Redeeming Jesse Kellogg: Looking Past Bad Memories and Loving Super Mario Land

Growing up, everybody knew somebody who was inexplicably cool.

Whom you couldn’t stand.

That kid who drew popularity like mosquitoes to a bug light; luring them in without reason, only to destroy them when they got close. Or least, that’s the assumption when you make when you don’t understand what’s going on and feel like an outsider looking in.

The muse of my ire was a guy named Jesse Kellogg. He kind of swooped in during fifth grade with his charming smirk, fast one-liners and rat tail. I can’t think of any standout traits the kid had, other than glowing with the musk of coolness. Whatever his voodoo magic was, he quickly became the king of the hill in my Boy Scout troop and I didn’t much care for it.

A time honored tradition for Boy Scouts in the Black Hills was the yearly jamboree, in which all the local troops would file into the local mall, set up semi-educational booths that were to teach us social skills and hob-knob with shoppers in order to teach them the Boy Scout Way.

It’s was here, back in 1989 or ’90 in which Jesse Kellogg earned the brunt of my loathing one fine spring day. When we all should have been smiling and offering passersby a lesson in the joys of tree ring aging, instead the kids were mesmerized by Jesse playing Super Mario Land on his shiny new Game Boy.

Of course I wanted to watch him play a Mario game in any spot he so chose, but my resentment towards him just led me to doing my duty to the troop and occasionally scowling in quiet rage instead.

Why am I bringing up my decades old pre-teen angst? To let you know that I carried that same misguided feeling towards Super Mario Land as well. It’s dumb, I know; but I kind of carry a lot of nostalgia based on the games of the time, and when I think of Super Mario Land… I think of Jesse Kellogg.

While using the term “making amends” seems a bit drastic for playing a twenty-five year old game after the fact, Super Mario Land became available on the 3DS Virtual Console and I decided that maybe I should give it a shot.

Much like Super Mario Bros. 2 before it, Super Mario Land feels like it’s a Mario game in the loosest sense of the term. It might star the titular plumbing hero, but the rest of the game feels foreign. You might be quick to point that maybe it’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing like the aforementioned NES classic, but in reality I think it had more to do with the hardware it was created for.

I’m not one to hold legacy against a game; if it’s fun it’s fun.

Using the word foreign to describe the feel of Super Mario Land is a good one; most of the worlds are based on actual locations, which for Mario is a weird place to be. You start off in what looks to be Egypt with pyramids in the background and enemies akin to sphinxes. You then travel through the Easter Islands, Japan and some weird, misplaced tropical places filled with spaceships. The Bermuda Triangle maybe?

On top of that, the enemies kind of theme themselves as well. There are little karate guys who try to drop kick you and Moai statues who run full tilt in your directions. Occasionally you see familiarity such as goombas and koopa troopas, but even they are off-putting in either design or attack.

It’s a lot like those old knock-off toys you’ll see in random gas stations or smaller big box stores. You know what I’m talking about: those action figures who looked just enough like He-Man or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to trick kids into buying them but being different enough to allude getting dinged for copyright infringement.

Even though it might not be official, it doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time with it.

There are a couple of things in Super Mario Land that set it apart from other games in the series, even today.

First and foremost is the Super Ball, the sole power-up in the game. While it comes across as a lazy rendition of the fireball, it actually manages to be its own crazy beast. The trajectory feels the same at first, but after its first bounce it kind of takes off in whatever direction it so chooses. If it hits anything else in the level, it bounces off and keeps going.

It can be a little aggravating for those honed on the skills of fireball tossing, but after a while you begin to appreciate its nuances. You use the Super Ball often to collect coins in little alcoves that can’t be reached by a supersized Mario and eventually you get the hang of the trajectory and can start dropping those annoying flying baddies from safety.

The other innovation is the inclusion of the occasional shoot ‘em up stage that has you patrolling the skies or waterways with a biplane or submarine. They’re a nice little reprieve from the standard hopping and bopping, created in such a way as to give the player an edge the whole time. While most people prefer the bullet hell style of today’s shmups, I enjoyed the simplicity of being able to cover the screen in my own projectiles and watch the enemies fall.

For all my bellyaching about the undeserved attention Jesse Kellogg got, I can at least go on record and say that I’ve found some redemption in his attached memory to Super Mario Land.

It deserved a fair shot and got one, and proved to be better than the stigma. At this point I’ve actually played through it about three times, which means it’s the type of game that is easy to decompress with. It has a low challenge threshold, it’s short and the music is charming, something I’m sure I would have appreciated…twenty years ago when I should have played it instead of being a pouty Patty.

