For a solid 20 minutes, maybe longer, I’ve been bouncing a mustachioed Tyrannosaurus rex on a trampoline, trying to reach a jaunty dude in a mushroom cap standing on a ledge high above.
I think he’s got something for me, although I don’t know what it is. There was no icon on my map telling me to seek him out. In fact, if I hadn’t accidentally smashed a bunch of rocks to reveal the hidden trampoline, I probably wouldn’t have looked up and noticed him there.
And then it was only by wondering what might happen if the T-rex stood on the trampoline – and discovering that it launches my dinosaur pal into the air like a scaly, stubby-armed rocket – that I sussed out how to reach the smiling explorer on his outcropping. After many, many tries.
That’s the joy, and the genius, of Super Mario Odyssey.
Landing in stores Friday as the first full-fledged 3D Mario game for the Nintendo Switch, Super Mario Odyssey is a sweet but devilishly dense adventure, all about the magic of discovery and surprise. I’ve been travelling Mario’s new universe for several days now, leaping and lunging, hunting for coins and Power Moons, and using my super-powered cap to temporarily take over the bodies of friends, foes and that lumbering T-rex (whose snout adorably sports Mario’s bushy ’stache when he’s in my control.)
It was the dinosaur that led me to one of literally hundreds of little secrets tucked inside Super Mario Odyssey. By bouncing the beast on the trampoline and having Mario dive out of the T-rex’s body at the height of its jump, I was able to land on the ledge and talk to Mario’s explorer buddy, Captain Toad. All he had for me was a Power Moon, one of 25 to be found in this particular waterfall-dotted kingdom, yet it felt completely worth the effort.
And it made me realize how tired I am of games that give the illusion of freedom, then bury the player under piles of missions, quests and busywork.
A week earlier, I was capturing castles and decapitating nemeses in Middle-earth: Shadow of War, the sequel to one of my favourite games of 2014. I was in the midst of assembling a powerful army and fine-tuning my deadly ranger’s skills when Super Mario Odyssey landed in my lap.
I’m not sure when, or how, I’ll be able to go back to gutting orcs.
There are scant few surprises in Mordor. Whether it’s a fragment of Shelob’s memory that needs untangling or an Uruk captain that needs disemboweling, everything is spelled out. Go here. Complete this task. Acquire this incremental upgrade. Repeat. It’s fun, sometimes, yet it’s all so… predictable.
And it’s the same loop we encounter in virtually every game that gives players a wide-open world to explore. Even when it’s done well, like with this year’s fantastic PlayStation 4 exclusive Horizon: Zero Dawn, the formula is wearing dangerously thin.
Super Mario Odyssey just wants me to run off and have fun on my own terms, and if I eventually get around to saving Princess Peach from Bowser, well that’s a nice bonus. It reminds me why I fell in love with video games in the first place; that unfettered, uncluttered sense of wonder.
Interestingly, Ubisoft Montreal’s Assassins Creed Origins – the latest instalment in a franchise that’s probably the biggest offender in open-world overkill – comes out the same day as Super Mario Odyssey. Ubisoft has promised Origins will be more streamlined, rather than barfing up dozens of quest icons all over the world map. We’ll see how well it succeeds.
Because if it comes down to a battle between a hooded assassin and a plucky plumber, my money’s on Mario. With or without his dinosaur.VideogameskeeptryingfoolintothinkinghavefreedomMariowillsave