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Super Mario Odyssey (Switch) artwork

Super Mario Odyssey (Switch) review


"It wasn't supposed to be like this."


Super Mario Odyssey (Switch) image

Hey, Super Mario Man. It’s been a long time coming. We had some good times, you and me. I remember unwrapping your first 3-D adventure, along with a shiny new Nintendo 64, back on Christmas Day ’96. You had me at “it’s a me.” Like, I couldn’t get past how awesome the opening screen was. I could mold your face! And then I actually played the game, and life was good.

For years we got on by, just you and me on the Nintendo 64. I got a Gamecube because I heard you would be on that, too. I expected similar enjoyment and fulfillment, but it didn’t pan out like I expected. There was a water pack and this goo that needed cleaning up . . . and it just didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel like the Mario I knew. I didn’t want to be around you anymore. I thought that that would be the end.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

OK, so Super Mario Odyssey is my first foray in 3-D Mario in quite some time. I missed out on those Galaxy games on the Wii, but I can say with confidence that Odyssey ain’t your daddy’s Mario. It ain’t even my Mario. And even though I have more than a few recollections of running and jumping in open 3-D worlds, I didn’t think things could be this different.

Odyssey is as odd and off-color as it is epic in its grandiosity. It’s also insanely packed to the brim with content, and if I’m going to talk about all the great things that come in this package, I feel it’s only appropriate that I also emphasize my biggest issue up front. If you thought 120 power stars were too many, then steel your heart! This is a collector’s collect-a-thon. A completionist’s greatest challenge. You, and many more like you, will start this adventure out innocently enough, expecting to have to put some effort into making progression. You’ll come to find that the keys to progression, dubbed Power Moons, are numerous and often easy to obtain. Just how numerous, you may ask? Numerous as in there are 999 of the things. Dang that’s a lot!

Super Mario Odyssey is so darn stuffed to the brim. It’s a whiteboard made black from the scribblings of a brainstorm that left no room in the margins. Nothing got removed from the initial pass. There are no bad ideas here. I can just picture the project leads at Nintendo in the pre-planning phase shouting:

“YOU get a Power Moon! And YOU get a Power Moon! And YOU get a Power Moon! And YOU . . . “

Seriously. There are just short of a thousand of these things for collecting. By no means are finding them all a requirement unless you seek to experience everything that the game has to offer, but you can easily find, like, 300 of them by just walking around and performing simple platforming tasks – basically, beating the game.

I don’t mean to sound so curmudgeonly, but too much of a good thing can be detrimental. Any satisfaction I get from collecting a genuinely worthwhile Power Moon is overshadowed by the cheap feeling of finding five with little to no effort. Super Mario Odyssey is a victim of its own content, a greatness made at times mundane.

Super Mario Odyssey (Switch) image

In spite of itself, it’s still a splendid title. It sounds good. It looks great. Look at how those colors shine! Most of the worlds are interesting. A few are even quite excellent. New Donk City, evoking a cartoony concrete jungle populated with proportional humans featuring fedoras and suits is the stuff that dreams are made of. If Mario look like a fish out of water, know that he feels right at home parkouring off skyscrapers and taxi cabs. Imagine how he must feel saving Mayor Pauline from the clutches of an old nemesis! It’s easily one of my favorite parts in the game for its clever use of 2-D sprites against city skylights and a poppy musical score.

I also really dig Nintendo’s clever use of 8-bit 2-D platforming segments, even when they’re not utilized in New Donk City. It’s their way of tying the franchise back to its roots, ensuring that new generations will be just as enraptured with the series’ origins as they are likely to be with its current direction.

Watch as the screen scrolls and Mario bops and hops his away across these old-fashioned, new-fangled courses. He controls like a dream, whether as a sprite or as a 3-D model. Precision platforming requires it; certain challenges later in the game command it. Mario can run, jump, and stomp with precision and grace. The motion-sensor controls, which are a new experience for me, feel logical and responsive. Shake the controller to make Mario climb faster. Holding crouch, shake the controller to make Mario roll. Their use is secondary and unencumbering. I thought they were a neat feature that never felt tacky or unresponsive.

I also really like Nintendo’s generous inclusion of fan service. Part-way through the game, I found a secret portal that transported Mario to the fabled Mushroom Kingdom and straight into Yoshi’s house from the original Super Mario World. What a cool little touch, and hardly the only subtle inclusion from the series’ extensive nostalgia catalog. Use level-specific purple coins to buy costumes and up your thread count. Dress up as Dr. Mario. Dress up as Luigi. Dress up with a sombrero and serape. Mario’s gone fashionista, and it’s largely to do with his escapades across 17 varying and thematically divergent kingdoms. In fact, if there’s one further nitpick I can mention, it’s that I would have liked to have seen some design differences in picking one costume over another. Aside from visual variety, they hardly serve as more than a key to opening the occasional door to . . . yet another Power Moon.

Of course, with all the places to see and things to do, Mario needs a little bit of help along the way. He is accompanied by a sidekick named Cappy, who happens to be a sentient hat. The gimmick here is that Mario can fling Cappy at foes and control them upon making contact. This is referred to as “capturing,” and it leads to some interesting and surprising mechanics. Wriggle as a caterpillar across precarious platforms hovering over lava. Bust through bricks as Bullet Bill to clear the way forward. Form an impossibly high Goomba ladder to reach new heights. The list goes on and on.

Super Mario Odyssey (Switch) image

Unlike the silly talking water pack that accompanied Mario in Super Mario Sunshine, I actually found Cappy’s presence to be welcoming. I can hardly picture playing a 3-D Mario game without him now, given that Mario’s only indigenous means of attack are a few flavors of jump without his trusty hat-friend in tow. Years from now, we may remember him as useful of a sidekick as Yoshi.

Until then, there’s plenty to do in Super Mario Odyssey, such as wreaking havoc across an island as a dinosaur to scouring the sands of Tostarena for an entrance to an inverted pyramid. Help a friendly tribe of kitchen utensils save their stew from the clutches of a colossal condor or race against fat seals in the perfunctory ice kingdom. Repeatedly fight the Broodals – creepy rabbits serving dual roles as Bowser’s wedding vendors and trusty lieutenants – to get closer to ruining Bowser’s plan to marry Princess Peach (again). I won’t even go into great detail how the game rewards you for exceeding certain Power Moon thresholds by offering boss rushes or opening new worlds that incorporate greater challenge to the task at hand.

After playing through the game at a relative concentrated pace for a week, I feel I’m only scraping the surface. I am at a crossroads. Do I continue to invest significant time and effort in marching forward to 100% completion, or is seeing the game through this point enough? Mario’s been to the moon and back and saved the Mushroom Kingdom and its inhabitants from a royally unwanted wedding. How much more value can I squeeze out of gathering the final Power Moons and purple coins waiting to be found?

Super Mario Odyssey is a great game that I will be returning to from time to time. Mario, we’re cool again, but don’t be so eager to please next time.

4/5

Fiddlesticks's avatar
Community review by Fiddlesticks (January 20, 2018)

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