Especially compared to their experience creating platformers, the open world genre is one that’s fairly new to Nintendo. The stellar The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild proved they were capable of creating solid games in this genre, but despite having the same basis of exploration, Super Mario Odyssey adopts a very different philosophy.
In stark contrast to Super Mario Odyssey, Breath of the Wild gives you all the tools you will use throughout your adventure within the first few hours of the game. Each of these are, however, very deeply developed, with each Sheikah slate power allowing you to interact with the world in numerous different ways. Rather than adding new powers to Link’s repertoire, each of the game’s bite-sized puzzles (shrines) and larger dungeons instead introduce new ways to use these powers. One area might task you with using the time-freezing rune to freeze platforms to walk across, whereas another area might see you having to use the same power to propel an object backwards. The constant introduction of unique uses for these powers ensures they never become too stale; however, the lack of any new runes being introduced as the game progresses does make gameplay feel more repetitive.
Instead, thanks to its shorter length, Super Mario Odyssey constantly introduces a slew of entirely new ideas. Most of these aren’t grounded by any sort of semblance of sanity, but this only adds a sense of levity and makes every new ability feel completely unique. In a few minutes, you will go from possessing the series staple Goombas in order to create towering behemoths of the little mushroom enemies to riding around a city on a moped. This chaotic mixture of ideas is a welcome addition to the series, which frequently reuses the same traditional powerups throughout all of Mario’s various adventures and is especially welcome after Breath of the Wild. It was a great game, but eventually everything began to feel similar. Of course, the constant addition of new powers means none of Odyssey’s capture mechanics are as developed as the Sheikah runes featured in Breath of the Wild, but the barrage of wacky new concepts ensures you’re always doing something else before this lack of depth becomes too apparent and boring.
Super Mario Odyssey’s constant plethora of quirky ideas isn’t limited to the core gameplay gimmick of controlling enemies though, it’s an approach that permeates every corner of the beautifully cartoony world. Environments in Breath of the Wild were lush and breathtaking, an interconnected world allowing you to see the entirety of Hyrule’s various kingdoms and lands at once. Of course, this meant environments had to be somewhat similar to keep at least some semblance of this idea of an interconnected world, but after racking up over 100 hours exploring Hyrule, these similarities in the game’s world became apparent. Biomes in the south faded into those in the north, and there are only a few specific landmarks in the game I can actually remember.
Compare this to Super Mario Odyssey which, instead of focusing on creating one gargantuan open world to explore, creates a dozen or so (much smaller) open-world areas each based around a unique theme. Breath of the Wild featured your traditional forests and fields, snowy areas, deserts and volcanoes. Perhaps the world’s clichés are more due to the Zelda series’ more realistic nature, rendering the game unable to experiment too much with completely different concepts for the landscape. Super Mario Odyssey, however, doesn’t suffer from these constraints. Each of the game’s various kingdoms bathes your eyes in its delightful wackiness and, as becomes apparent immediately from the game’s first kingdom, each is far from the genre’s (and Mario series’) normal fare of forests and fields. The first kingdom beautifully illustrates this: Occupied by strange hat people, with wrecked hat-shaped airships sitting atop the fog-covered snow, the Cap Kingdom is unlike anything found previously in the Mario series and a break from the normal grassy fields most open-world games would see you start in. This originality continues throughout the game, with highlights being the Luncheon Kingdom, a brightly-coloured volcano filled with giant food; and Metro Kingdom, a towering metropolis filled with an array of platforming opportunities.
Overall, Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild give a glimpse at two starkly different but equally successful approaches to the open-world genre. Where Breath of the Wild focuses on creating a cohesive, complex and realistic world, Odyssey showcases a variety of smaller, shorter and wackier kingdoms. Nintendo’s latest outings for its famous plumber and legendary swordsman have taken both series in completely new directions, and I can’t but hope that this trend will continue to create even more entertaining experiences in the years to come.