System Seller: A Super Mario Odyssey Review

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Developer: Nintendo

Publisher: Nintendo

Platform: Switch

Genre: Your Childhood

Number of Players: 2 (p2 controlling Cappy)

Launch Price: $60

Hours Played: 45

 

Super Mario Odyssey is an oddity. It might sound like I'm just trying to make a stupid pun, but that's the best way I can describe it. It's the weirdest, most unpredictable Mario game ever, even surpassing Super Mario Land. Odyssey wastes no time getting you into the action and then proceeds to surprise and delight for hours on end. It's the kind of game that grabs you by the shoulders and never lets go. There's never a dull moment and even when you're just standing around the attention to detail ensures something delightful is always happening on screen. Super Mario Odyssey is a video game. It manages to be an epic adventure without being one of those "cinematic experiences" that developers love so much these days. The levels are open for exploration but densely stuffed with secrets and details. You won't be seeing any endless expanses of indistinguishable landscape in this game.

Every world is bursting with charm and personality with its own distinct look and feel. I especially loved the unique twists put on traditional stage themes, like desert and lava, that every Mario game has featured. Nintendo has managed to make a Mario game where it appears the pieces would make a jumbled mess and yet it all forms a cohesive whole. It really felt like I was on a globetrotting adventure through crazy distant lands. There's souvenirs to buy, people to talk to, towns to explore, and the entire time I was taking it all in with a big smile on my face. Smiling! While playing a video game in 2017! At a time where games are becoming increasingly more complex and serious, you've got Nintendo putting out games like this reminding us of what video games used to be and how enjoyable they still can be.

And that's just how the game made me feel. I haven't even touched on how it plays.

It would be a disservice to spoil anything about the game, so here's pimp suit Bowser from the literal opening seconds.

When Mario made the jump to 3D, it basically established the formula for all 3D platforms to come. Nintendo continued to follow its own formula right up through the release of Galaxy 2, although the Wii series took a more linear and less exploratory approach. Then came 3D Land and World, which threw all that away to basically take an alternate reality approach to what 3D Mario games could be. In all honesty, the style of these games makes a hell of a lot more sense than the massive jump that was Mario 64, and if we were back in 1996 then maybe I would have loved them. But it wasn't and I didn't. 3D Land and 3D World were bad. They controlled poorly, the depth perception was all off, and for some inexplicable reason the levels encouraged you to explore them for secrets while having a damn time limit.

I bring all this up because Odyssey has the same director as 3D World, and it's apparent in some of the design aspects, but I'm happy to report that this game is generally pretty far removed from that game, and any Mario game released in the last seven years really. For some damn reason Miyamoto has been very adamant lately about keeping things within the recognizable confines of the Mushroom Kingdom, which is why games like Paper Mario seem to have all the whimsy and fun sucked out of them in favor of endless copy and paste toads. I have no idea what changed, but it's very obvious that for this game they just said "fuck it, let's get weird" and threw Mario wearing a sombrero into New York City with regular-ass human beings. Even the central mechanic, capturing enemies, is just so bizarrely creative and, frankly, un-Mario.

The ability to capture things replaces traditional powerups in Odyssey, and leads to some of the craziest and most memorable mechanics in Mario history. The gravity mechanic is Galaxy was amazing, but there's only so much you can do with it. As nuts as it sounds, throwing your hat opens up a treasure trove of gameplay possibilities the likes of which Mario has never seen before. Not only can you capture enemies and objects, which leads to some very interesting level designs, but the cap throw itself can be used in a surprising amount of ways to maneuver around. Combined with the most expansive move set to date, including a new high jump, a roll, and a dive, you can skip entire portions of levels if you're skilled enough at stringing these moves together. Nintendo has foreseen the ways players would try and break the game so they made nearly ever surface traversable and hid secret rewards in insanely out of the way places. Every challenge in Odyssey is designed so you can follow the straightforward path, or take an advanced shortcut. The level of thought and planning that must have been involved in something like that is insane!


