When a new game in The Legend of Zelda or Super Mario series is released, it’s often cause for celebration. Both franchises are considered among the best of what Nintendo offers and fans often wait years for the next big game in Link or Mario’s adventures so you can imagine how special 2017 was where we got to see what was new for both series within the span of just a few months. Both The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey released to rave reviews from fans and critics alike and stand as among the most important games that Nintendo has ever crafted, both in technical aspects and creativity. Needless to say, both games are excellent and among the best ever made… but which one is better?
You can check out my impressions on both games in detail here…
To help answer that question we’re going to be breaking down each game in several key areas and looking at which one was superior. The first of these being how Breath of the Wild and Mario Odyssey each challenged the long-held conventions that guided their respective series. Starting with the Legend of Zelda series, the formula basically stood unchanged from the very first game on the NES. Link would traverse a vast overworld on a mission to recover (something) from a set of dungeons, gaining items and abilities that would help him conquer future dungeons. This would remain largely unchanged until the 3DS title A Link Between Worlds where, while fundamentally similar, the order of the dungeons was completely open to the player’s choice, allowing for a non-linear exploration of the world, something that would prove to be the guiding philosophy behind Breath of the Wild.
Freedom of exploration is the entire point behind the design of Breath of the Wild. After you have completed the Great Plateau tutorial region you are free to explore Hyrule to your hearts’ content and the game is structured with this freedom in mind. Whether you decide to begin your quest heading north, south, east or west it doesn’t really matter since Hyrule is built as a living, breathing world where your choice and actions aren’t scripted. This is major change compared to previous games in the series, that, while set in a big world, filled with secrets and distractions were fairly linear in how you would progress the actual story. Breath of the Wild did away with this linearity and its hard to imagine ever going back to the way things originally were.
Super Mario Odyssey on the other hand focuses in much more on the gameplay aspects of Mario’s 3D adventures versus the world at large. Each of the game’s kingdom is not only thematically different but offers up vastly different challenges based on its layout and the creatures you can capture. For example, the Wooded Kingdom is filled with enemies that can be captured to reach hard to reach areas, while the Metro Kingdom features almost no enemies whatsoever and is basically a platforming fan’s dream come true. This constantly changes how players interact with the world and leads to new ways for Mario to explore his new locals.
This is not so much of a fundamental change to Mario’s basic formula as it is a way to expand on ideas that came before. Super Mario Odyssey, while being an incredibly creative title in its own right also takes a lot of queues from past Mario games like Super Mario 64, Sunshine, Galaxy and even the original Super Mario Bros. while adding in a ton of its own, new ideas as well. That being said, most of these are self-contained to the worlds/stages to which they are found and don’t return in other Kingdoms (at least in a significant way) and this more in line with how traditional Mario games are divided into levels and stages. And while the game still stands as a radical departure from previous 3D Mario adventures, it will definitely be easier to go back to older Mario games when compared to Zelda’s radical changes.
At their core, while both games change-up their series’ conventions in a major way, its pretty clear that Breath of the Wild is the one that took things further. But that does mean it has the most potential to improve upon itself? When Nintendo announced that DLC would be coming to the game many were disappointed that, instead of adding in something brand new to the game what we instead got were new items, gameplay improvements and the promise of a new story campaign. And while this latest quest has yet to be released its hard to imagine anything radically different working in Breath of the Wild‘s world since so much of the gameplay relies on Link’s abilities to traverse Hyrule as he pleases.
Super Mario Odyssey on the other hand, despite not having DLC currently announced would have a lot more potential expansions since its gameplay is already so varied. More kingdoms, each with their own unique gameplay, more capture targets each with their own controls/abilities and more challenges could seriously change the underlying game and give players even more variety, something that may seem ridiculous but is definitely possible thanks to the insane gameplay options possible in Super Mario Odyssey‘s mechanics. And remember, we’ve actually been down this road with Nintendo before, where the original Super Mario Galaxy had so much content left on the cutting room floor that a direct sequel was quickly commissioned, something that can be accomplished a lot quicker and more effectively in today’s age of DLC.
The final question I want to ask is which of these two games has more lasting appeal? Between The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey the choice actually seems pretty clear in this regard as in terms of raw gameplay hours Zelda has Mario beat hands down. A full 100% complete run of each game will take about 200 hours for Breath of the Wild and closer to 75 for Mario Odyssey but that’s a tricky number to cite for a couple of reasons. For one, Mario’s adventure is a lot more dense, with not a lot of backtracking or time spent travelling from one point to another. That and, while Mario Odyssey features plenty of collectibles they are often found within a short distance from each-other whereas Zelda’s collectibles require players to scour every inch of the country side.
That being said, despite so much backtracking, Breath of the Wild still features more base content than Mario Odyssey and the focus on non-linearity and exploration means that players will be constantly motivated to explore Hyrule, where once you have completed the checklist for a specific kingdom in Mario Odyssey you’re basically done with that stage forever unless you want to revisit some past challenges. To that end, I feel like the nod for which game has the most lasting appeal should go to Breath of the Wild… for now. While no DLC has been announced for Mario Odyssey the potential is there for any additional content to push the game over the top and end up with more replayability than Zelda.
How do you compare two of the greatest games ever made? Both The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey will go down in history among Nintendo’s brightest stars and are a big reason why the new Switch console has been able to reverse the company’s fortunes in a very short amount of time. And while I believe that Breath of the Wild is a marginally better game than Odyssey, there really is no denying that both games are excellent and must-plays for anyone who owns a Nintendo Switch, and who knows. In this world of post-launch content it’s entirely possible that this debate will go on for years to come.