The voice of your mother reverberates into your hallway, muffled by its trip through the stairwell and around the half-opened door. "Dinner's ready!" But you already knew. You can smell the roast chicken and the broccoli with garlic she makes— it's the only way you'll eat broccoli— but you don't care.
You're exactly halfway through the first castle in Paper Mario. So you stay silent. "Did you hear me? Dinner's ready, kiddo!" "Just a minute, mom! I need to get to the save spot!" And when finally you get to that S block and race to the table, everyone has finished eating, the chicken is cold, and the broccoli is wilted and soggy.
I've played through multiple games on virtual consoles, adventure games, RPGs, action games, what have you. And there's always something missing. Yeah, I prefer cartridges— I like having something physical to remind me what I'm playing, but that's not it.
I'm nostalgic for that feeling of One More Level, of One More Battle, of knowing the save spot is just beyond that next miniboss, that your family's waiting for you at the dinner table, and that if you fail, you have to go all the way back to the start of the dungeon. That was, to be honest, a big part of my childhood. I used to do my homework right when I got home, play outside for an hour or so, then start playing N64 when it got dark, right before my parents started making dinner.
And it's why I'm not sure how much I'll enjoy Earthbound on the Wii U VC. It's why I don't really get a sense of wonder from Super Metroid. Yeah, they're brilliant games. And yes, I enjoy the hell out of playing them. But there's no urgency. Maybe it's because I'm on my own now, and I don't have my wonderful parents waiting for me at the table, or my little brother watching me play, telling me dinner can wait. That's probably a big part of it.
But there's something to be said for putting things at risk. In Super Metroid, as in all Wii U VC games (and as in emulators), you have the ability to create save states. You can save at any time. It's super convenient, and it's nice to be able to pick up right where you left off in Punch-Out!.
But if you game to be immersed in a world, to escape, or just to let your imagination run free, this convenience runs counter to that. There's always an out. Boss coming up? Save a second beforehand! Worried you'll make a mistake? Save, and you can always go back!
Autosave was a blessing when it was introduced. I loved it. I loved not having to confirm whether or not I wanted to overwrite my save data every single time I saved. I loved getting a game over in God of War and being able to pick up right where I left off.
But now I'm an "adult", supposedly. I have a job, and responsibilities. I should love the fact that I can save at any time, that people now don't have to keep multiple save files on RPGs just to make sure they get the best ending. Unless we're talking about Persona.
I don't love it.
I've noticed that, as in life, video games are all about the journey. I got really upset when I beat 2 of my favorite games ever— Tales of Symphonia and Sonic Adventure 2 Battle — I knew I'd never experience them for the first time again. And that was a melancholy feeling for me.
Slowing down is important, and the convenience of save states ruins that. I blast through screens in Super Metroid, not caring about my health bar because I know nothing's really at stake. Dinner's not getting cold. There's no threat of "oh man, I might just lose the last hour of gameplay" hanging over my head.
And as sucky as it is when you died, and you had to go back, you learned. And conversely, when you got to that save spot, you felt an amazing feeling of relief as your hearts all refilled. The ability to save whenever you want— it takes all of that away.
(And yes, I realize I could just not use the save state function. That's not the point. The fact that it's there removes the urgency, the risk from gaming. You always have that out.)
I know I'll enjoy Earthbound. I've never actually played through the whole thing, and I'm really looking forward to it. But there will be a piece missing. It won't feel entirely complete, or true. And no matter how good my cooking gets, I'll never be able to match my mom's garlic broccoli.