The impetus for Mario's journey around the world this time is that Bowser had kidnapped Peach once again, this time with the intent to just straight up marry her. He's also taken your pal Cappy's sister Tiara for Peach to wear as a wedding veil. You'll chase Bower around the world in your airship as he attempts to steal various wedding-related items (like a cake or a ring) while dealing with his downright creepy rabbit-ish wedding planners, the Broodals. While the initial announcement of no hub world was disappointing, it turns out that each kingdom is actually its own hub world. You can run around and collect power moons in these sandboxes, but you'll also find tons of hidden passages to what I call "challenge rooms" which are basically little platforming stages that task you with getting from point A to B to collect a moon, Mario Galaxy style. This was a cool approach that grew on me over time, even though I was initially disappointed with the structure of the game.

See, I feel as though Nintendo was ever so slightly misleading with the marketing for Odyssey. The two kingdoms they showed off the most were Sand Kingdom and Metro Kingdom, with some Wooded Kingdom thrown in for good measure. There's a pretty good reason for this, as these are the largest stages ever in a Mario game. From this, I was was lead to believe all of the kingdoms were going to be this big, but they're not. Some of them are a little smaller, some are Mario 64 sized, and others are just tiny. Still, even the smallest kingdoms are densely packed with power moons to find. The other thing I felt a bit let down about was that each of the game's stages is introduced as "X Kingom: Y Region", for example "Metro Kingdom: New Donk City". Because of this, I assumed we'd be exploring multiple regions within a kingdom when, in fact, that isn't the case. I do wonder if it's structured this way to leave the game open for some sort of DLC expansion where we go back to these kingdoms but explore new areas.

At the very least, you've probably already seen Mario running around New Donk with these normal-ass people.

In any case, I initially found the pacing of the game to be really weird. For a game who's theme song features the line "it's freedom like you never knew" right at the beginning, I at first found the game to be oddly linear in its structure. Sometimes you'll get the option to visit one kingdom before another, but there's always a linear path to progression that wasn't necessarily there in 64, Sunshine, or even Galaxy. If you had enough stars to unlock more levels you could tackle them in any order. Likewise, when you reach a kingdom you'll always be tasked with fighting off Bower's minions, cleaning up the mess he left behind, and collecting the minimum amount of power moons to move to the next kingdom.

It wasn't until I "beat" the game that I really "got" Mario Odyssey. It's like a weird combo of Banjo-Kazooie and Metroid. Moons in this game are given out like candy on Halloween. They are literally hidden everywhere and the emphasis is on exploring the levels to in order to find where they're hidden. The kingdoms, however, will actually change as you make you're way though the game, giving you access to more power moons and hidden areas. If you come back later to a kingdom you thought you were done with, you'll find heaps of new stuff to do and deviously hidden new moons to discover. You need the standard 120 moons to reach the final boss of the game. To get to the true ending, you'll need 500. To 100% the game, you'll need to collect a whopping 880 moons and even then it's possible to max out at 999 moons for a secret bonus. After defeating the final boss I had over 200 moons, and as of this review I've collected 630. Like I said, after I completed the main story the game really truly clicked for me. Just when I thought it was over, everything blew wide open and all of a sudden I had an all new set of goals. The adventure wasn't over yet!

A Musical Odyssey

Like Breath of the Wild, Mario Odyssey's music can sometimes be understated. Not every area in the game will have a catchy tune playing, but those that do are predictably excellent. The music is about a varied as the kingdoms themselves, and doesn't really have a central sound like the orchestra of Galaxy. I have to say, though, some of these tracks are my favorite in the genre. For example, I think Odyssey has my favorite desert theme of any Mario game. Then there's Wooded Kingdom's Seam Gardens, which is definitely in my top five Mario songs of all time.

Not only is the game structured differently, but Nintendo also made five big changes to the Mario formula: coins are actual currency, there are no lives, Mario no longer takes fall damage, you can fast travel between checkpoints, and collecting moons doesn't kick you out of the level. Honestly, these are changes that probably should have been made ages ago. Hell, back in 1998 Banjo-Kazooie let you collect jiggies and didn't toss you back to the hub world. I am 100% all for the elimination of lives too. Those things have served no purpose since the days of arcades when they were a mechanism designed to make you spend quarters.

