Super Mario Odyssey is undoubtedly the most fun I’ve had with a single-player game in recent years. I don’t think anyone is surprised that a mainline Mario game is good, but I am astonished that it is this good. Everything from the controls and the music just seem spot on. From the opening moments, the game hits the ground running, and is almost insistent on your enjoyment.
Alongside Breath of the Wild, 2017 is undoubtedly the return of Nintendo to the top of game developers. It is remarkable that even now more than 30 years after the release of the Famicom/NES, Nintendo is using its two most recognizable and marquee brands to show the rest of the industry how it is done.
However, I mostly bounced off of Zelda’s alluring spell unlike the rest of Unique Drops and the world at large. For a while, this idea bothered me. An updated, open-world, non-linear Zelda game seems tailored made for my sensibilities. I even honestly bought the Switch strictly for that game. But I couldn’t escape the idea that I mostly had an uneventful time with Breath of the Wild. Surely, something must be wrong with me.
After a few weeks with Super Mario Odyssey, the reasons became increasingly clear. Breath of the Wild, aside from the exploration and open-ended experience, is about taking things away from the player in order to force you to make hard decisions. Sometimes the player will stumble upon a much harder fight than they were prepared for and must weigh the consequences of persevering through hardship or fleeing to safety. A rain storm might erupt while scaling a mountainside, and the player will have to decide if they should find another route or risking slipping and falling. Every fight has a mental calculus depending on the amount and condition of weapons, shields, and arrows the player has at the given moment. Breath of the Wild wants to put the player in precarious situations to get them to react.
Super Mario Odyssey, on the other hand, wants to constantly give to its audience. The levels are dense and you are almost tripping over moons and coins from the very first minute of the game. It gives every thing the player will need to be successful from the beginning. Aside from a few exceptions, you aren’t unlocking abilities hidden away because you didn’t fulfill requirements. Nothing is taken away from the player. The game’s only concern is to make you feel comfortable and at ease. The real draw is the sense of joy and exhilaration from the finely crafted and well-honed levels and controls. Meanwhile, Zelda wants you to make decisions and manage situations with hardships.
Odyssey is similar to an all-expenses paid vacation. You have a full service butler at your beck and call. The maitre d’ greets you at the door and invited you in to seat at your favorite table. Breath of the Wild is akin to boarding an airline with no assigned seating. You are going to reach your glorious vacation destination, but you might be sitting in between the guy with the severe head cold and someone else stealing your armrest.
In this confusing and troubling year, maybe I just want a game that gives its enjoyment freely instead of making me struggle.