As for Jesse? His reign was short lived; the only year he attended my school was the fifth grade. As mean as it is to say, I can’t say I missed his rat tail a whole lot. However, even though my memory of him is an unduly negative one, at least I detached that feeling with the quirky little game I associated with him.

A Gratuitous Ranking of All the Games in 1-2-Switch

Oh, did you think I was done talking about 1-2-Switch? When I said I was a champion of mini-game compilations, I wasn’t kidding! While trying to talk about it in broad strokes is one thing, I secretly enjoy writing out gratuitous ranking lists with little blurbs. And really, the internet seems to eat them up too, so why not please everybody?

While I can tell you that 1-2-Switch is a great game that, while maybe not necessarily worth the price it’s at now, is worth at least your time sometime down the road because playing with other people seems to be a lost art that Nintendo continually tries time and time again to instill in everybody. Seriously, it’s fun to play games with family and friends. They tend to call you less offensive names to boot. Without further ado, here’s my ranking of all twenty-eight mini-games in 1-2-Switch:

28. Sneaky Dice

I’ve literally only played Sneaky Dice once. It’s not fun, it’s utterly random and it barely qualifies as a game. It’s the type of thing your mom would try to device on a long car trip where the radio only picks up fuzz and you brought no toys, or books or games. There’s nothing else for her to do to entertain you than create an on-the-spot-asinine game that has muddy rules. It’s not quite Hell but its pretty close.

It’s a game in which you roll dice, guess what your number is, guess what your opponent’s number is, and then try to trick them into guessing if your or their number is higher or lower…I guess? In other words it’s a lot of guessing.

I’d rather be the person who’s the first to find a cow in the barren prairie of middle South Dakota during a vacation than play this game again.

 27. Joy-Con Rotation

Much like Sneaky Dice, Joy-Con Rotation doesn’t make enough sense to be fun. You and your opponent take turns gently picking the controller off the ground, moving it to a certain degree, then putting it back down. Apparently you aren’t supposed to “upset the balance,” but being cryptic isn’t a very good goal to have.

The only reason it places slightly above Sneaky Dice is you don’t have to be stupidly dubious to your opponent.

26. Dance Off

Dance Off is a reminder that in order to get the most out of 1-2-Switch, you need to check your inhibitions at the door. The more you let go and just goof around, the more fun it becomes.

There are a set of mini-games here that are nothing more than a novelty; you dink around with it once or twice (or more depending on whether you get new people to play) and not much else. Dance Off in particular has you just simply dancing. There’s a score that’s constantly tallying as you go, but as to what advances it faster or slower is an utter mystery.

It takes a lot for me to want to cut loose, but the sillier something is the more apt I am to do it. Unfortunately for Dance Off, I’m reticent to show off my moves so it ended up being the biggest loser out of all the novelty experiences.

25. Gorilla

Gorilla is another novelty act, this time having you bang your chest to a rhythm with the winner garnering the loving affection of a lady gorilla with a pink bow in her hair.

It’s a little more game-ish than Dance Off and it’s definitely funnier for an audience, but thumping your chest isn’t something you’ll come back to often.

24. Air Guitar

Air Guitar is a more superfluous activity like Dance Off, but it must be said that people are more apt into get into fake shredding than to court like a monkey or get jiggy with it. You quickly notice that everyone has their own style when they unleash their inner metal head, therefore this game is more likely to get picked if only by the party host to see how everyone does.

 23. Runway

I like this one a lot simply because it’s amazing how into people can get! The goal is to strut up and down an imaginary runway while striking poses in between beats. It’s utterly ridiculous, weirdly cathartic and the most fun novelty to watch as a bystander.

22. Zen

Unlike everything else in 1-2-Switch which relies of exaggerated motions, Zen forces you to compete with others by being as still as possible. While it sounds kind of boring, it’s an awesome test of patience watching my fidgety children attempt to do this. It’s like torture that’s also a game.

21. Copy Dance

Whereas Dance Off just had you marching to the beat of your own drum, Copy Dance has you make a wacky pose that your opponent then has to copy. Think of it as a stylin’ and profilin’ taking on H.O.R.S.E. and I think you’ll get the idea.

How the game reads what you’re doing and whether or not your opponent is properly copying you is a bit ambiguous, but it doesn’t matter a whole lot because being silly is the real goal. Like a lot of what’s on offer in 1-2-Switch, there’s just as much added to the experience via the crowd as there is for those who are holding the controllers. A subtle reminder of why party games are worth your time.

20. Boxing Gym

Boxing Gym is very similar to Copy Dance in cadence, but it feels a little more technical and there is a defined move set with jabs, uppercuts and hooks. Maybe not as fun in large groups, but better when there’s two of you.

