Super Mario Odyssey has been out for a few months now, but somehow it still finds new ways to delight and surprise me. A true throwback to the days of old, when games were whimsical and uncomplicated; no advanced controls to get to grips with, no bloated storyline to slow things down. There aren’t any quizzical online subscriptions required, nor loot boxes calling out for my wallet like a Siren in the mist.
It’s just fun for the sake of fun, and recently, it has also tugged at my heartstrings in a manner I didn’t see coming.
It started when I arrived at the Mushroom Kingdom, postgame. With its nostalgic tunes and familiar power stars, it was blatantly obvious that it was supposed to evoke fond memories of Super Mario 64. Jumping into paintings and reuniting with my old pal Yoshi certainly fostered this theme, but it wasn’t until I encountered a Toad guarding a door that this feeling really hit home.
‘You know what I miss?’ he opined, red cap atop his head, ‘Your blocky, polygonal look! Glad to let you in anytime you’re dressed like that!’
Every stage has a costume-specific requirement, and the formula was always the same, so I raced back to the hat store to inspect their wares. And there it was; for a modest fee of 35 coins, I could acquire the Mario 64 hat and suit.
Neat, I thought as I gazed at the bulky, garish outfit, It’ll be funny seeing him running around in this getup. Once the outfit was on, however, my heart skipped a beat. Not only was Mario sporting his retro outfit, his whole look had changed. Face, gloves, shoes – he was a complete and perfect replica of the Mario 64 model.
Odyssey is chockfull of neat references to the plumber’s colourful past; New Donk City alone has more Easter eggs than you could count. But something piqued in me with this visual. For the next ten minutes, I simply leapt around the stage, inspired to see 64-bit Mario in action. I tried all of the tricks to see the classic animations. I even played around with new techniques like the roll, and reaching top speed to see his arms outstretched. To the residents of the Mushroom Kingdom, Mario must have looked like a man possessed. Seemingly no rhyme or reason, he bounded around like a pantomime gone too far.
Once I had gotten my fill, I entered the room that the Toad had been guarding, and was transported back to Peach’s courtyard, in all its glory. From the flat, 2D trees to the Eternal Star standing proudly in the middle of the fountain, it was all there. I poked around, collected the stars, and begrudgingly exited. The nod to yesteryear was greatly appreciated, but there were moons to collect – time to return to ‘reality’.
Departing the level, I made my way to the Cascade Kingdom to complete the unfinished business that remained. Atop the highest peak stood a Bonnetor, who expressed his desire to meet a real caveman. Again, the expectation was that I would change into the appropriate costume – back to the hat store, to drape myself in prehistoric swag. Now that he swapped out his retro threads for a loincloth and shaggy hair, Mario had reverted to his pristine, detailed Odyssey model. The overjoyed grin on his face as he displayed his new wardrobe perhaps a subconscious sigh of relief, now that the fascination with his less flattering form had lapsed.
I conversed with the Bonnetor once again, (‘Ugh!’ I declared, to fully convey my primitive nature) and received a power moon for my efforts, before casually scanning the map and trying to work out my next destination. With a route in mind, I closed the map and hesitated for a moment. Mario waited dutifully, his idle animation a perfect opportunity to reveal the full range of his expressiveness.
Something didn’t feel quite right. Perhaps it was the macabre Dry Bones skull helmet that made me uneasy, but I knew that I had to return to the hat shop, post haste. Making my way into the closet, I peered through the range of outfits I had acquired throughout the game. Would I unveil samurai Mario, with his shining suit of armour? Or pull out the rather snazzy suit and fedora I nabbed in New Donk City?
Click, click, click – I cycled through the options, watching as Mario displayed each of them for my edification, until I stopped cold. There he was again; that pudgy tummy. Those fingerless hands that looked more like oversized marshmallows. That blank, lifeless face. I knew then and there that I was going to be using the Mario 64 costume for quite some time.
Mario 64 proceeded to race Koopas throughout the valleys, scour the nooks and crannies for purple coins, and thump all four Broodals in succession in a tense rematch on the dark side of the moon. I had felt an affinity for this game right from the start, but now I had a deeper connection, a relationship with this curious protagonist. Super Mario Odyssey had suddenly become the sequel to Super Mario 64 that I had been waiting for for over two decades.
It’s lunacy to feel this way, obviously. Nothing had changed, the game had been just as fantastic prior to wearing this costume, and had already proven itself a worthy successor long before then. But mentally, something was triggered. Mario was more Mario to me than ever, the same one who soared through the skies with his winged cap, braved the halls of Big Boo’s Haunt, and swung Bowser by his tail with reckless abandon. I flashed back to the first time I had dived into the lagoon at Jolly Roger Bay, no older than nine, and exited to the menu in a hysterical panic when I locked eyes with the monstrous eel. It’s a memory I’ll always hold close to my heart, and one that was brought to me by Super Mario 64.
In hindsight, this isn’t the first time that I have been so influenced by aesthetics. I had been following Super Mario Maker with a passing interest upon its initial reveal, thinking that it was ‘a cool idea’ that I would perhaps consider buying somewhere down the track. Once they showed off the option to style the graphics to look like Super Mario World, I was a confirmed purchase. That was the game of my childhood, in the same way that his first exploit on the Nintendo 64 was the game of my pre-teenage years.
The human brain works in strange ways. There’s little rhyme or reason to the nuances and particularities that dwell within. I can only explain my obsession with an in-game model as appealing to my deepest feelings of nostalgia. This is what I know, what I love, and what I miss, riding again like he had risen from the grave. Surely, it’s the same basic concept as the thrill I experience whenever classic Sonic makes an appearance; it’s not unlike meeting with an old, dear friend.
Whatever the reasoning behind it, however petty or trivial it may seem, my enjoyment for Super Mario Odyssey is at an all-time high. I do miss the elaborate details that the Odyssey model possessed, the way his face would wrinkle and frown whenever he took a hit, but sometimes the heart wants what it wants. And right now, it wants this 64-bit plumber to collect all of the missing moons scattered throughout the universe in the ultimate display of completionism.