the artistry and psychology of gaming


Dark World (Super Mario 64)

Dark World (Super Mario 64)

Many would ask, “What’s a kingdom without a castle?”  Personally, I’d say a kingdom with heart; I once visited a poor agrarian kingdom beneath the sky kingdom of Zenithia, whose king plowed the fields by hand alongside of his subjects!  I seem to have gotten a bit off topic.  The Mushroom Kingdom has an elaborate castle, sometimes differing in interior design thanks to a princess who fancies herself quite fashionable.  On one particular adventure through this castle, I explored some odd paintings, which were merely facades covering gates to fantastic new worlds.

While there were many fascinating worlds on the other side of this ethereal artwork, the most intriguing and diverse was the Dark World.  I’ve visited the Mushroom Kingdom’s Dark World before, not to mention many other Dark Worlds in other realms; it was a fiery place strongly reminiscent of the Christian concept of Hell: a dark, underground land of horrors and burning lakes where the dead walk freely.  On this particular adventure, I had three trips to different areas of the land that King Bowser calls home.  The first was a region of land: a fairly non-descript underground cavern.  My second trip was to a sea of lava, which had leaping flames all about, and many platforms that threatened to give way beneath me, bathing me in a flaming liquid death.  It was the third and final of these trips, the one to the Dark World’s skies, that truly struck me.

This particular fortress of sorts floats high in the skies of the Dark World.  Beneath me was a thick cover of dark purple clouds; around me, deep pink skies reminiscent of late dusk; above me, the clouds were of the thickest black, trimmed in deep navy blue; before me was an intense obstacle course with many opportunities to send me hurtling to certain death below.  The path zigzagged higher and higher, beginning with a very steep yellow ramp with orange arrows pointing forward painted upon it.  It was trimmed with a black and red border, and the sides had blocks of dark faded colors with patterns vaguely reminiscent of my favorite licorice candy.  Though it seemed impossible, I ran at full tilt, and made my way up the inconceivable incline, only to find that my arduous journey had only just begun.

Rounding a bend, I encountered a spinning, octagonal platform with one of many sentient floating metal spheres with a powerful electrical charge.  Heading past it with careful timing, I headed up a ramped bridge, around the bend, and onto a giant seesaw with a jade green fulcrum.  Using my weight to lower one side, I quickly ran up the other to leap to a rotating windmill with four black and blue checkerboard platforms upon it.  Taking time to admire the jade-colored center’s four-point star shape, I took a shortcut, leaping not to the next platform, but the one above, bypassing a particularly nasty denizen who wished to throw me like a rag doll, despite the guard rail around his arena.

Further along, I encountered a very strange bridge. Only a few lowered sections had guard rails, and one of the raised ones had a whomp patrolling it.  For those not in the know, whomps are effectively walking slabs of concrete with creepy faces upon them, which would like nothing more than to… well, consider the name and use your imagination.  Luckily, while they are comprised of concrete, they are also as dumb as concrete, so outsmarting it into letting me by was not terribly difficult.  Later on, I encountered a purple switch with a white exclamation point.  Stepping upon it caused the checkerboard slide in front of me to rise into giant steps.  They began yellow and black at the bottom, and, following a lovely gradient, transitioned to a pretty greenish-aqua and black at the top.

I climbed another steep ramp, this one of studded metal, dodging the many flamethrowers along the way.  At the other end of this three-dimensional U-shape, I encountered a black and white checkerboard dock for a platform resembling the patterns on the first ramp of the area, except that its base was white, rather than yellow.  Stepping upon it caused it to propel itself forward through the sky, though an obstacle course of wooden blocks that were placed to knock me off.  Quickly leaping over them, but never losing sight of my ride, I reached the other side.  Much to my dismay, there were two adjacent octagonal spinning platforms along my path.  In the center of the latter, I climbed a blue-and-black-candy-striped pole up through a cozy basket of sorts, bringing me near the top of the area.

In this final stretch, there were brown gradient bridges that extended back and forth.  I carefully made my way to the end of one, jumped to another pole in the center, then to the next bridge and rode my way in.  From here, I had to make my way up two adjacent windmill platforms to a path that led to a relieving sight: my goal in the distance.  There were four pillars, against which I braced myself from the wind to reach the light blue staircase before a giant green pipe at the end.  I stopped to stare into the distance and catch my breath a bit – it’s a figure of speech – and leapt in.  In this final area, a large platform with a pattern reminiscent of the surface of a dark green ocean, I met the King of the Koopa himself, Bowser.  His body reflected a bold rainbow of colors; whether it was from the skies or from a mysterious power he enjoys within his realm, I may never know.  Impressed with my ability to reach his chamber, he invited me to a lengthy chat before I bid the Mushroom Kingdom farewell until my next adventure.

Though the word now carries a far different connotation, twilight is a special hour.  Whether I was on a soulless highway on my way home from a long vacation, standing in the waters of the ocean, or even looking out my window, I have always managed to find beauty in its skies.  Though science has ruined the child-like wonder of its colors, I am still able to appreciate its majesty.  Such beauty is preserved from over saturation by its fleeting nature, though perhaps that is what makes it so special.  It is the unusual, the rare that many covet, for were it not so, it would be ordinary, and thus, not desirable on such a level.  Remember always that beauty exists not in three dimensions, but four; you may find that some scenes do not repeat themselves, but one thing you will always have is its memory.

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