Posted in Quiet Stories, Thoughts About Video Games

What Someone Who Has Never Played a Mario Game, Thinks of Odyssey

“As someone who has never owned a Nintendo home console, I’ve wondered for years… Do Nintendo’s beloved franchises still hold up?”

Sure, Mario and Zelda are important cornerstones of video game history. They were some of the best games of their time, but in 2017 are their modern iterations just as good as everyone says, or are gamers jaded by the obvious nostalgia they have for these brands?

Yes I’ve played several Mario games over the years at friends’ houses or events, but I’ve never played one from start to finish. Odyssey was the first Mario game I ever beat. These are my thoughts.

My first thought about Odyssey is that it seems to be missing many of the common elements I would come to expect in a modern AAA game. Its story is as basic as they come. Princess Peach has been kidnapped by Bowser. Bowser and his goons are searching through the many kingdoms of the world, trying to locate different items for his wedding; a ring, dress, etc. Mario and his magical hat Cappy are right on their tail, collecting moons to power their ship and trying to rescue Peach.

The story in itself isn’t engaging, but rather a loosely veiled reason why you are traversing from one kingdom to the next. With such a simple narrative there also isn’t much reason for voice acting or well written dialogue. So if you look at Odyssey as a single product, there isn’t much reason to connect with Mario or any of the characters in this world. Odyssey relies on the fact that you know who Mario is and already have some form of preconceived connection with him.

Your arsenal of abilities is also pretty limited. Yes there are many moves to utilise, but they all break down into some form of jump or hat throw. You can jump high, you can jump long or you can jump on your hat. You can throw your hat forward, throw it in the air or throw it in a circle. The wide range of uses is clever but all boils down to two core abilities.

There is no levelling system, or new abilities, but that’s fine, not every game needs to be designed that way. Mario is a platformer at heart.

So you might say I dislike Super Mario Odyssey for everything that it isn’t. I in fact enjoyed the game thoroughly for everything that it is.

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Odyssey isn’t trying to tell a deep and engaging story. It relies on the ridiculous amount of charm it embodies in everything that it does. Its kingdoms aren’t hyper-realistic spaces but vibrant, inviting toy boxes. The inhabitants of each kingdom are not fleshed out people with stories of their own, they are strange and memorable creatures brimming with character. Every minute detail in this game, all the way down to the clouds of cotton that Mario leaves behind as he runs, make this one of the most charming games I have ever played.

In recent years most games have become more akin to films. They are a medium for storytelling, becoming more and more gritty, melancholy and agenda filled. Odyssey takes us back to the days when video games were nothing more than a digital toy box.

After watching a few trailers and a review for a game, I know what to expect. It’s been years since I jumped into a game and was constantly surprised. Odyssey took me back to my childhood, a period where experimentation in games blew my mind. There is always something in the immediate horizon.

A strange whole in the ground, a hidden sphynx or a slumbering T Rex, there was always something that intrigued my inquisitive mind. I didn’t use generic game logic, I used the logic of an imaginative child. I was excited to see what new abilities I’d gain from possessing a new enemy or what mystery’s lay within that distant building. I’ve not felt this sense of wonder since I was a kid. That in itself is something special.

Despite each kingdoms modest size, unlike most open world games, Odyssey is best played in bite sized chunks. The aim of the game is collecting moons to power your ship, and there are dozens scattered within each world. Locating a moon in the distance or overcoming one of Mario’s many platforming puzzles and then acquiring your prize never takes more than 5 minutes. That means you can pick up the Switch on your lunch break, hunt down two moons and still feel like you achieved something.

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Odyssey’s incredibly well thought through game design makes collecting moons moreish. Immediately after acquiring one moon, you’ll see another in the distance. This merging of the 5 minute task and ‘just one more’ mind set means you’ll lose hours of your time investigating Mario’s latest outing.

I’m genuinely surprised to say that I truly enjoyed Super Mario Odyssey, and that’s coming from someone who has no previous connection to the series. It’s charming, addictive and well designed, but I don’t think this is a game of the year contender. I can see why others would think it is. If you combine the fact that this is a great game, with most gamer’s general nostalgia for the franchise, it’s no surprise the game received the praise it did. I recently produced a piece highlighting how bias is formed when people review games.

In my opinion, I would liken Odyssey to a Pixar film. There is no denying their charm and quality, and yes they are designed for kids, but can also be enjoyed by adults. However when put up against the calibre of other titles out their Inside out didn’t win the Oscar for Best Film. Super Mario Odyssey should be viewed in the same way.

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