The Japanese version of Super Mario World for the Super Famicom came in a long yellow box that always felt absolutely stuffed. There was the cartridge in there, and a plastic mount for it I think, but there was also the instruction sheet, which was folded and folded on itself, and when unfolded spread out to a surprising degree. And at the centre of it was a map – a beautiful, detailed map. Here was Super Mario’s world, islands, bridges, oceans, rivers. Even now I get a bit emotional thinking about it.
Just before this, Super Mario 3 had introduced the idea of having a map in Mario games, and I really love the little world maps it offered, plants and animals bobbing along with the beat, different route choices suddenly available, that astonishing bit where you go up into the sky and then explore the clouds. But Super Mario 3 is the tasting menu Mario, and it felt like you were getting a bunch of different arrangements of dishes as much as being allowed to visit actual places. Super Mario World actually linked all its little lands together into one place. Its map felt much more real and meaningful because it properly provided everything with a context.
After a while with Super Mario World you were actually playing the map as much as the game, hunting for levels that had multiple exits, trying to work out where the secret Star network was strung. I remember being stuck on Cheese Bridge for what felt like years – I just sensed I was missing something. I remember returning to the map and really trying to place myself in its world. A magical experience.