A few days before my Arrival, it occurred to me that I’d never actually delivered Santa’s trademark greeting—the “ho-ho-ho”—before in my life. I panicked, imagining myself stepping down from my antique fire truck, a sack of toys thrown over my shoulder, with dozens of children flocking around me the same way that women always flocked to Rod Stewart in his MTV videos. Then, I’d take a deep breath, rear back, open my mouth, and nothing—not a sound—would come out.
From the moment I’d been hired by Blossom Hills, I’d been expecting some kind of formal instruction on how to be a Santa Claus. I assumed that I’d have to attend regular Santa Classes—”I’m busy this weekend,” I’d say to friends, “I’ve got Santa School again”—or, at the very least, I’d have to read a very detailed pamphlet teaching me the right way to deliver a ho-ho-ho and how to handle any tricky requests from kids. Example: Instead of Hot Wheels or a Barbie Dream House, what if a child wanted his recently divorced mom and dad to mend fences and get back together? What then?
“Use your common sense,” Gerta said to me over the phone. “Always keep things vague and non-committal. If a child asks you for something personal and abstract like that, simply say, ‘Let old Santa see what he can do about it.’ ”
” ‘Let old Santa see what he can do about it,’ ” I repeated back to her.
“See? You’re a natural,” she said.
I told her that I’d still feel better if there was a class or maybe a detailed pamphlet or series of detailed pamphlets.
“Trust me, once you’re in the suit, you’ll know what to do. Everyone always does. It probably sounds crazy to you, but the suit has magical powers. You’ll see.”
I liked the way she kept referring to it as “The Suit,” like it was the only suit in the world worth wearing. I couldn’t wait to try it on.
“As for the ho-ho-ho, let me tell you a story. Every Blossom Hills regional manager, regardless of whether they’re a man or woman, has to spend one holiday season working as a Santa Claus. It’s part of our training. Me? I wore The Suit for four weeks straight in, seven days a week, in a mall just outside of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I learned a lot about myself in those four weeks, including many things which are personal, and which are therefore none of your business. But one thing I learned that I will share with you is this—”
At that moment it sounded as if the phone line had gone dead. Just as I was about to hang up on my end, I endured a jolt of sound so overwhelming that it threatened to shatter the phone’s earpiece which had been pressed against my ear. The sound, of course, was Gerta’s, “HO, HO, HO, HO!” She drew out the final “O” for a couple of extra beats.
“Unbelievable,” I said. “You sounded like a 400-pound man with a chest cold.”
“I know!” Gerta said. “Isn’t that amazing?”
Time for stage 9-8. And lo, sound the clarions and release the doves, for the one hundredth stage of Donkey Kong is upon us.
Welcome to what is the very top of TOWER. Today’s stage looks and feels like many of the showdown-style stages we’ve seen before in the game. We’ve got Donkey Kong hurling barrels from his stone perch high above the stage floor. We’ve got Mario, looking meek as always, with barrels raining down upon him. But what sets this stage apart from anything we’ve dealt with so far in the game is the way the barrels behave. Typically in this sort of stage, the barrels would fall to the bottom of the stage, then magically right themselves. Mario would be free to grab one of the righted barrels, carry it up to a platform next to D.K., and pelt him with it.
But the barrels here? They never magically right themselves. They simply keep on rolling, obeying the laws of physics, until they roll clear off the screen.
So what you need to do here is this: you need to maneuver Mario into his handstand position. When a barrel approaches from above, Mario will catch it and stop its progress with his feet. (I’d seen this move before, but only during one of the interstitial animations. I had no idea that this move was actually possible.) Once caught and stopped, the barrel with stand upright, which is Mario’s cue to hoist it onto his shoulders, climb up a couple of platforms, and give Donkey Kong a taste of his own barrel-flavored medicine. Hit D.K. three times, and he’s finished.
Oh, and there’s one more complicating factor you should be aware of: if one barrel strikes another barrel, a pair of Eerie Mushrooms will emerge from the wreckage. Also: delivering a blow to D.K. will cause an Eerie Mushroom to mysteriously appear from (for lack of a better term) his area. I have to say, of all the enemies and hazards that I’ve encountered in the game, these Eerie Mushrooms are easily my least favorite. As always, they seem harmless enough, but touching one at the wrong moment, and shrinking Mario down to his hamster size, can, 1. make this already chaotic stage feel overwhelming, and 2. make me shout the words, “Come on!” There’s something unfair and sneaky about the Eerie Mushrooms that I despise.
Now, I’m not going to sugarcoat this: You’ve got a real fight on your hands in this stage. The key, as always, is to remain calm. A couple of pointers that helped me survive:
*The easiest barrels to catch are the ones that D.K. hurls straight down. Position yourself underneath him, ignore the barrels that he tosses off to the left and right, and wait for that fastball barrel right down the middle.
*Remember, though the path of the barrels is difficult to predict, D.K. usually tosses a barrel to the right, then to the left, then down the middle. But every now and then, a barrel will go rogue. Be ready to handstand-flip out of the way at any moment.
*Those Eerie Mushrooms can become a real nuisance. If you spot one or two of them heading your way, and if you think you can catch a barrel on your feet and get out of the way before they arrive, let me tell you something: You can’t. Don’t be afraid to back off, give up your handstand position, let a down-the-middle barrel go by, and wait for the conditions to be right. Be patient, take your time, and eventually you’ll give D.K. those three knocks.
Final numbers for the final stretch of TOWER:
Stage 9-5: 175 seconds
Stage 9-6: 140 seconds
Stage 9-7: 190 seconds
Stage 9-8: 131 seconds
Grand total: 636. Number of Marios in my Mario Reserves: 46. (Confession: I did some serious Mario Harvesting for about an hour prior to this stage, getting my Mario reserves up to 50 before having a go at it. Starting this stage with only seven Marios seemed like a recipe for disaster.)
The post-stage animation? It’s downright glorious. It shows a defeated D.K., upside down, arms flailing, as he plunges from the top of the tower to his—I hope—his certain death. I’ve booked a room for Pauline and me at the Hedonism Resort in Jamaica, so let’s head to the airport…