Masters Of Horror
We closed out October, the spookiest of months, with Anthony John Agnello’s look back at the career of Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami. Anthony argued for a grand unifying theory that explains the throughline between the famous game director’s work—how regardless of aesthetic, story, or setting, they’re all thrillers that generate tension through scarcity. Mikami’s medium, Anthony argued, was never horror, and when he tried to dip into that explicitly with The Evil Within it was a mess. Kyle OReilly took to the comments with their take on what went wrong:
What makes RE work that Evil Within doesn’t have is that double culture filtration. “Double Culture what now?” you say! It’s when you see tried and true American horror cliches regurgitated back to you by someone to whom they are foreign. Resident Evil games are zombie games, and they pump out zombie tropes like a bakery line, but there’s always something just a little off. Whether it’s the place you are fighting the zombie (a shark tank in the bottom of a mansion) or what comes out of the zombie when it dies (a potted plant). It gives them a little bit of wonk and charm to go along with the chills. Lots of great Japanese video games have this twisting of our own tropes and feeding them back to us (JRPGs continually messed up versions of Christianity being a personal fave) but Evil Within doesn’t seem to. It’s weird because it’s still Japanese developers, albeit it with more Westerners sprinkled in, but Evil Within never feels like a Japanese version of American Psych-Horror or anything. It just seems generic and charmless.
Lovely Weather, Eh? looked at it another way:
I think it’s partly a matter of sources. Mikami certainly doesn’t do cosmic or psychological horror well, but I’ve always felt like he’s imitating American horror movies. The scarcity you’re talking about is totally present in those, represented by the difficulty horror characters have with turning on cars or opening locked doors. The mundane tasks of everyday life become obstacles in the way of escaping extraordinary peril. Mikami’s approach to guns imitates that by taking what is usually reliable in games (violence) and making it risky, even vulnerable.
The End Of An Odyssey?
Our ongoing coverage of Super Mario Odyssey continued with a few more posts this week. First, Clayton Purdom weighed in with what he saw as the best way to play through Mario’s latest adventure: not faffing around in the kingdoms on your first playthrough, and saving most of your exploring until after the credits, when tons more stuff opens up. In the comments, Sandler’s List talked about their approach and how Odyssey’s design reflects the series’ heritage:
I’ve been playing with a combination of the forward-moving style described here and the more stream-of-consciousness style that Breath Of The Wild encouraged. I generally move toward my next big objective and don’t spend any time scouring for secrets, but I do digress to explore a little if I see something cool or think I have an idea about where a moon could be. Like Breath Of The Wild, it really rewards curiosity, and you tend to find a lot of moons just by playing around.
That really does make it feel like both a culmination and evolution of what Mario fundamentally is. Looking all the way back to Super Mario Bros., the brilliance of that game lay in the unprecedented freedom of improvisational movement that it offered and in the levels that were so smartly built around getting you to explore and master that movement (basically the default understanding of level design now). If anything, Odyssey is an even more pure expression of that original design ethic. Its levels, the controls, and your progression through the game are all structured in such a way that just messing around in the environments and exploring your abilities become ends unto themselves, with the game always subtly prompting you to try something out and then rewarding you with meaningful progress when you do. Your eagerness to see the next world will always drive you forward, but I personally can’t resist spending a little time just goofing off and seeing what it turns up.
Elsewhere, Jakeoti discussed the series’ recent habit of hiding its toughest challenges beyond the “ending”:
I want to give kudos to the Mario games in general for finding a good balance between accessibility and challenge. It went from its secrets being rewards, challenges, and skips for more experienced players to letting anyone reach the end game. Mario 64 kind of started it, since the number of stars is the only thing stopping you from facing Bowser. You can just get every star in the first 10 of 15 worlds to face the final boss (not counting a bunch of hidden stars). But I feel like Galaxy 2 really nailed it, with courses designed for fun, and the end world being a brutal challenge that required exploration and devotion. That continued on in 3D World, and it sounds like Odyssey does the same.
Then there was the second part of my Game In Progress review, which tackled the game’s ending and post-credits secrets. In the comments there, Wolfman Jew broke down what they loved about the ending scenes. If you’ve yet to get there and would rather not read about them, I politely suggest you move along:
Firstly, it’s just fantastic, with a crazy platforming gauntlet, awesome final boss fight, escape sequence that meshes different gameplay styles, and a rocking song at the end. It’s probably my favorite straight-up ending in a Mario game, in part because of how it manages pacing and tone but because of that final cutscene. I appreciate that Nintendo made a story that ends with Mario being a bit of a dick. That initial proposal quickly descends into him trying to one-up Bowser, not realizing he’s treating Peach as the kind of prize you get in too many games, some of Mario’s included. I like how their relationship is left ambiguous and silly, but in general it’s weird and kind of enjoyable to see Mario act without his usual perfect façade. The game doesn’t “punish” him, but it—and Peach—calls him out on something he shouldn’t have done, or at least in the way he ended up going about it. But unlike some of the cretins who played this, he didn’t just go off to Reddit to complain about being “friendzoned” or whatever; he’s upset, but gets over it. And when we see him after the credits, he’s relaxed and alright, enjoying both the lovely calm of his home and the opportunity to dress up in a Diddy Kong suit, the wedding dress of the woman he loves, or an outfit inspired by a Nintendo 64DD game no one remembers.
This really got into why I like Mario, and why he’s a compelling character to me despite his being so carefully curated that he often looks plasticine. For all that he’s a cartoon character, he’s about the most “normal” mascot we could possibly have gotten in this medium. He’s just happy to go along with whatever the game, the story, or the player needs. The main theme of Mario Odyssey is about how great it is to see the world and meet new kinds of people, and how that can lead you to remembering your roots. He’s happy to do that. He’s not a deep or complex character, but he facilitates some of our more positive traits when we play. And that’s something I find really important.
That’ll do it for this week, Gameologinites. As always, thank you for reading and commenting. We’ll see you next week!