Returning to Mario, again and again

Mario games never click with me immediately. But given enough time, I always seem to wind up back in the world of a certain moustachioed friend. That was true for Super Mario 64 and, much more recently, Super Mario Odyssey.

I just about remember playing Mario 64 for the first time. I first saw it at a friend’s house, and the same friend later donated his copy to me. The first thing that struck me was, of course, the first thing that you see – Mario’s beaming polygonal face. A face that becomes most hilarious when coupled with the stretching and pulling you can do on that title screen. From there on it’s hazy.

What I do know is Mario 64 didn’t make a strong first impression beyond that title screen. I never got much beyond the first Bowser stage; I made it down to the castle basement, disliked the levels and gave up. I may have cheated and used my friend’s save file to check out later stages like Tick Tock Clock and Rainbow Road but I can’t be sure. Still, I did enjoy those early stages – still do – and my favourite course was the penguin slide race on Cool Cool Mountain. I hated that little shit and struggled to beat him. Then I finally did it, only to return and find he’s ballooned in size and difficulty! No way.

For as much as I loved those individual aspects, the game as a whole didn’t hold all that much appeal for me. That all changed when I came back to Mario 64 years later on the Wii’s Virtual Console. The game had actually improved in my estimation over the intervening years, and replaying it met and even exceeded my expectations. This time around I utterly devoured the game, getting all 120 stars and then some, doing further replays. My God, I thought, this is a masterpiece. Everything about it (with a few exceptions, like the camera) feels Classic, with a capital C. And it wasn’t the things I loved as a child. The penguin race was still fun, but this time it was a small part of a much larger, wider experience.

Some of what makes Mario 64 special are little things, like the file select screen. This washed over me as a child, but on relistening it brings this tidal wave of emotion – it can floor me and catch me off guard hearing it to this day.

Was it really necessary for picking a save file to be so damn emotional?!

Why does Mario age like a fine cheese while most games’ lights dim like farts in the wind? Is it because Mario games are just so well crafted and thought out? Beautifully, lovingly designed? I honestly don’t know. These are just guesses… the game design buries itself in the player’s subconscious, Inception-style, and grows until you love it without even realising what’s going on. Mario, a love drug peddler?

I’m asking these stupid questions of Mario because I’ve just returned to Super Mario Odyssey after six months away. I’m now hoovering up an absurd number of moons since reaching the end credits and besting the post-game challenges. I have to say the charm is working on me, more so than it did my first time. Like with my initial time with Mario 64, there were some undeniable moments

Like Super Mario 64’s iconic chubby penguin, New Donk was and still is a firm favourite.

I came to Odyssey with high expectations. Although I played it some months post-release, I was hoping it would blow me away in the same way Zelda: Breath of the Wild did. As it turned out, Odyssey, while very good, was a bit of a comedown off that high. And I have the proof, right here:

[A] solid game, although I will say I’m not completely head over heels for it.

My recent return has seen me change my mind. I now think it’s an extraordinary game, easily up there with the best in the series – even vying with my beloved Mario 64. There’s so much imagination in every stage, so many ideas. And Mario himself controls incredibly. Coming back to Mario Odyssey… I just have a much more positive feeling, more goodwill toward it.

So much so that I’m wondering (in my own peculiar, farfetched way), whether in ten years time, I’ll look back on Mario Odyssey as a milestone in gaming, a Classic with a capital C – and Breath of the Wild as just another fart in the wind.

Breath of the what…? Joking, just joking! Hopefully everyone can agree – 2017 was one hell of a year for videogames.

6 comments

  1. Athena | AmbiGaming

    Unfortunately I haven’t played either of these games, but from what you and others have said, the sad truth is that Mario hit a homerun while Zelda wound up with a case of the farts. Yep,that’s the phrase I decided to go with.

    Both seem innovative, but it seems that Mario managed to keep whatever magic charm he’s always had, whereas BotW veered a little too far away from Zelda expectations. I could be wrong, and if I ever get a Switch I will happily come back and let you know if I change my mind! Either way, it’s interesting to look back and see how games grow on you without you really thinking about it. And music is such a powerful memory agent, too…

    • veryverygaming

      Lol, I suppose I put you up to that with the many flatulence references in the post. To be honest as much as I love the game Breath of the Wild was and still is a silly title, and especially dangerous for someone like me who is inclined toward toilet humour!

      You make a good point, about Mario staying closer to the series traditions (at least the Mario 64 traditions!) and Zelda pushing the boat out further. Still, I think the Zelda series needed the change! Needed a Breath of Fresh Air even. So sorry… not sorry.

      Anyway Athena I would love it if you got a Switch and gave both Zelda and Mario a shot. I know you have enough consoles on your plate already and Switch isn’t exactly cheap, but if any games of recent years deserve your critical attention surely it must be this landmark pair!

      • Athena | AmbiGaming

        They are good references, and I am always appreciative of a good potty humor 🙂

        I’d be interested to play those games, too! But yes, I’ve managed to bury myself under a ton of games on a variety of consoles, and until the price comes down a bit I will only be shouting from the sidelines for a while (haha). I appreciate your kind words about deserving my critical attention, though!! I am very flattered 🙂

  2. moresleepneeded

    I remember one blogger described the Mario games as ones that people are not excited to hear about, but usually enjoy them after playing them, which sums up my feelings about them. When I hear about a new Mario game, I will usually assume it will be a childish game with Mario jumping on Koopa-Troopers in a fantastical world, however, I will play the game and enjoy the fun gameplay, challenging puzzles and well-designed levels. My experiences of playing Super Mario 64 do seem similar to the ones mentioned in the article. I remember the race with the penguin, but I did not beat him until much later in the game (his habit of knocking me off the course and his insistence of adhering to the rules was extremely irritating). I felt the levels located in the Castle basement were the weakest set of levels as Shifting Sand Land and Lethal Lava Land felt more like jumbles of ideas rather than fully realised levels. I felt Bowser in the Fire Sea was less imaginative than the first Bowser level. I was not sure if Dire, Dire Docks was a proper level with 6 stars and the swimming beast in Hazy Maze Cave used to terrify me. I think the reason that the file select screen was so emotional was because the instruments used and the cheerful music sounded joyful and childlike, while the high pitch made it sound like a half-remembered melody, which created a feeling of lost childhood. I think the instruction manual for the game mentioned that the reason for the giant Mario head at the beginning of the game was to allow the player to get used to using the control system of the Nintendo 64.
    Have you played other 3D Mario games, such as Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario Sunshine? Do you feel the same way about the 2D Mario games as you do for these two games?

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