In my previous blogpost, I frequently compared Banjo-Kazooie with a childhood favorite of mine, Super Mario 64. Quite honestly, while the former does many things better than the latter, such as (in my opinion) more creative level themes and superior music, I will always have an undying nostalgic appreciation for Mario 64. Aside from it still being an objectively fantastic game, the Italian plumber’s famous N64 outing holds a special place in my heart for just how it shaped my tastes in gaming. If my memory serves me correctly, Super Mario 64 was the first “3D” game I played, and the amount of freedom given to the player to roam its worlds absolutely blew my mind at the time!
A trend that I, and many other Mario fans, have noticed is that following 64, the 3D titles have been becoming progressively more linear, meaning that the newer games are more focused on getting from Point A to B in each level, rather than exploring each world and finding secrets and collectibles. Additionally, recent Mario games have been increasingly reliant on “cliche” level themes (grass, desert, snow, lava, etc.), making them feel a bit too similar for my liking. That being said, I still thoroughly enjoyed the more streamlined entries, and was impressed by how effectively Nintendo had been able to “milk” the same tropes over the course of several years. However, I was concerned that Mario would begin to falter if this kept up, but these fears were laid to rest this past January, when Nintendo released the following trailer during their presentation for their then-upcoming system, the Switch.
Similarly to the reveal of Sonic Mania, I went into absolute “nerd-out mode”. I thought to myself, “The game looks so detailed, crisp, and smooth! The level themes are new and inspired! Look at Mario’s cool new cap abilities! Who are all those new characters?! Why does Mario’s cap now have EYES?!” The icing on the cake for me, however, was when the game’s producer confirmed that Super Mario Odyssey would be emphasizing open-ended exploration akin to 64. Seeing as the more linear titles did so well critically and commercially, I honestly did not expect Nintendo to do a complete one-eighty like this, but nevertheless, I was overjoyed, and felt as if there was no way the game could be any better; that was until a second trailer was released in June, at the E3 gaming convention.
“So that’s why Mario’s cap is like that now”, I said to myself after seeing this new trailer. To me, Mario’s ability to “possess” other beings by a mere toss of his hat was a stroke of pure genius, as it completely changes the dynamic of the game, allowing the player to traverse the already expansive-looking worlds in new, original ways. That is when it hit me: Odyssey is not merely bringing back Mario 64‘s design philosophies as a means to cheaply bank on nostalgia, but is instead building upon it in a meaningful way, allowing the game to have an identity of its own!
True, the game does not come out for a few more weeks, and I have yet to play it, but given the Mario’s track record of high quality, withstanding even when the series plays it safe, I am confident that I, as well as anyone my age who grew up with the likes of 64, will get a real kick out of Odyssey; just make sure not to leave me without a copy on launch day, as they will fly off the shelves!