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.
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
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.