Paint me like one of your Italian plumbers

mario-paint

Mario Paint (1992)

In the pre-Internet days, if you wanted to have a bit of fun on your computer, there weren’t many options. Command and Conquer and Civilization II were always great shouts, although what if you’d just been thoroughly trounced by the AI and you couldn’t face the thought of going back into the arena?

You always need something to fall back on. Inevitably it was Solitaire, that delightful Space Pinball game and even Minesweeper that bridged the gap for you. Once even those options were exhausted however, and once you finally gave up trying to understand Hearts, Spider Solitaire or Reversi, you eventually turned towards trusty old Microsoft Paint.

I know it is sad in the extreme to have loyalty and nostalgia towards a computer drawing application – after all, it’s not as if you can use an AC Cobra or a Trebuchet, unless you happen to be good enough at drawing to sculpt these with a mouse.

But honestly, I’m telling you now – give me MS Paint or give me death. If I need a quick screenshot for work, or if I need to draw an insulting caricature of a colleague, MS Paint is the one to use. It’s quick, it’s easy, it doesn’t cost you a penny and it always gets the job done.

I often see people looking for the best deals on getting Adobe Photoshop, not to mention they’re always looking for tutorials as well, particularly something that will instruct them on how to get to grips with something called layers. Well, Paint doesn’t know what layers are and it doesn’t want to know.

You better believe me when I say that Photoshop is for cleanshirts – did you know that if you load up an image of dollar bills in Photoshop, it will recognise the pattern and block you, for fear that you might be trying to print your own notes? Who needs a nanny-state painting application?

I’d be lying if I told you that I was drawing works of art in Microsoft Paint in the late 90s. I doubt you could even call it a rip-off of Picasso. Actually, if you really want to know, the bulk of my old drawing portfolio was various parts of the body, but not just frontage – arse-age too, and often hairy.

I also liked to take that curved line tool and pretend it was a helicopter rotor. I’d supply the noises myself. See, it’s things like this that you just don’t get in your Fortnites, your Minecrafts and your Robloxes – yes, they offer gameplay and sociability instead.

But you know, it’s not as if PCs were everyday in the late 90s either, they certainly weren’t in every household. They cost a goddam fortune as I remember: I believe our first PC in 2000 cost £1,900, back when it really was £1,900. I’m now typing this on a €400 laptop that’s many years old. Funny that, eh?

Anyway, that’s still quite a bit of an outlay, and that’s before you get any software onto your new machine. So if you’re a budding artiste, but you lack the funds to get yourself some proper computer hardware, you might fear that all is lost.

Well you need worry no more because I’m going to knock your creative socks off: you can have a powerful drawing application at home, for little cost at that, plus it runs off your humble old games console. You won’t even have to supply any blasted printer ink, either.

It’s Mario Paint, and it’s certainly one of the oddest games in the Super Nintendo’s back catalogue. For starters, it comes in a big box with a mouse and mousepad. Yes, that’s right, it’s even mouse-operated – no longer will you have to desperately seek an outlet by using your controller to draw crude shapes in the grass in Zelda.

To play the role of an expert mouse advisor for one second though, the old SNES Mouse that comes with this game is a wee bit clunky, to say the least. You won’t be doing much fine detail with it, I can tell you that, unless you have hours to spend. And if you don’t have free hours to spend, then what kind of creative are you?!

To this date, and to my knowledge, the Mona Lisa has not been replicated on Mario Paint. But you need not scream in impotent fear because you can use all kinds of fun brushes, badges, stamps and more in Mario Paint to make your own little scene. Fancy drawing a little animation? That’s available to you as well, although that’s with strong emphasis on little – I think you’re only allowed four frames of animation.

The best two features of the game aren’t anything to do with painting or drawing at all, which isn’t much of an endorsement to the game’s quality. But you know how it is – a bad artisan blames his or her brushes, right?

The first selling point here for your 50 cents (that’s if you buy the game loose – you might have some shipping costs on the big box version, but that’s all) is a composer mode. It’s a lot easier to use than the music composers you had on the old Nokia phones, and you’ve got a lot more instrumentation than just monophonic renditions of the Mission Impossible theme.

Mario Paint Composer became its own… I don’t want to say meme, so I’ll go even hammier and say subculture. Think of a popular song out there, and someone’s probably painstakingly done a Mario Paint rendition of it. Ah, I should mention that they actually use a piece of PC software that’s based on Mario Paint, rather than the real deal.

But how much originality is in any creation? It’s all about evolution and innovation, right? Well, I’m talking nonsense now, but believe me on this – there’s a Mario Paint interpretation of Africa by Toto out there that’ll blow your mouse’s balls out. Go and give it a listen on YouTube if you want to experience real art.

The second reason to part with your hard-earned cash, or more likely emulate it on one of your five home computers and use a proper mouse along with it, is the fly-swatting minigame. I once read that people were buying Mario Paint not because they had any designs on being artists (perish the thought – it takes a fortnight to fill the screen with paint) but because they were desperate to play this game.

It’s addictive alright, although when you’re getting far into it you sometimes feel like you’re about to crunch the little mouse that could into tiny pieces. It wouldn’t be such a disaster anyway, because I can’t even think of another game that uses the SNES Mouse right now, and I doubt I’d want to play them, either.

One you’ve gotten your money’s worth with the composer and fly-swatter modes, you’ll exit back to the painting screen and find yourself sitting there in a slightly uncomfortable silence, as it hits you just how obsolete this game now.

Yes, this was hardly a game that was ever going to stand the test of time. But for a little preview of the future world of computer aided design, Mario Paint was a cute little moment in design history, and a lot less sinister than Eric Gill’s contributions to the art world. Mario Paint’s is a highly forgettable moment, but it had some nice music at times.

Now that we all have the internet, we know that it’s full of the most interesting characters, and I do mean that in the most condescending, patronising way possible. So I’ll say this: if anyone out there, even just one person, owes their successful art career entirely to Mario Paint, I want to meet you. In return… I’ll let you paint my portrait, and you already know what method to use.

27 October 2020

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