If you’re a fan of comic books or superheroes in general, most point to Superman being considered the first true superhero ever created. In fact, it's his ideals and powersets that set the stage for the creation of the other heroes we know and love and it wouldn’t take long until Superman, in his red and blue attire, would be the aspiration that all other superheroes look up to. It seems apparent that this inspiration seeps into our video game heroes as well, and if there is any one video game character that is considered as recognizable as Superman, it is without a doubt our favorite mustached man from the Mushroom Kingdom himself: Mario.
While Super Mario Bros. isn’t the first video game ever created, it is in its creation (and alongside the debut of the classic Nintendo Entertainment System) that video games became inspired. If it were not for Mario, we wouldn’t have our other favorite mascot characters like Mega Man, Sonic or even Crash Bandicoot. Mario is the quintessential video game character and after 30+ years in the game, it is in his games that new generations are introduced to the joys of video games, and those of us who grew up with him are fondly reminded of their childhood joy.
We often look back at the past achievements of our favorite characters and compare them to their current ordeals. The question of relevancy tends to come up and after some time, and with today’s troubling times and nervous culture blasted through the media, one often wonders if the simple joy of a rotund plumber whooping through kingdom after kingdom can remind us of those simpler times, when all we had were screens that went left to right and a dash and jump button. Could Mario do it again when (debatably) his previous entries have left some gamers disappointed?
There is an issue of Superman that is written by Joe Kelly and drawn by Doug Manhke and is always selected as one of the best single issues of Superman comics to date. Action Comics No. 775 finds Superman up against a hardcore, "grim-dark" team named The Elite who dish out justice the hard way, leaving death and destruction in their wake. This was a call out at the time to how comics had started to turn away from the campiness they were known for, and we had books like The Authority sitting at the tops of the charts. These books had violence and sex at the forefront of their tale, clamoring for that mature comics reader who wanted something more their age to read. Was a character like Superman still relevant during this time? Could a character who championed truth and justice and always sought to do the right thing still be considered relatable and not have to change with the times? The issue answered that and then some, solidifying why Superman would always matter regardless of how long he has been in the game and to this day stands as a single issue that showcases why Superman is one of the greatest fictional characters ever created.
In a similar turn, we have Mario emerging in his first major 3D Platformer since Super Mario Galaxy 2 which released in 2010 (or 2013 if you factor in Super Mario 3D World). Could a Mario game still be what inspired video games in the first place? Can the charm and fun and silly nature of his games still remind us that despite what goes on in our real lives, that it's ok to have fun? That you can sit with the family and pass along the controller to beat the next platform challenge? Mario has been jumping with us since childhood, and most of us are now grown with our own families (myself the parent of a 7-year-old son who is now a Nintendo gamer). The charm that we had as children playing Super Mario Bros. and the look and joy we gave our parents as we smiled at them when we slid down that first flag pole and fireworks went off, could that re-emerge? All it took aside from my own play through was my son getting his first moon in Super Mario Odyssey for me to cement my feelings on this latest entry:
Super Mario Odyssey is the Action Comics 775 of the video game industry.
In a day and age where most developers look to find any way possible to get your money whether it be through microtransactions or downloadable content or hackneyed sequel after sequel, it is refreshing to see a game stick so much to its roots while pushing forward with the latest technology and graphics that we have currently. A lot of companies have left the cheery mascot days behind and headed for the more mature take on gaming, giving us franchises that rival movie sequels with a budget to match. I’ve enjoyed most of those games just like you all have, but from the opening moments that tug at our nostalgic hearts to the wonderfully colored worlds and orchestrated music of every kingdom we visit, Odyssey lives up to its name in every aspect of the word.
It’s a Mario game, so you already know it plays well. This time around there is no gimmicky water jet pack or motion control only maneuverability. Mario gets a powered-up hat that he can use to effectively possess enemies and certain NPCs. The capture mechanic feels natural and allows Mario to do some clever new things in his game and forces us as gamers to think outside the box to obtain that next moon or beat a boss. The boss fights are a tad easy for seasoned gamers, but one needs to understand that this game is made for everyone to appreciate the finer details. The challenge comes in the journey towards the goal whether it be the shiny moon or to the boss area. Platform fans will no doubt smile in glee as their thumb dexterity is tested to the utmost degree.
Everything in this game is a way to acknowledge Mario games of old, current and even his future. The game is crammed with Easter Eggs and nods to the games of the past (even an original Donkey Kong portion of a level, complete with a fight against the giant monkey himself). The easter eggs don’t stop just there though, as other Nintendo franchises are given a cameo of sorts in other clever ways. Everything from Nintendogs to the classic RC Pro Am is found in this game, and it made me appreciate the message the game was getting across.
That message being that even after 30 years, a video game can just be wholesome good-hearted fun. A video game can still offer a solid single player experience and not feel like any type of multiplayer needs to be tacked on, or additional content needs to be forced on the player to enjoy it. Simply sit down, place the controller in hand and become immersed in an entire world for the length of time that you play it.
The sheer vastness of content in Super Mario Odyssey is something that Nintendo is obviously making its thing this generation. What began with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild gets finished out with Nintendo’s true magnum opus: A full-fledged game that embraces the nostalgia factor Nintendo loves to throw into all its games combined with the technical prowess and features of modern games.
Super Mario Odyssey stands as a bright and welcome visage to the industry and a reminder that sticking to the roots while embracing new design still works. That just running and jumping can be as innovative now as it was back then.
Mario, much like Superman has stuck to how they were originally conceived. Both are the titular and oft-identified characters of their respective companies and for good reason. For DC, Superman represents truth, justice and the American way. For Nintendo, Mario represents fun, charm and great gameplay. There is nothing about that that should be mocked or scoffed at. Great gameplay and fun are what video games should always have at the forefront of their development, and in a time where video games are often choked with big budget titles that throw open worlds or DLC or forced multiplayer at us or bog us down with microtransactions to get us to spend more money on it, Super Mario Odyssey reminds us that keeping it old school, while embracing the achievements that new technology can bring video games, still works.
And there is absolutely nothing wrong, bad or funny about that.