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Comparing Super Mario Odyssey to Super Mario Galaxy is like comparing water to air. I need both in my life; there's no question about it. Take either one away, and I'll shrivel into a husk and blow away on the next strong breeze.
Dramatics aside, it's important to hold a game studio's best works against each other. Doing so grants us insight into how the studio's development process has changed over the years. We also get to see how a newer work improves over an older one-and the ways in which it degrades, too.
While there are a couple of small things I prefer in Galaxy over Odyssey (Mario's movements feel a little more fluid, possibly due to the frequent instances of low-gravity environments), I generally find Odyssey the more interesting game of the two. I appreciate the constant changes in scenery, and the endless checklist of things to hunt. However, there's one category where Galaxy pounds Odyssey into the ground: Story.
Story is such a minor thing in mainline Mario games, it's almost silly to lodge a complaint whenever Nintendo skimps on it. But as it turns out, once you have a taste of competent storytelling in a Mario adventure, it's hard to turn back. Super Mario Galaxy's storybook interludes-completely optional side-quests that let the player learn the history of the demi-goddess Rosalina-narrate a simple but very sweet story that makes it impossible not to like the space-faring newcomer.
Unfortunately, the connection we're allowed to feel with Rosalina in Galaxy is a rare moment. Mario series creator Shigeru Miyamoto, is notoriously anti-story with Mario games. He told Wired in a 2009 interview, "With the Mario games, you don't need to have such a complicated setting where you have these particular characters with complicated backstories that can weigh down the bright and fun feel of the game."
Putting aside how Mario Galaxy contains some of the most colorful, whimsical, and imaginative settings Nintendo has ever created despite the existence of Rosalina's story book, Rosalina's gradual revelation benefits Galaxy's pace. You wrest a few Power Stars free from Bowser's control, return to the ship and unwind with story time, then go out and do it all again.
Mario is a long series with a very crowded cast list, but Rosalina's storybook helped cement her as a favorite character. Rosalina's speedy adoption into the fandom fold proves well-executed storylines can be beneficial to the series, not detrimental.
Miyamoto's fears about seeing the Mario universe hobbled by meandering stories aren't baseless, but he should put more faith into the Mario series' current producer, Yoshiaki Koizumi, who slipped Rosalina's story past him. Koizumi coined Rosalina's story, and directed its telling. He's built lore for Zelda games, including the story of Hyrule's Three Goddesses. He clearly knows how to weave a good tale.
Mario Odyssey suffers just a touch from Miyamoto's hesitance to let his series deliver a narrative. Mario travels to different lands in this game and meets different races previously unknown to us. He meets sentient caps that live in a foggy, London-inspired town drenched in moonlight. He races with rotund seal pups that shelter from the worst of their cold environment in an underground warren. He fights bunny rabbits who dual-wield careers as wedding planners and assassins, and as I pointed out yesterday, that's amazing. He travels to a metropolis overseen by the woman who was there when it all started. But whenever I said "I'd really like to know more about these people," I was usually denied.
Am I the only one who wants to know how Pauline went from "Imperiled maiden shrieking for help on top of a construction girder" to "Mayor-Queen of an endless city?" I can't be. And heck, I want to know more about that kingdom. You know the one I'm talking about.
That's not to say there aren't moments when Mario Odyssey lets me lean in and get a better look at its people. The level maps designed as travel brochures are a delight, and the NPCs occasionally say things that tell me more about the lands they live in (you'll be OK, Sad Bus Stop Guy in New Donk City). Still, I wish Nintendo trusted itself enough to tell another story like Mario Galaxy's-and I wish it trusted us enough not to get bored by text boxes with more than ten words in them.