This week, Nintendo News will journey through the lives of three qualifying Nintendo World Championships 2015 finalists ahead of the event this weekend. Today’s story follows Mick Synodis from Washington.
Part one featured finalist Fernando Terracuso.
“I’m gonna wreck it!” the colossal brute said. He clambered onto the apartment building’s outer walls, hurling punches at windows and shattering glass as he scaled to the fifth floor. Everything was utterly wrecked.
The residents all appeared at the remnants of their windows. “Fix it, Felix!” they pleaded.
Mick Synodis stood facing the screen built into the arcade cabinet. He had complete control over Fix-It Felix and his trusty magic hammer. If he could maneuver Felix to each floor, fix each window as he passed, and avoid the debris Wreck-It Ralph was hurling his way, he’d be able to move on to the next stage.
And if he kept that up, he could earn the high score.
Disney brought the specially made arcade version of Fix-It Felix Jr., the game featured in their animated film Wreck-It Ralph, to PAX Prime 2012. Donkey Kong world record holder Steve Wiebe had his go at Disney’s new game and pulled off a score of 44,400 points. The top scorer who managed to beat that by the end of the day would win an advance screening of Wreck-It Ralph with 100 friends.
“I played it for like three hours because we had to play every single level to get every single score,” Synodis tells me, remembering the contest. He eventually completed over 80 levels in Fix-It Felix Jr. and claimed the new high score.
At that point in the day, there wasn’t enough time left for another competitor to play through the entire game and earn a higher score, so Disney named Synodis the winner, took his information, and said they’d call him later.
Disney never did. Synodis eventually found out from a friend that someone, somehow, did manage to sneak in an even higher score at the last minute.
It was Synodis’s first gaming competition — and it was almost his last.
Synodis, now 33, grew up with an NES. As a kid he specialized in Japanese games like those from Nintendo. But he never considered himself a skilled gamer until his 20s when he started to work for various video game stores, including a stint at GameStop.
“I don’t think many companies make games with the level of polish and quality that Nintendo does,” Synodis says. While he has a place in his heart for games like Spelunky and Scrolls, he’s put hours into Super Smash Bros. and loves his Wii U for its multiplayer.
He toyed with the idea of entering contests again. He even practiced retro Nintendo games for a Seattle tournament but didn’t end up participating. In his mind, he still felt the bitter and seemingly random loss at PAX Prime.
But then the Nintendo World Championships 2015 were announced.
The first Nintendo World Championships, held in 1990, were considered the pinnacle of Nintendo tournaments and remain legendary today. After a 25-year vacation, the second NWC will finally be held in Los Angeles this Sunday. To qualify for the event, fans had to try out at a participating Best Buys by completing Ultimate NES Remix scenes from Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3 and Dr. Mario.
“I knew I had played the hell out of those games as a kid and was still good at them,” Synodis says. He had never played Ultimate NES Remix, but picked up a copy to practice on as soon as the championships were announced.
At first, Synodis wasn’t out to win. He just thought it’d be cool to enter and be a part of the NWC revival. But as he continued to practice, he kept getting better and better. He was regularly pulling in 3–4 million in Dr. Mario alone.
“Whenever I practice for a competitive game, there comes a point where I plateau and stop getting better,” he says. “That never happened with Dr. Mario.”
As his confidence grew, Synodis was on a mission to qualify. A mission to redeem himself. He wasn’t going to wreck it this time.
“I knew I had played the hell out of those games as a kid and was still good at them.”
The qualifiers were held May 31, and Synodis and a friend arrived in line early that Saturday morning at the Tacoma, Washington event. They met some of the other fans, StreetPassed with them and discussed the game itself.
“There were only a couple people there, as far as I could tell, whose highest scores even approached my average scores,” Synodis recalls.
His growing confidence turned into tension. He knew Dr. Mario could kill his chances due to the sheer random nature of the game. Virtually the entire final qualifying score came from the Dr. Mario round, after all. Thinking about it stressed him out. Nintendo was only allowing one shot, after all.
Best Buy opened their doors. A player scored around 1.7 million in the first round of tryouts. Synodis was in the second group.
The tension returned when he stepped up to play. But ultimately, he was able to tune out the world and focus on the pills. He was shooting for a safe, average Dr. Mario score. He wouldn’t take risks with the combos for fear of messing up his one shot.
He scored over 3 million points all together and took the lead. That’s when hints of paranoia set in.
He knew it was unreasonable, but he couldn’t help it. He kept expecting that the mysterious Wreck-It Ralph victor would show up unannounced to repeat history. He feared that someone, anyone, would rise at the very last second to steal his crown.
That’s when Synodis learned that Nintendo was now allowing multiple attempts per person, a rule he made ample use of. After another five or so attempts, he managed to up his score, and then up it again. He now stood proudly at 4.7 million.
“I was more afraid of losing it than I was of actually getting it.”
“I was super nervous,” Synodis says. Still, he finally managed to pull himself away, leaving for lunch and taking a moment to relax. But later in the evening, he was drawn back to Best Buy. He had to see if his score still held.
His paranoia was ultimately unwarranted. The Nintendo representatives told him no one beat even his original score. He hung out until the event ended at 7 p.m., when he was announced the winner. He’d be a Nintendo World Championships 2015 finalist.
Finally: release. Mick Synodis was able to set down his fear, smile, and go home.
“I was more afraid of losing it than I was of actually getting it,” he says. But once he finally had it, he was able to reflect on what it meant to him. That’s when he consciously realized just how much he wanted to compete. How much he loved competing.
“Maybe there is a part of me that’s more competitive than I realized,” Synodis says. When he talks about the upcoming finals, his plan to practice and the games he hopes show up, each word is drenched in enthusiasm.
Does he think he can take home the trophy, fix the pains of 2012 and avoid another wreck?
“Without a doubt.”
The Nintendo World Championships 2015 will be held this Sunday, June 14. Other Nintendo E3 events include a Digital Event on June 16. Be sure to follow Nintendo News on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ for the latest E3 2015 news coverage.