A mix of both makes for the best impression
Nintendo recently posted a small feature on their Japanese recruitment site that discusses Super Mario Odyssey. In that feature, VFX lead artist Junki Ikeuchi talked about the struggles Nintendo’s team faced when creating Super Mario Odyssey. In particular, the team had to think about how to mix realistic and cartoonish visual effects when working with Mario in particular.
When Mario interacts with the ‘real’ world, the big problem was choosing which of the two art styles the visual effects should resemble. Should we choose an effect that resembles the animated Mario? If so, it wouldn’t match the realistic city, and the same could be said for the reverse. To solve this problem, ideas were taken from both themes and blended together.
As Ikeuchi says, Super Mario Odyssey ended up blending the two styles together depending on actions. Some elements call for more realistic visuals, such as the mist in a forest setting and wind blowing through trees. Then there’s the cartoonish puffs of smoke that come from Mario’s feet when he lands in areas and the stars that pop up when Mario hits an enemy with Cappy.
Ikeuchi sees these special effects as the ‘glue’ that holds gameplay together, and ties everything into one another. With the right blend of special effects, you connect everything going on in the game world, giving everything the impact it needs to speak to the player.