March 6, 2021

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In Bowser’s Fury, Mario’s world and open worlds breathe new life into each other

A friend of mine once told me that when Mario 64 came out, people became properly obsessed with Mario falling asleep. If you left him idling long enough, he’d drop off. A magazine or two started to ask for pictures of him sleeping in strange places – balanced on ledges, perched in trees, snoozing on a flagpole. I don’t think the enthusiasm was simply down to the animation. For years, Sonic had tapped his foot if you left him and the Bonanza Brothers had swatted away stray flies. With Mario it was more of an impulse thing. Mario’s world was suddenly a place. It was still levels and stages, but also fields and mountains and forests. The kinds of locations where, if the sun is just right, maybe you would want to go to sleep for a bit.

I know that feeling – of projecting yourself into Mario’s worlds and getting somewhat lost. For me, it wasn’t Mario 64 so much as the Mario Kart games. I like Mario Kart well enough – I had a solid 24 hours of Mario Kart 64 at university one term and since then I have been a little dimmed in my enthusiasm for them – but anyway, while I enjoy the racing, what really moves me are the worlds.

Those huge spaces, endless horizons, with wonderful details to spot. It always hits me the same way. I will round a bend on a Bowser’s castle circuit, lava bubbling and cobblestones underfoot, and I will suddenly think: I wish they made proper Mario games like this. By proper I mean platformers I guess. And they do, sort of. Since 64 Mario’s worlds have often been in three dimensions. Up until now I was never able to explain why they didn’t feel like this – why they didn’t feel like a Mario platforming adventure in a Mario Kart level. It was something, I think, to do with the sense of scope and scale – the sense of uninterrupted space, of something panoramic.

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