 19. Plate Spin

Plate Spin get the award for creepiest characters by a long, long shot but what it loses is sheer scariness it makes up for in being a big proponent in playing a video game in a way that doesn’t actually involve the screen.

You hold your joy-con like a stick and rotate it furiously to keep an imaginary plate spinning. The HD rumble helps suspend your disbelief and while that in itself is a neat trick, the game because crazy fun when you try to mess with your opponents while simultaneously keeping your plate afloat. More often than not your attempts at hosing your opponent means you’re distracted just enough to lose focus and drop your own.

I know people cry foul that this was the whole point of Johann Sebastian Joust, but this is a little more consumer friendly than having to buy Move controllers and such.

Also: someone please bring Johann Sebastian Joust to Switch.

 18. Telephone

Telephone is the prime example one could use to show off what makes 1-2-Switch fun to the lowest common denominator. You probably read that as “show this thing to dumb people”, but rather it’s the quickest thing people will grasp onto when trying to describe the tech behind the Switch.

You put the Joy-Cons on a table and wait for it to ring, the first person to pick it up wins. It’s succinct and to the point, but also a reminder that it’s not to be played ad infinitum, but rather in rotation with everything else that’s on offer. Unlike a lot of other games in 1-2-Switch, someone will eventually come back to this one.

17. Baseball

Have you ever played imaginary baseball when left to your own devices on a field? You know, where you pretend to pitch the ball, someone else pretends to hit it and you usually emulate an announcer by saying that the crowd goes wild?

That’s Baseball in 1-2-Switch.

16. Wizard

It’s by no means my favorite game on this compilation, but my kids really dig the back and forth of trying to “out-spell” each other so it gets a spot further up the list.

This is one of the first examples of using the feel behind HD rumble to really gauge what you’re doing. The gist is that you have to thrust your wand at your opponent to try and move a powerful orb into them. Swinging willy-nilly is a legitimate strategy, but there’s a defensive portion to it where you can kind of “catch” the orb by pulling back, then thrusting forward in the hopes that you’ll make it collide with your opponent.

It’s deeper than anyone is likely to give it credit for.

15. Sword Fight

Another favorite amongst my kin is Sword Fight which, like Wizard, has an ebb and flow to it that’s very engaging…assuming you’re playing against someone who isn’t just flailing. There are horizontal and vertical attacks that you must block and swing with that feel sublime thanks to the rumble.

I’d say this is a lot safer than actually swinging sticks or something at each other, but I’ve seen near misses with merely Joy-Cons and it’s a bit scary.

14. Baby

While most motion control situations revolve around exaggerated movement, Baby is all about subtlety.

You must cradle the Switch as a baby resides within the screen, and you have to rock it gently to get to go to sleep. When you think you have her down, you must then softly put her down to complete your task. I imagine it doesn’t feel wholly unsimilar to what it probably feels like when you rope a calf and tie its legs together.

It’s a weird juxtaposition of trying to be quick but also calm about what you’re doing. But it’s also oddly satisfying when you pull it off. Too bad getting actual babies to sleep wasn’t this easy!

13. Treasure Chest

One of the few games in 1-2-Switch where you actually need a screen, Treasure Chest has you rotating your Joy-Con to unravel a large chain that’s wrapped around a, well, treasure chest.

Like Baby, there’s an interesting mix of subtlety and haste involved in trying to unwrap your prize before your opponent. I like how the rumble snaps a little when you get the chain around corners in yet another curious use of visceral feedback.

12. Ball Count

If there were one game that I would show somebody that would make you believe in the power of HD rumble, Ball Count is it.

Your goal is to rotate and move your Joy-Con as if it were a box filled with marbles. And, as you’ve probably heard or suspected, it feels exactly like a box filled with marbles. This is one of those things where a gimmick can be simply amazing while still resembling something that would be continually fun.

I never stop being wowed by this game.

11. Safe Crack

While most games up until this point give off strong vibrations when it comes to rumble, Safe Crack is a reminder of how understated it can be.

You have to twist your Joy-Con back and forth to feels a click as you attempt to open a safe. Being as you’re competing with somebody else, there’s a lot involved with making sure you’re accurate but precise. There’s a certain anxiety you get when you realize your opponent hit their first tumbler that makes you want to go a little faster.

This is a great game for people who maybe can’t get the hang of the other games because a deftness is needed instead of going big.

10. Samurai Training

In this game, players take turns trying to swing a katana into their opponent while their opponent must try and catch the oncoming strike. Samurai Training is one of many games where hesitation plays a big factor in your performance, and where performance is part of the fun.

