fully describe, but it was extremely unpleasant.

    "Tubular" was, for years, the go-to trigger word to spark a severely negative emotional reaction to vidya. Apparently, it still serves that purpose, though now I think of "Agroprom" as the brightest star in that position.


  21. Jarl
    April 20, 2015 @ 11:49 am

    Looking back on it, I'm fairly certain Sonic 1 is the first game I ever beat without cheating of any kind. If we include save states as cheating, I've never 100% beaten Super Mario World.


  22. Froborr
    April 20, 2015 @ 12:24 pm


    I mean, fairly obvious what it means, but new one on me.

    Out of curiosity, what's the association for "tubular"? I looked up Agropom and apparently it's a level of some shooter, but I'm not finding anything for tubular.


  23. Jarl
    April 20, 2015 @ 1:15 pm

    The Agroprom Underground is a level from STALKER, a free roaming survival horror FPS made and set in Ukraine, specifically in the Zone of Exclusion around Chernobyl NPP. It takes place in an alternate timeline where there was a second disaster in the early 21st century that mutated the very fabric of space-time, and created terrifying monsters. It's a great game, but very difficult.
    Specifically, the Agroprom Underground is the first map where the player is expected to run into some of the more powerful and terrifying mutants the game has to offer. The sound and level design are top notch for making it a nerve-wracking experience. To further complicate things, the entire portion of the game it's set in is spent convincing you that there's going to be mostly bandits and, if you're really unlucky, USS down there. So you go in expecting some room-to-room shooting, clearing corners, checking halls, and there's plenty of that as well, but then you enter a large boiler room, hear an ungodly roar and a shuffling, huffing breath sound, and then an eight foot tall Mindflayer comes surging out of the darkness in front of you and then disappears, literally. It is the scariest level of any game I've ever played, and to this day I have to psych myself up before I can replay it.

    Tubular, meanwhile, is one of those hard levels Phil alluded to earlier. It's a secret level you have to unlock by walking the Star Road, and it comes second after Gnarly. It's also nightmarish, and features terrible monsters, but in a more Super Mario World-y way. It's not quite Kaizo Mario, but it's in the right vein for that level of precision platforming and bullet hell dodging. Tubular was what killed my goal of ever 100%ing SMW as a kid.


  24. elvwood
    April 21, 2015 @ 12:11 am

    Just wanted to say that this was surprisingly fun, given that I have no experience of (or interest in) the subject matter. Even though I was a games developer until 1994 my work was all on home computers rather than consoles, which is actually very different.

    I always assumed that the Genesis and Megadrive were different things, so that's something I've learned today…


  25. Scurra
    April 21, 2015 @ 2:02 am

    The message was clear – sure, the Nintendo was what you played with back when you were a kid, but now that you’re older, you obviously want a Genesis.
    And nothing has changed in the intervening thirty years, except for the name of whatever it is that isn't the Nintendo… Which is why it is desperately important for them to keep doing what they do.

    One thing that I think it took until Super Mario 64 for Nintendo to properly embrace – although it's clear that Super Mario World is a big step on that path – was the notion that almost anyone should be able to "beat" the game, but that "completion" was something else again – you aren't just half-way but less than half-way because of the difficulty ramp up. (To the point that you can "beat" Galaxy fairly quickly, but even if you "complete" it, you discover that theoretically there is still probably as much again to do – and then again after that.)


  26. phuzz
    April 21, 2015 @ 2:04 am

    I had an Amiga at this time as well, so my attitude towards the NES/SNES/Master System/Megadrive was, is, and probably always will be:
    "huh, consoles, they're not /real/ computers".
    Still, it's interesting to see what I missed out on, not having a console in our house.


  27. Nick Petrillo
    April 21, 2015 @ 7:02 am

    Good points, especially about Nintendo's image, although if I have to be picky, I could say the Donkey Kong Country series helped bridge that gap. You could get, what, 102% completion on some of those?


  28. Froborr
    April 21, 2015 @ 8:03 am

    This idea that beating the game should be easy, completion hard is almost verbatim something Sakurai discussed regarding his design philosophy for the Kirby games, and you can see it going right back to Kirby's Adventure (which IIRC came out a few months before the SNES). As his star has risen, I think it's become steadily more influential in the company, to the point that I'd say it's a key element of Nintendo's aesthetic today.


  29. TB Tabby
    April 21, 2015 @ 4:38 pm

    I just typed out a long comment about Nintendo's answer to Sega's ad campaign, but it got eaten. I knew I should've copied it.


  30. Daru
    April 22, 2015 @ 11:20 pm

    "This is probably an appropriate place to remind site regulars that

    1) The Nintendo Project has always been my one overtly American project.

    2) The "casually make statements of opinion as though they are objective facts" tone that occasionally enraged people about TARDIS Eruditorum is essentially the default style here."

    Cool, thanks Phil. I had literally no idea what the Genesis was (Genesis device?) and just thought it was the console that came out before the MegaDrive that I knew as a kid. I have to admit as having been only an occasional computer gamer as kid I was going to be in the dark. So I am looking forwards to the American focus and getting immersed in a world I know only a bit about in practice. Cheers!


  31. William Silvia
    May 16, 2015 @ 10:04 pm

    This being about a month old, I was going to forgo commenting, until my brain realized that you posted a long analytical article about a retro game on 4/20. Clearly, someone knows how to relax. 😉


  32. Ryan Ferneau
    August 25, 2015 @ 9:28 pm

    I remember consoles as being something I always wanted for having all the "real" games but that my family never had for long because they weren't "educational" enough.


  33. Hit Liverson
    February 18, 2020 @ 5:01 pm

    You can recommend a good movie reviewer. I want to find criticism and reviews of new films on YouTube or Google search.


  34. margaret villareal
    February 18, 2020 @ 5:02 pm

    I asked this question several times on the forum. You can go to Wikipedia or a cinema search. I doubt that such a profession exists. I know that such resources help students write creative assignments. They can help you, but I’m not sure. These are professional copywriters who work with different content.


  35. Abram Abram
    May 25, 2021 @ 8:57 pm

    You helped me so much as a writer’s conference newbie with the same advice you just wrote. And when I was a college journalism major, our prof told us the same for newspaper writing. Thanks!


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