20 Minutes

My elementary school self had a pretty simple definition of what wealth meant: Martin, my best elementary school friend, was rich. Martin had two huge boxes standing next to his Super Nintendo: 40 games. Import game adapter. SNES mouse. Super Scope light gun. Multitap. I was so jealous of his multitap! A multiplayer adapter that allowed you to connect more than the two intended controllers to the Super Nintendo. Theoretically, this would have allowed you (if you combined two Multitap adapters!) to play with eight friends together. In practice, however, there were no games that supported more than five players at a time. And to be honest, the number of qualitatively useful games with multitap support was very small. The fact that Secret of Mana is still considered one of the best RPGs today is probably mainly due to the multitap support. A single-player experience is glorified alone – a multiplayer experience is glorified together with others.

Martin, Stefan and I played nothing else for weeks; talked about nothing else; thought about nothing else. Secret of Mana was – literally – a unique (cooperative!) multiplayer experience for us back then. Usually, someone always had to watch while the other two played Mario Kart, Street Fighter, or Super Double Dragon. For 20 minutes. Then we switched and passed the controller around. That’s what we had agreed on at some point. Fair! And yet it always ended up being an agonizingly long 20 minutes. With Secret of Mana, that had become obsolete for the moment. Finally we could all play at the same time. For hours and without a break.

At some point the elementary school days were over. We went to different schools and no longer met to play. Our interests had developed differently; our friend groups had changed. Typical drifting apart – all without melancholy. When we ran into each other at town festivals or birthday parties over the next few years, there were hardly any common themes. A bit of video game small talk, a bit of Secret of Mana nostalgia carriage ride. During one of these encounters, Stefan told me that there were German-language SNES modules of Secret of Mana 2 for sale on eBay at horrendous prices. An unofficial fan translation of the successor, which was only released in Japan, now pressed onto modules and sold by a user with a copy station. By the way, it can also be found for free as ROM for the common SNES emulators on the PC. But where is the appeal there? The nostalgia factor? The multitap adapter?

The eBay product description from 2003 read: “Experience the official sequel to Secret of Mana on your Super Nintendo! […] For the first time Secret of Mana 2 is available in German translation – play alone or together with two friends (multiplayer adapter required!) […] Strictly limited edition!”

We actually bought it. We met at Martin’s place, plugged in the Super Nintendo, plugged in the Multitap adapter, started the game, and beamed ourselves back to our elementary school days. And it was good! For a few minutes at least. Then Martin and I had freed the wizard, who from now on was the third main character in our group. No matter what and how long we tried: Stefan couldn’t control him – the AI had complete control over the wizard. Reset. Other controller. Blow module. New save… all useless. Compared to its predecessor, Secret of Mana 2 does not support a multiplayer adapter – it can only be played by two people. Disillusionment set in and we suddenly realized that there was only one solution to this insurmountable problem: After 20 minutes, a controller was passed on. One of us now had to pause for 20 minutes. An agonizingly long 20 minutes.

Note 1: J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Vol. 1, released in 1994 for the Super Nintendo, allows 8-player multitap support via cheat. However, one of the characters can then only move and take damage, but cannot actively intervene himself.

Note 2: Secret of Mana 2 is redundant and yawningly boring.

This post is also available in: German