You can fake out your opponent when swinging to try and either mess up their timing or just straight up have them inadvertently catch what isn’t coming, then go in for the strike. In doing so, you start to play the part of a samurai, which is when you realize 1-2-Switch blurs the line between being a game and being actual play.

9. Shave

This is the most realistic shaving simulator I have ever played!

Without the perk of a mirror, you must try and more of your face then your opponent just by feel. Like I said, it’s a very convincing game that I think makes it more entertaining than it would otherwise.

8. Soda Shake

Soda Shake is hot potato by all accounts. Each player takes turns shaking a bottle of soda then passing it to the next player. At certain intervals the fizziness starts to get stronger, letting you know it’s getting ready to pop.

It’s simple for sure, but it’s also one of the few games where you can involve more than one other person in to the competition.

7. Signal Flags

Of all the games on offer in 1-2-Switch, Signal Flags is the most complex. Take that with a grain of salt; that’s like saying Star Wars is high cinema or Beastie Boys License to Ill was their greatest work – not technically true, but you can’t forget the importance it has to their franchise/work as a whole.

The game shouts out directions you must swing your imaginary flag…assuming who you’re listening to. There’s also an opposing voice that, when you hear it, you must swing your flag in the opposite position. In theory it sounds simple, but trying to listen in between laughing or, as is most likely the case, in a big rollicking group is much harder than you’d think.

While this cracked the top ten in my list, I’m sure my kids would put it substantially below because, you know, listening is not their forte.

6. Beach Flag

What’s with all these flags, you say? Well, apparently they make for some interesting experiences.

Beach Flag is extremely simple; you must run with all your might until you reach the titular goal before your opponent does. What makes it so much fun isn’t the act of running (although I should do more of it IRL) but in spectating. Watching people run in place is ridiculous and kind of awesome.

Please check your reticence at the door; it’s time to get goofy.

5. Eating Contest

Ah, the top five. Where most people with common sense would have written a post and called it good. Probably a smarter move.

But I digress.

Eating Contest has you pointing the IR sensor in the right Joy-Con at your mouth and chomping the living hell out of some submarine sandwiches. Whoever eats the most wins.

Remember how I said Beach Flag was fun to watch? It’s got absolutely nothing on Eating Contest. Watching people fake it is the most bizarre and, in turn, most fun to watch. Will they smack their lips? Bare their teeth? Make noise while flapping their gums?

I don’t know, but I’m going to make sure anyone that comes within a certain vicinity of my Switch play this so I can find out.

4. Table Tennis

While there are games that require you to listen or feel what’s going on in order to win, Table Tennis is interesting in the fact that the only way I can describe playing it is by sensing what’s going on.

There’s a certain cadence to Table Tennis, where everything from the ping of the ball on your fake paddle to the sound of that little hollow ball bouncing off an imaginary green table sway what you’re doing. The less you observe and the more you pretend will serve you well. Not an intention pun, but I’ll take it.

There’s some depth here with serving and power shots, but really the meat of the game comes from the tension of staring down your opponent and seeing who has a better feel for the sport.

3. Quick Draw

Quick Draw is the game that almost immediately gets picked first in anyone’s rotation.

It’s easy to understand, it feels very weighty and almost everyone squints their eyes and wriggles their fingers over their Joy-Con as if they were a true outlaw. You forget that this is a game and just settle in to this sense of play that is unparalleled. Everyone has a certain style when they play the game, whether it’s to try and psych out their opponent with their facial features or by swinging their opposing hand in a ploy to get their foe to draw early.

It’s very tempting to have a set of ten-gallon hats just to complete the ruse.

2. Fake Draw

Quick Draw in and of itself is a hoot; it made it to number three on the list. Have the game spout out words like “flower” and “foot” instead of fire just adds this new layer of subversiveness to an already incendiary experience and you have pure magic. Well, pure except for…

1. Milk

Oh, Milk. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

Squeezing a virtual teat wraps up all the special moments each game individually brings to 1-2-Switch and wraps it into this amazing, visceral moment of existential confusion.

There’s a subtlety to massaging a cows udder, where both pull and squeeze are taking into account. You can’t help but gaze into your opponent’s eyes as you watch them caress the teat in their attempt to smoothly collect alpha dairy. There’s that quick spark of realization that yes Goddammit you’re a better rancher than your opponent. There’s the realization that video games are supposed to be fun and all pretenses of seriousness have been thrown out the window as you compete in this colossal challenge.

If the Joy-Con’s were able to heat up in your hands as you went, 1-2-Switch would totally be Game of the Year material.