Nintendo is far from perfect. They have a history of being unprepared to meet demand for their physical goods. They have a bafflingly rigid policy regarding streaming and videos featuring their games. They don’t always seem to be in touch with their core fans base either. Unlike an EA, WB or Ubisoft, however, one tends to want to forgive Nintendo for its mistakes and unfriendly policies. They just don’t seem to have the cynicism and malicious intent that the others display so brazenly. It may be that they’ve simply done a wonderful job branding themselves over the years, but branding alone doesn’t explain the games they produce. If Nintendo truly was just as cynical as most of the other major publishers then we’d be seeing more compromises in their games. Yet, in an age of lootboxes, of games getting retooled for microtransactions and then carved up for DLC, we got Super Mario Odyssey: a game that would otherwise have been fully exploited for extra cash, but wasn’t. Instead, Nintendo took it in the complete opposite direction and used its extra content to reward players for their time and dedication. That’s right, Super Mario Odyssey has honest-to-goodness unlockables and is all the better because of them!
We’re gonna roll right on into spoiler territory for Super Mario Odyssey from here on. If you really want to know absolutely nothing before playing the game for yourself, then read no further.
Super Mario Odyssey didn’t need a costume system at all. It really didn’t. The game is already so big, fun and refined that all its extras are quite literally icing on the proverbial cake. Hanging on for dear life as his Jaxi tears across the Sand Kingdom’s dunes is already a blast as plain Mario. Same goes for floating around in the Luncheon Kingdom’s incredibly savory-looking stew as a Podoboo or completing any of the myriad little challenges found throughout the other kingdoms. Mario controls are almost flawlessly responsive, each world is a feast for the eyes and every little nod to the plumber’s storied history inspires a nostalgic flutter of the heart. They could’ve called it a game once they’d finished polishing up such an incredibly strong core. The game would’ve still been both excellent and widely praised across the internet. Nintendo and the game’s dev team felt that wasn’t enough though. They were going to give their players even more. So what did they do? They added just about every costume they could think of, plus unlockable lands and even everyone’s favorite dinosaur: Yoshi (they even introduced him in a throwback to Super Mario 64!)
These additions, the costumes especially, don’t really do anything and yet manage to change everything at the same time. Running around the unlockable Mushroom Kingdom as normal Mario is pretty fun. Running around that same Mushroom Kingdom as Mario 64 Mario is one of the coolest things I’ve done this year! Then there’s Artist Mario. Mario Paint was one of my favorite games as a kid, so getting to actually play a Mario game as Artist Mario from the cartridge art wound up being something very special. I never really had a strong desire to play as that Mario, but actually being able to do it put a smile on my face that just wouldn’t go away. All these costumes are just skins for the most part. Their impact on the actual gameplay is minimal, but they add a surprising degree of emotional value to the game. They weren’t needed, but Nintendo added them anyway. What’s more, they come at no extra charge. They’re real and true unlockables of the sort many of us used to love earning and discovering back when they were a normal part of video games. For all their faults and mistakes over the years, Nintendo deserves a not insignificant amount of credit for doing this. They’re no stranger to DLC anymore. They could have easily held some or all of these extras back, but didn’t. That’s worth acknowledging.
Praising Super Mario Odyssey might already be old hat at this point (*cough*), but it absolutely deserves to have a spotlight shined on its inclusion of true unlockable content. This is what gaming used to be. It wasn’t content routinely cut out of the experience to be sold back as “extra” and it certainly wasn’t games getting turned into grindfests and “ongoing engagements” in order to justify RNG lootboxes. It was always a business that cared about making money, but it was also one that respected its customers and did its best to reward their loyalty and patronage. Nintendo seems to remember that, so how is it that no one else does?