By Loryn Stone
Nintendo dropped the first trailer for the upcoming Super Mario Odyssey for the Switch system on January 12th, 2017. While the majority of Nintendo enthusiasts and loyalists (myself included) are super excited for the game, there was one major complaint (no, not the all-seeing sentient, body possessing eye-hat named Cappy that many are crapping pants about). The biggest gripe? The one that was brought up and whined about on loop? By myself included? You guessed it- New Donk City, aka, the cityscape level.
Now that we’re just past E3 week, (I know, it already feels like forever ago) and Nintendo showed off their second, and more extensive, trailer for the game, the collective consciousness continues to get more excited about the game (which has a release date set for October 27th, 2017). Many sources at E3 (and by that I mean my husband, friends, and other internet attendees) who waited in line to play the 10-minute long demo have only amazing things to say about it, such as its reminiscent of Mario 64/Mario Sunshine, the gameplay dynamics and controls are tight, etc.
But I got thinking about it and realized the cityscape level still sort of rubbed me the wrong way. I sat down to question why- after all, I’m a huge believer that you shouldn’t form a true opinion on a piece of media until you’ve bothered to consume it. That being said, what’s my problem with New Donk City? And I’m not alone here- other people are stuck on the city world, as my annoyed eye-rolling husband groaned to me over breakfast. So, I broke down my thoughts into a list to help me digest the unjustified taste in my mouth:
1. Older gamers (or maybe just me) are still recovering emotionally from the 90s
It was an experimental time. Nintendo and Mario were at the top of the gaming world from Super Mario Bros. on the NES through Yoshi’s Island (subtitled Super Mario World 2) on the SNES. But right before the N64 launched, Nintendo fans were bombarded with a mess of hideous Mario Games, both for the Super Nintendo and for the “up and coming” Philips CD-I (spoiler, the system failed) and these shitty games were really nothing more than educational games disguised as real ones. Titles like Mario is Missing, Mario’s Time Machine, and Hotel Mario came out to rip open the asshole of a, at the time, perfect franchise. In fact, I remember begging my parents for a copy of Mario is Missing and Mario’s Time Machine because I was an 8-year old Mario lover, starved for more content. Yoshi’s Island hadn’t come out yet and my Mario fill hadn’t yet been filled. Fortunately, they were smart enough to tell me to shove it. And years later, when I eventually played the ROMs through an emulator, I stopped doubting their parenting decisions and was thankful for their choices. The games were unforgivably atrocious, and for a moment I was humbled. The same thing happened when I begged for an Atari Jaguar, but that’s a conversation for another time.
2. We’re afraid to leave the Mushroom Kingdom
Along with Hotel Mario, a hideous shit show which was released on the Philips CD-I system, there was another sequel to Super Mario World planned. It was called Super Mario’s Wacky Worlds, and the internet got their hands on the hardly functioning demo. The premise of the game (as presented in a pre-alpha prototype that was built in two weeks by NovaSoft) was meant to take place in the “real world”, with levels in Greece, Egypt, Aztec settings, in addition to some traditional Mario settings like pipe world, a haunted house, and a castle. Going back to Mario is Missing and Mario’s Time Machine, not only were the games lazily hacked together using preexisting Super Mario World sprites and short loops of music, but part of the falter was taking us away from our fantasy land. If video games are escapism, why would gamers want to see familiar settings like the signing of the US Constitution or a traffic jam?
3. The Mario Bros. Movie and Cartoon Series are (Likely, in Part) to Blame
I may be grasping at straws here, but I’m going to theorize that The Super Mario Bros. movie is partly to blame for leaving a bad taste in our mouths when it comes to Mario in a realistic city setting. The movie was a flop at best, Koopa was a human, and the overall aesthetic was completely wrong. Who the hell was Princess Daisy? You mean that tiny green sprite from Mario Land on the Gameboy? Where the eff is Peach? I mean, Toadstool. Yes, that was her name back then.
You see, (and this is for those of you lucky enough to have never lived through those disasters) back then we were all just Mario lovers starved for content. In spite of the Milli Vanilli storyline in the Mario 3 cartoon, the strange, nearly nonsensical adventures. I want to say there was a Mother Goose or Nursey Rhyme episode, but that might be my mind twisted by shitty memories of sadness. It’s all a blur and I’m glad. But the point here is this: The movie took our plumbers out of the Mushroom Kingdom and stuck them in a New York style city. The horrible cartoon provided us with the lore that the two brothers were Italian dudes from Brooklyn. That’s how I remember it from back in the day, and the Wikipedia page confirms this. Granted, Wikipedia isn’t an academic source, so it’s a really good thing these are just ramblings from an aging nerd. What a relief.
4. Now do you see the (knee-jerk) problem here with New Donk City?
Again, you’re welcome to take this entire blog post as the misinformed ramblings of an aging nerd. That’s your right and ultimately, I’m just happy that you came over to visit. But there’s the thing- yes, the Super Mario franchise has had an incredible number of successes. A mind-blowing number, if we want to use actual figures. There’s very little they can do wrong. But here’s the thing, my gripe. I’ve been burned by Nintendo’s city levels in the past. I’ve been not only disappointed when Mario leaves the Mushroom Kingdom and takes residence in some weird-ass city, but I’ve been horrified- we all have! I think it ultimately comes down to this, and thank you for letting me speak on your behalf: we do not want our fantasy with a side of realism. I didn’t want to see Mario watching the constitution being signed. I didn’t want Mario in Greece, jumping off the head of a nightmare horse. I didn’t want to see him in a nightclub, snuggled between the breasts of a hot woman with neat robot boots. And I don’t want to see him in New Donk City, walking next to human men like some Uncanny Valley shit.
5. But on the brighter side…
I’m going to dip into that big N-Word here that the internet loves to play with-Nostalgia. I talk a lot about Nostalgia with people I know. Sometimes I feel like it’s such a hot trend to be nostalgic for things that we have to shit all over games and shows that don’t remind us of eating Pop-Tarts in our underwear when we were five years-old. But franchises like Mario get an automatic pass out of nostalgia land because they never stopped pumping out content. Mario gets to continue evolving and moving forward because he’s not a reboot, reimagining, or a rehash of any past content. He’s only continued to move forward. So, while we shell-shocked 90s kids might have reservations or fears about a Mario game with a realistic backdrop (using realistic loosely) based on Nintendo’s past choices is probably not a good idea. Games like “New Super Mario Bros.” and “Mario Maker” are proof that Nintendo knows when to hand over the Nostalgia Goggles to their stuck in the past fan base, and when it’s time to move forward. But I have to be honest- I’m really curious to play this game in real life. Because really…how much of the game will the city-level take up? It’s supposed to be a single level, a small experience in an overall…well…Odyssey! Besides, by now Nintendo should know what we want, right? After all, they spent a few months spying on us last year when we were all obsessed with Mitomo, didn’t they? …Right…?
So, all that being said, friends…Mario, you city-dwelling, outer space blasting, pipe worming mother fucker….I’ll see you in October.
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