On the 3rd of March this year, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was released for the Nintendo Switch and the Wii U. The game proceeded to take the world by storm, receiving perfect scores from nearly all official gaming publications and critics, with unanimous praise for its open world style gameplay and element of freedom given to the player. This wasn’t a surprise though, for the game had been in the works since 2012, since the announcement of the Wii U. No one was surprised that Nintendo delivered such a quality game for one of its oldest and most beloved franchises. Everyone surely thought that this was it; the best game of the year, the one to take home all the awards that were up for grabs. And who could blame us? It had everything: open world exploration, state of the art graphics, a compelling story, engaging gameplay, the list goes on.
That is, until Super Mario Odyssey came along.
October 27th saw the release of Mario’s newest adventure, and if there was any degree of certainty that the best game of the year had released in Breath of the Wild, it got blown away as Odyssey was met with just as much, if not more, critical acclaim from critics across the board. Much like its Zelda counterpart, it received many perfect scores and several major publications heralded it as the best Mario game ever made and one of the best video games to ever be released (an honour it shared with Breath of the Wild), with praise coming in for its sandbox style gameplay and a much needed revamp of the classic Mario formula that we’ve come to know.
Now let me clear: this is not an article where I’m going to say which of these two games better and why, nor is this about which franchise is better, or anything of that sort. I mentioned these two games because they have much more in common than you would think: they redefine their respective series in terms of what they have to offer us from here on out.
Mario games have become rather stale in execution and style, for after Nintendo released New Super Mario Bros. for the DS, most of the main series games became too linear, with a set number of obstacles and a goal at the end of each individual level. This is repeated 8 or so times in each ‘world’ that Mario has to clear until he gets to the final boss, which is usually Bowser. Believe it or not, there used to be a time when Mario games were much more open, and offered more of a sandbox style of gameplay that didn’t restrict the player to only a certain area at any given time. This was shown in Super Mario 64 for the Nintendo 64, and Super Mario Sunshine for the Nintendo GameCube. Super Mario Odyssey takes gamers back to this era of Mario’s adventures, with each kingdom being massive and only one end goal to be achieved by collecting certain items. There aren’t any levels, there’s no specific restriction on where you can or can’t go, the world is at your beck and call, and you can pretty much go about your adventure in any way you want.Zelda games have first and foremost always been RPG’s, and as such, have always been about exploration. However, what Breath of the Wild does differently than the other games in the series is that it does not dictate an order in which you have to go about playing the game. From the moment you start, you’re free to go about playing as you wish. As was the case with Mario, this harkens back to the original Legend of Zelda for the NES, released way back in 1986. Players were given a sword and that was actually about it. It’s a sharp contrast to today’s typical Zelda game, which is usually filled to the brim with tutorial segments that are painfully slow. Breath of the Wild was refreshing, new and exciting, and it made Zelda appealing to a whole new generation of fans without treading on the memories of its old ones.
Both Odyssey and Breath of the Wild were met with critical acclaim from nearly everyone, and many are saying that this should be the way of the future for all games involving our favorite plumber and Hylian warrior. While this would be brilliant for us gamers, it’s not as simple a solution as you would think. For starters, having every game be of this scale and depth would mean we would get only a single Mario or Zelda game every 5 or 6 years. Development on Odyssey started as soon as Super Mario 3D Land was released for the 3DS way back in 2013, and Breath of the Wild has been in the works since before the Wii U was announced. This, in effect, means that we would only get 1 or 2 games for each Nintendo system if we’re lucky, not counting spinoff games, of course. And considering that the games will have to get bigger and better, development time could be even longer. The second and more pressing issue is the fact that despite the immense success of these games, you can’t say that the previous formats were ‘bad’. They were also hugely successful, selling hundreds of millions of copies and basically redefining gaming as a whole. Therefore, Nintendo completely abandoning what made them so successful for something that has worked a handful of times seems a little erratic and unwise. One could argue that its setting the trend for a new era of gaming, much like their predecessors did, and this isn’t entirely wrong. But the fact remains that having every game produced like these two produces more problems than it solves.
I suppose it all comes down to one question – which format makes for the better game?
At the moment, the new style will leave a strong impression in people’s minds and will most likely influence them to pick the new games over the old. Yet, despite this, I feel that Nintendo would be better off not committing themselves to making this their sole type of game. After all, doesn’t that saying go: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?
It’s not broken, is it?