Thanks to the big promotional efforts of Nintendo there are now a ton of gameplay video about Mario Odyssey. For the most part fans of 3D platforming Mario titles are ecstatic about it. Nintendo is pushing the story that Mario Odyssey is a direct successor to the Mario 64 and Mario Sunshine titles, which translates into open world exploration, discovered challenges, and a sense of freedom. But there are troubling signs that this game will fail to capture what people have really wanted and end up in a designer’s no-man’s land.
I’m already certain that Odyssey will be an instance of taking five steps forward and three steps back. Yes, it will be a great improvement over Mario Galaxy and 3D World when it comes to open structure instead of linear design, but it will also remove some of the most essential components of Mario 64. Let’s not concern ourselves with Sunshine, since was already a huge disappointment. Sunshine convoluted the pure platforming experience of 64, adding a water jetpack and spraying challenges to the game instead of forcing players to master the core jumping skills. I implore you to read this excellent analysis of the history of Nintendo trying to dumb down 3D Mario games and make them more “accessible” (thanks to Seal Malstrom’s blog for bringing up the pattern we’ve seen extrapolating on it, and providing links to other great articles) but I’ll still summarize here. Nintendo has been frustrated ever since Mario 64 was released that the mainstream consumer doesn’t want to buy 3D Mario games even though they’re praised by critics as revolutionary. Instead, most people prefer 2D Mario platformers that sell like crazy even without being promoted or critically lauded. Nintendo thinks that accessibility is the issue, and that their job is to find a way of dumbing down Mario to the point where the masses can feel comfortable playing it. The jetpack in Sunshine, the linearity/spherical level design of Galaxy, and especially the boring levels with the goalpost at the end of 3D World were all increasingly desperate attempts to simplify 3D Mario to the point where anybody can play them.
This is the reality of the situation that Nintendo refuses to recognize. No matter how much they pander to 2D fans by making 3D “accessible”, they won’t be able to force those circles to change sizes. The best you can hope for is to satisfy those who are fans of both, or fans of 3D Mario alone, but in order to do that you have to keep the challenge pure! Nintendo wants all of the 2D fans to become fans of the 3D games so they can stop making 2D games, but the economics don’t allow them to abandon 2D because it’s their biggest market. Why do they hate 2D? Because they consider themselves to be innovators and artists who can single-handedly lead the industry however they want; they don’t want to be shrewd businessmen who cater to demands.
By connecting this logic with Mario Odyssey’s marketing we can deduce the upcoming problem: Nintendo wants to entice the 3D platformer audience by promoting the “Mario 64/Sunshine” qualities of freedom while totally removing the challenges of platforming and dumbing the game down by letting you do absolutely everything with just the magic hat on your head. Instead of mastering a complex set of jumps with a weighty sense of momentum and inertia, you’ll just throw your hat at everything. The jumping itself has been dumbed down again, as Mario now jumps back and forth lightning fast, turning on a dime and becoming a breeze to control. This disappoints fans of 3D Mario because they wanted better platforming, not a hat throwing game where the second player can clear the whole stage as you sit back and run through it.
I’ll be talking about other concerns I have with Mario Odyssey in the near future.