I’m a Mario player of yore. I’ve been with the series quite literally since the beginning, playing each entry along the way. As far as I’m concerned, there are a few touches in the franchise that I would mark as definitively iconic. These are things that I could show my mother and she’d recognize exactly what they are and where they come from.
She’d know Mario. She’d probably know Luigi. She’d know the 1-Up Mushroom.
That’s about it.
That’s the definition of iconic. It seems like, based on what Nintendo of Japan recently offered on Twitter, the 1-Up Mushroom won’t exist in Super Mario Odyssey. If the design decision turns into a trend, we might never see the 1-Up Mushroom in a Mario title again.
Instead, we have coins. Coins buy in-game items. Mario loses 10 every time he dies. He can never lose enough to put him into the negative. Inference should tell you that Game Overs are gone now, too.
Initially, I found myself a little bummed by the news of the death of an icon for a franchise that’s been a staple of my gaming life for as long as I can remember.
Then that transitioned to this almost “get off my lawn” sentiment. You know, “back in my day, games were hard and we had to start over from the beginning if we lost all of our lives.” Honestly, I’ve talked with my son about this. I didn’t use the “back in my day” bit, but I had to explain the situation to him as we played the original Super Mario Bros. on the NES Classic last fall. He was blown away by the notion that we had to start from scratch every time we lost our lives.
I checked that idea back. Nintendo isn’t making Mario easier by getting rid of lives. The 3D, “open world” Mario games have never been difficult because of lives. In fact, that part of the formula is wholly irrelevant to the gameplay experience itself.
Super Mario Odyssey, based on the gameplay we’ve experienced, is a title about experimentation. Sometimes that means doing unconventional things by Mario standards to reach new areas. Failed experimentation should be punished in relative ways, not big, massive slaps that thwart progress. A small ding to the coin pile makes sense, a regression of all game progress does not.
The challenge to these games isn’t getting to the end without dying too many times. It’s about experiencing the massive worlds and discovering the moons, coins and secrets. Extra lives shouldn’t even enter into the design conversation.
It took me a few minutes, but I genuinely think the choice to ditch lives in Super Mario Odyssey makes sense. It’s odd for the franchise’s history, sure, but it’s a strong choice given the nature of the game.
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