By Joe Delaney
Despite having played video games for the last 22 years, my passion for video games never really caught on with the rest of my family.
My sister and mother would often play multiplayer games with me like Mario Party or Mario Kart, but their interest never really went beyond that. There was, of course, one exception: my mother was absolutely obsessed with Yoshi’s Story on the Nintendo 64 back in the day.
Yoshi’s Story is a 2D collect-a-thon platformer that was released in 1998 to mostly mixed reviews and has been largely forgotten by the gaming community. But it has always held a special place in my heart because my mom loved it so much.
It is the only single player game she ever played, and she played the hell out of it. The game was incredibly easy to beat, but that was not enough for her. She made it her goal to reach 100% completion by finding all of the game’s main collectible: the melons.
Her transformation from casual Yoshi player to 100% completion perfectionist happened suddenly. To beat a level in Yoshi’s Story, you have to eat 30 fruit of any kind throughout the stage. But one day while playing, my mom decided that she was going to only eat melons, since they seemed to be more prestigious than the more common fruits like bananas and grapes.
When she found and ate every melon in the stage, the level completion screen popped up like usual, where Yoshi smiles and shouts with joy, the screen goes all white, but there was one key difference. Normally a little smiling heart appeared behind Yoshi during this scene, but this time, it was a melon. My mom thought this was the cutest shit ever.
That one little detail changed the way my mom played that game forever. No more fucking around. It was melons only from that point forward.
I swear that my mom played that game for months trying to get all the melons in each stage, and I was always amazed by her persistence. Whenever she would accidentally eat a shitty apple, she would immediately hit the reset button to start from scratch.
Aside from collecting melons, she also made it her goal to find the game’s other secrets. I remember how excited she was when she unlocked the hidden white and black Yoshis. I also remember how pissed she was at me when I played her file and got her black Yoshi killed, which meant she could not play as him again until she found him again. I was grounded from playing Yoshi’s Story for a while after that.
It did not matter too much to me though. I was just happy that she found a game that she loved so much. Her search for each melon was going well, and during her time playing, she found all the melons in nearly every stage … except one.
Ghost Castle, level 6-3, is the one area in the game where my mom did not find all the melons. It bothered her for weeks. Late at night, I would find her glued to the screen, scouring each square inch of that level for hours, trying to find all the hidden fruit. And she came so close, too. I vividly remember when she found 29 melons, but that last one still eluded her.
After countless attempts, she just gave up.
Remember, this was 1998, and we did not have internet at my house, so we could not just look up the solution online. Sometime that summer, I found a Yoshi’s Story strategy guide at Funcoland (what would become Gamestop) and asked my mom if we could get it so she could find that last melon. She refused. She said that would be the easy way out.
My mom never took the easy way out. It was something I always admired about her, but also something that frustrated me, because it often made her life harder. As a single mom, she qualified for government assistance, but instead she chose to work two jobs to take care of her two kids. And she damn sure was not about to use some book to finish her favorite game.
But playing her favorite game became harder to do when working two jobs and raising two kids. She tried to find the time, but eventually, she just stopped playing Yoshi’s Story and gave up on ever finding that last melon.
Over the years, she would bring it up, mostly jokingly, but it is always something that I’ve taken very seriously. I’ve 100% completed many games in my time, and I feel like that dedication comes from my mama. So, for this Mother’s Day, I want to do what she never got to do and find that last melon for her.
I wish I could tell her about this. I wish I could tell her anything right now.
In April, my mom died unexpectedly in her sleep, right before Easter. It was not related to COVID-19, but because of the lockdown, it had been almost a month since I had last seen her. Also because of COVID, we could not have a service for her, so I could not even hug and cry into the shoulders of close friends during a funeral. There is never a good time for your mother to die, but it is especially bad during a global pandemic.
I never got to say goodbye to her. She never got to see me and my fiancée get married. She did get to meet one of her grandchildren, my nephew, but she never got to meet his brother, who is due in a few months. And it breaks my heart that she will never meet my future children, because I know she would have loved them, and they would have loved her.
And she never found that last melon.
When I booted up my old N64, the first thing that happened was … nothing.
I realized I forgot to blow in the cartridge. I do not care what anyone says, that totally works. Once I did that, I was greeted with the high-pitched voices of multiple Yoshis saying “NEEN-TEN-DO!” and it was the biggest nostalgia rush I had felt in years. Not just because it reminded me of my childhood, but because it reminded me of childhood days spent with my mom.
I got to the stage select screen, and sure enough, it was still on World 6. I picked Ghost Castle and picked the black Yoshi (her favorite) to play as, and I was ready to beat this level once and for all for my mom!
And then I realized my control stick was not working. No matter how hard I pushed it to the right, Yoshi only tip-toed when he should have been running. I have had this controller for 22 years, and this is when it finally decided to break on me. 2020 fucking sucks.
It is fine. Like my mama always said, it is the thought that counts (even when I could always tell if she did not like a gift). Honestly, even if my controller hadn’t broken, even if I had played through that level, found every single melon, taken a picture and sent it to her, she probably would have just busted my balls and asked me, “don’t you have anything better to do?”
And if I told her what happened with my controller, she would probably say, “well why didn’t you just buy a new one so you could get that last melon for your mama?” No matter what, she would have busted my balls, and it would have made me laugh.
When I got the news from my sister that my mama died, I was playing Final Fantasy VII Remake, which had just come out that weekend. It took me about a week to build up the strength to play it again (to do anything fun again, really). But I still did it because it helped get my mind off my grief.
And as I played it, I made sure I completed all the side quests, talked to all the characters, tried to find all the secrets, just like how my mama tried to find all the melons in Yoshi’s Story. I will never have the same tenacity as my mama, but some of her spirit lives on in me, in my sister, and especially in my 4-year-old nephew. He is almost as tough and crazy as her. Almost.
Everything is going to remind me of my mother for a while now, which is emotionally draining, but it also makes me happy. I want to do little things to help keep her alive, like playing her favorite game, and writing about her to share with others.
And I’ve already ordered a new controller to finally finish what she started more than 20 years ago. And I hope that she looks down on me, smiles, and says, “don’t you have anything better to do?”
I love you, Ma.
In loving memory of Marlene Delaney (1958-2020)