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Super Mario Odyssey (Switch) artwork

Super Mario Odyssey (Switch) review

"Structural integrity?"

The number of brand new, notable 3D platformers that have appeared in the last few years can probably be counted on one hand, and Super Mario Odyssey is the notable-est of them all. So be honest, if you own a Switch and want a 3D platformer, you're getting this one. And even if not, you probably already know that the game is good. It runs well, is quite pretty, controls beautifully, and has tons of imaginative environments and gameplay ideas. And even if you don't believe me, there's 200 other reviews out there that will say the exact same thing in intricate detail. It kinda makes a new review pointless, doesn't it?

But there is one aspect that isn't as obviously great: the structure of the game itself. So I'll review that instead.

Much has been made about the fact that Odyssey returns to the 64/Sunshine model of exploring a region for stars (or moons in this game) rather than the linear levels of Galaxy/3D World. As in 64, you are simply dropped into a level and can go off in whatever direction you want, grabbing moons in whatever order you want. Unlike 64, you aren't kicked out of a level when you do get a moon; you simply continue on where you left off. And that's probably due to the fact that there are many, many more moons than stars (880 to get in this game!) You can expect some a variety of objectives, whether it be some simple minigames, following the main storyline, collecting hidden moonlets, or self-contained linear levels hidden around the world. Despite the huge number of moons, you really only need 120 or so to finish the game, although some extra areas can be unlocked in the post-game if you grab a bunch more.

And with 880 moons, the natural problem that appears is that it can get highly repetitive. And some repetition is ok of course; in 64 it was nice to know that there was a "collect all red coins" star in each kingdom. And here there is a "find Captain Toad" in each kingdom. And "race Koopa the Quick" in each kingdom. And "just buy a moon" in each kingdom. And "find the right music" in each kingdom. And even more that I won't say to keep from spoiling things. And while racing Koopa not once but twice in Mario 64 was a cool idea, it feels more like a checklist here. And so you'll come across some "puzzly" moons that seem innovative at first, but then you'll find its three cousins in three different kingdoms. And so you roll your eyes because these repeated moons become less interesting, less worthy than they could be. And by now you've probably noticed I started every sentence in this paragraph with the word "and". Just goes to show that even something minor can go from cute to aggravating pretty quickly with repetition.

But it's not just repetition, it's the weakness of a lot of these challenges in general. You saw above that one repeated moon is simply to buy it with the overabundance of coins you can get. That's not a challenge at all. In fact, I assumed this was some sort of fail-safe for players to reach the end goal if they can't find enough real moons and ignored them on my first run. But no, those are actual moons, on the official list of collectibles, standing proud next to those that actually require effort to get. It's the exact same reward for overcoming a challenging platforming segment vs spending 100 of your 5000 coins in the well-marked store. In fact, there's a lot of moons that are nothing more than observing something unique and interacting with it in a basic way. See the ground shimmering? Ground pound it. See a giant seed? Take it to the nearby pot. See the shimmering bird? Jump at it. See a ship in the sky? Do... nothing; just seeing it is sufficient. I suppose you're being rewarded for your observation skills, but when the action is so simple and the surrounding area so plain (particularly in places like the desert), it just doesn't feel all that meaningful.

Besides the sheer quantity of moons, the other major structural change is that you no longer get booted out of a level when you grab one. Given the number of moons, especially simple ones, this was inevitable, and there was really no other way to design it. Most people prefer it this way, since it's less repetition and keeps you focused on the action (both of which are good!) But you lose something with this approach, the feeling that each moon is its own unique mission. It used to be that you would enter a level with a real goal in mind, and thus reaching that goal becomes an accomplishment. Sure, there were extra stars in the castle, and you could always stumble on one you didn't expect, but the majority was an actual mission. Now, it's just a bunch of collectibles.

This, ultimately, is Mario Odyssey's only flaw: this is the least extrinsic-rewarding Mario experience ever. It used to be that stars, and the number of stars, meant something; now it's just a number you will see going up well beyond what you actually need as you move through the game. And with so many cheap moons, easy moons, repetitive moons, that number feels completely meaningless. Like I said, you'll blow past the number you need to beat the game without a problem, and it feels more like a chore to grab the number required for the post-game worlds. Yes, again, there were "cheap" stars in 64, but they felt like a side attraction rather than the main event. Here, EVERYTHING feels like a side attraction. And it makes the parts that aren't a side attraction - the storyline moons or the ones that require significant effort - feel like the reward isn't worth it since it's just a drop in your large moon bucket. I eventually obtained all 120 stars in Mario 64 despite it not being my favorite game, simply because it felt like a worthwhile goal, and seeing that star number inch up bit by bit was a worthwhile motivator. But I ultimately lost interest in my moon count, because it seemed so pointless.

Of course, extrinsic motivation isn't always necessary; you should play a game because it's fun and not for random stats. So yes, I eventually stopped caring about moon counts and just focused on the types of moons I WANTED to do. For the most part, that ended up being the linear special levels hidden inside the kingdoms that included not only a moon at the end but also one extra hidden moon that required special dexterity or observation skills (an idea that showcases one of the benefits of drastically increasing the moon count). So if you approach it like that, you'll be fine. But still, I think for a game like this you want a better reward system. People will often compare the moons here to Korok seeds in Zelda: Breath of the Wild, given the sheer quantity of both of them. But in Zelda, exploration itself is its own reward, as the purpose is simply seeing new areas and what they have to offer. Thus, simple Korok puzzles are ok there, as they are supplemental to the simple joy of exploring. But exploring isn't the goal of Mario, movement and jumping is; so unless the moon requires fun platforming it feels pointless. Besides, the reason there's so many Korok seeds in Zelda is so you AREN'T pressured to count or collect them; it's actively discouraged. But with the long history of wanting to get 120 stars in every Mario game, to suddenly stop caring about them is a mood whiplash. It seems, sadly, that the desire to make this game overflowing with content just ended up trivializing the content instead.

But if you don't care about this whole moon business, the content that is here will satisfy you. No matter how many dumb moons there are, there are tons of individual platforming challenges, many well-hidden ones among the kingdom's vast architecture, and many that hearken back to the joys of previous games. And that's not counting the creativity on display with the new capture mechanics and some of the brand-new kingdoms that move beyond the old grass/water/fire type worlds we've seen countless times. My review is basically a question of if Mario Odyssey is a great game or an excellent one. And just because Mario Odyssey ended up being the former, I'm sure the plethora of other reviews out there will convince you that it is still well worth your time.


mariner's avatar
Community review by mariner (July 29, 2019)

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