Like most gamers, I can’t put down Super Mario Odyssey. The more I play it the more I fall in love.
I mentioned in my review that Super Mario Odyssey really opens up after the end game fight. Up until that point, I had found the game enjoyable but never blowing me away. The story was nothing more than lackluster and a majority of the moons were easy to obtain. Little did I know the game doesn’t really reveal itself until after the credits roll. Now after 40+ hours it’s easily one of the most genuinely enjoyable games I’ve ever played.
It all comes down to how levels are laid out.
What makes Super Mario Odyssey so enjoyable is the way it uses its space. The game will start with you checking off boxes in pursuit of the next level to progress the story. Your task is simple enough, collect enough moons and move on. What moons you find is totally up to you. The space is designed to bring joy through the simple act of exploration.
By removing most of the long-term incentives for completing goals, Odyssey switched the focus on the tasks being engaging in their own right. You can collect all 999+ moons in Odyssey’s various kingdoms, but the major rewards stop being doled after collecting only half of them. There’s no progression system, material reward, or narrative development at play here. By removing these mechanics the player loses that Skinner-box mentality designed to keep them pushing onward due to a tight input/output loop. The player can now seek out and check off goals that the player themselves finds interesting and entertaining.
Coins will help you unlock a majority of the costumes and they are scattered everywhere in plain sight. Purple coins are also hidden but they do nothing more than unlock more outfits and props for your Odyssey and aren’t too hard to track down. If you don’t want to find moons but want to see what unlocks when you collect half of them, you can just as easily buy them for 100 coins at any store. How you play is truly up to you.
A moon in Odyssey tends to be a reward for outrunning a Koopa Troopa or creatively ascending some peak, so they are being collected in pursuit of fun, rather than a chore you must complete in order to move on. Yesterday I was talking to my Game Moose co-host Drew about the RC racing. I hate it, and after failing a few times I walked away without regret. There’s no need for me to complete that challenge and I’m ok with that. It won’t aid me, or give me anything I need so why stress it?
It’s an incredible design principle and I hope more single player games study and learn from Odyssey. Designing these levels must have taken an incredibly long time to plan out. They aren’t large but they are full of secrets from top to bottom. Finding and completing a puzzle without prompts is a reward in itself. It’s nice for a game to not show you the way, but allow for self-discovery. A player could stick around as long as they were enjoying the act of playing.
It’s funny that this game was clearly built for portability but it forces you to use the Joy-Cons so much. I’ve played most of the game in handheld mode and don’t feel like I’ve missed out much but performing some moves, such as Mario’s circle throw is much harder with the Joy-Cons attached.
After trudging through so many half-assed open world games this year (Looking at you Shadow of War), I hope future games are tighter and more inventive with their use of space. Give me a reason to explore but don’t make me suffer.