How Nintendo could explore the Switch’s best features with Super Mario Odyssey
What can Mario do to sell the Switch as an experience you can't get anywhere else?
Nintendo's always done things its own way. Whether it's forgoing fancy graphics for motion controls with the Wii or pulling out of the press conference at this year's E3, the big N loves to defy expectation. This is especially true when it comes to new console releases. From the Wii U to the 3DS, Nintendo consoles have been renowned for breaking the mould, but selling people on their unusual concepts hasn't always been easy. That's why Nintendo designs its own games as showpieces for what its consoles can do.
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We saw it when Super Mario 64 established the framework for how 3D games and analogue sticks should work. We saw it when DS titles like Yoshi Touch & Go proved touch-control gaming could work years before the first iPhone was released. And we saw it when Wii Sports used motion controls to make video games accessible to the non-gaming public.
So what about Nintendo's latest console, the Switch? What game will justify its unique features? Looking at the Switch release line-up, Super Mario Odyssey seems like the prime candidate for showing off what the Switch can do that other consoles can't. Mario already has a proven track record of leveraging the quirkier aspects of Nintendo's consoles: the Super Mario Galaxy games used the Wii remote to collect Star Bits, Super Mario 3D Land harnessed the depth perception of the 3DS to allow for more accurate platforming and Super Mario Maker turned the Wii U tablet into one of the most accessible level design tools ever made.
How, then, could Super Mario Odyssey make a similar case for the Switch? Let's look at some of the most likely possibilities:
The Switch's biggest selling point is undoubtedly its portability, so it would make sense for Nintendo to lean into it hard with Super Mario Odyssey. Plenty of Nintendo games have already done so, with Pokemon GO serving as the most recent example. Odyssey could take a similar approach by designating real-world locations for players to visit with their Switches in order to unlock special challenge levels or other exclusive content. Mario's going to be leaping about the real world in Odyssey after all, so it'd be fitting for that to tie back into some form of real-life exploration.
The 3DS's SpotPass feature provides another good example for how Odyssey could leverage the Switch's portability. A Switch left in sleep mode could use the Wi-Fi hotspots it passes to download new content or reward Mario with random gifts a la Tomodachi Life on 3DS. Even if the gifts were as simple as extra coins to spend at the hat store shown in the Odyssey trailer, it would be a compelling incentive to take your Switch with you whenever you're out and about.
Nintendo is still a little reluctant to go all-in on online multiplayer, but local multiplayer is another thing entirely. The Switch's Joy-Con controllers are purpose-built for impromptu multiplayer sessions and given the co-operative focus of recent Mario titles like Super Mario 3D World and New Super Mario Bros., Odyssey would be ripe for a two-player mode of its own. Since the Joy-Con isn't the most versatile controller in the world, this co-op mode would need to follow a similar design to Super Mario 3D World, with a fixed camera perspective and challenges built specifically to accommodate both players having a single analogue stick each. Nevertheless, there's plenty of potential for inventive platforming puzzles requiring one player to take control of Mario's cap and guide it into position as a springboard for the other player to bounce Mario off of.
Switch get-togethers are another key part of the Switch's multiplayer scene, and Odyssey could push the envelope here, too. Seeing as the game looks to feature vast hub worlds to roam around in, these spaces would serve as perfect playgrounds for multiplayer Mario mayhem. Switch owners could work together to defend the hub worlds from waves of Bowser's minions, playing what would effectively be a Super Mario horde mode. Alternatively, multiple Marios could compete in checkpoint races around the expansive environments, putting their platforming skills to the ultimate test against their friends. Or maybe there could be a free-roaming mode where players could just run around the hub worlds together, bouncing off each other's heads and engaging in the kind of friendly sabotage that made the New Super Mario Bros. games so frustratingly fun.
Playing in public
Much of Nintendo's marketing for the Switch champions the idea of playing the console in public while eager onlookers watch on in the background. It's a nice idea, but the Switch's small screen makes it a less-than-ideal way to share the action with people around you. What if Odyssey took a page out of the streaming playbook and included an option to stream the Switch's screen to smartphones in the immediate vicinity? That way, you could be sitting in a café battling Bowser while your fellow patrons cheered you on, no craned necks or strained eyes required. Not only would this increase the Switch's value as a social device, it would avoid the issues associated with online streaming that Nintendo seems so reluctant to confront.
Like most Nintendo consoles, the Switch has a few features that can't help but feel a little too wacky for their own good. HD rumble is a cool way to count balls in 1-2 Switch, sure, but it doesn't really have much use outside of that. The JoyCon's infrared sensor can let you live out your fake sandwich-scoffing dreams, but its functionality in more traditional games is slim to none. And don't get us started on the frustration that is motion controls.
It would be best, then, for Odyssey to simply ignore these features and not try to shoehorn them in for the sake of it. After the tragedy of last year's Star Fox Zero, hopefully Nintendo has learned that lesson for good.
These are just a handful of the ways Nintendo could use Super Mario Odyssey as a showpiece for everything that sets the Switch apart from other consoles. No doubt we'll see a whole lot more at this year's E3. In the meantime, we'd love to hear your own ideas on the topic, so feel free to share them with us in the comments below.
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