In Odyssey, that, along with the lack of fall damage and fast travel, encourages you to explore every corner of the level and try out crazy maneuvers you might otherwise be hesitant to try, since you only lose ten coins when you die. Odyssey constantly subverts expectations and, usually, doing something that would normally get you killed will reward you. Speaking of coins, in another Mario first, you can use them (along with purple coins unique to each kingdom) to buy crazy outfits, as well as souvenirs for your ship and even power moons themselves. Every costume is a reference to some crazy thing Mario wore in the past, and some of them are delightfully obscure. You can even mix and match the hats and suits to make your own weird combinations. I accidentally made Mario look like a used car salesman and it was amazing.


But as much as I've been praising Mario Odyssey's creativity and adventurous spirit, the game is not without its faults. Unfortunately, I did have a few control issues. There are a couple of powerups that cause Mario to run so insanely fast he becomes frustratingly hard to control. It's entirely possible to finish the game without ever touching these segments, though if you want to 100% it you'll have to endure them. More troubling, though, is that about 8 out of 10 times when Mario can obviously reach a ledge and should be grabbing it, he slides down the side of the wall instead. I can't imagine why this is, and there is a way to circumvent it with some crazy hat-tossing jumps, but as someone who doesn't have the dexterity or patience for that it was very irritating. Finally, there's the 3D World influence I mentioned. Thankfully these moments are few and far between, but I did run into instances where platforming became frustrating because the perspective made it hard to tell where I was jumping and I'd fall to my death. For example, there a section where Mario must navigate between some girders floating over a pit. This is essentially a sidescrolling section but instead of locking Mario to two dimensions, he can still move forward and back in space. If you're not exactly straight-on, instead of grabbing the girder, you'll miss it and fall. Like I said, it was only a few instances but it was frustrating nonetheless, though at least you're not wasting lives and getting your coins back is an easy process since there are a comical amount of them around.

There are also motion controls that add a few moves to Mario's arsenal. They're not necessary to finish the game, but some might find the very concept off-putting. More annoying are tutorials that persist throughout the game and take up a large portion of the lower screen. I couldn't find a way to turn these off and I hope that's something they patch in because I do not need to learn the ground pound on the final level of the game!

Also, whatever you do, make sure you've seen as little of this game as possible before you play it. Although by the latter half I was having a blast, a lot of the game's surprises were spoiled for me by none other than Nintendo. By simply watching their own coverage of the game I spoiled much of what makes Odyssey special. Literally everything in this game is a spoiler, from the costumes to the captures, because there's so much childish delight to be had in discovering all these things for yourself.

Basically my reaction to some of the game's moments.

Although I had seen some of the early levels almost in their entirety, and I knew almost all of the level themes, even I managed to still be surprised by them late in the game. And, luckily, I managed to avoid spoilers for the games' best moments. These were so irresistibly joyful and surprising that they have become my favorite moments in Mario history. The ending, in particular, is the greatest moment in Mario history. My jaw was wide open with a huge smile on my face and literal tears of joy welling up in my eye sockets. I wish I could go back and experience the end of Mario Odyssey again for the first time. And then after the ending!? That's when I fell in love. When they make a sequel to this game (and they certainly will considering it was the fastest selling Mario game in history, even beating out the lucrative "New Super Mario" games by selling two million copies in three days) I will definitely go in dark. I wouldn't want to know anything about the game except that it exists.


Final Thoughts

Super Mario Odyssey is the kind of game that reminds you why you started playing games to begin with. It's the loving culmination of nearly 40 years of Mario history, and you'll be smiling with child-like wonder the whole time. I'd boot up the game with the intention of making a little progress, and before I knew it the hours had slipped away and I'd have collected another 30 moons. I don't think I'll ever get the maximum number of moons, though I did collect enough to visit every area and unlock every costume, yet I continue to play the game anyway because it's so much fun just to run around as Mario. That's the mark of an excellent game. I finished it and immediately want to go back and keep playing it. How many games can you say that about today?

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