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Inspiration can mean any number of different things when you’re creating a work of art. It can lead to a direct throughway into which a piece can draw clear lineage from, or it can mean something more abstract, something that isn’t as apparent on the surface but seeps into its very ethos. Sayonara Mario World by SuperMargot exemplifies each approach by chasing the spirit of its inspirations while throwing some direct nods in to honor what came before. Most of all, though, it displays the same kind of wild creativity as its inspiration, Sayonara Wild Hearts, coming together to create one of the best kaizo hacks out there.
In the description of Sayonara Mario World, it says quite clearly that it’s inspired by Sayonara Wild Hearts, Simogo’s hybrid rhythm game where the only consistent gameplay is in the act of collecting hearts as it transforms between autoscroller, rhythm prompts, and even first-person segments. The game also serves as a playable concept album. It’s difficult to categorize Sayonara Wild Hearts because it morphs so often and so seamlessly, though common threads do exist: the neon pastel colors, the sense of speed and abandon to the gameplay, and a very queer sensibility enveloping the entire work. The combination is, as intended, wild.
At first blush, you wouldn’t know that Sayonara Mario World had anything to do with Wild Hearts aside from the opening two screens and some of the level names. The first level, Begin Again, is a fairly meat and potatoes hop-and-bop affair as you navigate a series of enemies as you make your way towards the goal tape. Almost none of the levels themselves have direct connections to Wild Hearts. Part of this is unsurprising in a way. After all, as malleable as Super Mario World is, you can only bend it so much until it breaks and becomes something unrecognizable. But it’s still confusing when you dig into the game, especially once the level names even start to deviate from Wild Hearts references.
But look deeper and you’ll see conceptual and elemental parallels between the games, especially after getting through the first level and the custom mechanics start to unfurl. Separation Anxiety’s baby Yoshi that you can’t let go of until it’s fully fed, Circular Logic’s screen wrapping, and Victory Road’s thrilling autorunner are all mechanics that have been implemented before elsewhere, but never have they been given so much life and vitality as in Sayonara Mario World. And interesting twists on familiar concepts, such as the bubbles in Amethyst Acropolis, feel incredibly fresh and fun.
While these specific mechanics have nothing to do with Sayonara Wild Hearts, the overall design philosophy is similar – specifically, that anything goes, that you can explore as many corners of game design as you can fit within your chosen template and do so fearlessly. There really is a fearless atmosphere in the design itself, unafraid to take sharp left turns in trying different mechanics and giving them the space to breathe before moving on to the next one. Not only is this exactly what Wild Hearts does, but it’s also very much the Nintendo design philosophy – except with kaizo games, you have more time to examine the mechanics because the player will be spending more time with them, making the levels feel dense with possibility. It plays around with the idea of Mario with a similar abandon as Wild Hearts does with the history of gaming.
Sayonara Mario World also carries with it the same kind of queer energy that Wild Hearts does. The color palate to the levels are very vibrant, with the same kind of pastels shared between the two. And Gym Buddies, its queerest level, features the football-themed Chuck enemies in a room-by-room level that’s all pink while what sounds like dance music plays, evoking a very YMCA vibe. At every turn, Sayonara Mario World feels authentically queer without even explicitly yelling to the world that it is.
Of course, the game ultimately references Sayonara Wild Hearts directly in its final level, biting the neon pastels and myriad hearts of the game in one final challenge. And while it’s still very much a Mario game in its construction, the aesthetics give the game the same kind of feel as you attempt to avoid the neon-flavored obstacles and fight aggressive hearts in a showstopper of a finale that shows just how far you can transform the aesthetics of Mario.
No matter how you look at it, Sayonara Mario World shows the boundless potential of inspiration in game design whether it’s direct or not. What you get in this case is one of the best hacks to come out of 2020 that feels entirely like its own thing yet carries with it the same kind of wild abandon of Sayonara Wild Hearts. Inspiration is ultimately the inheritance of ideas and sensations between creators. It speaks well of the medium that one game can lead to something as, well, inspired as Sayonara Mario World.