By: Johnny Big Fudge Marcondes
Let me start off by saying that Super Mario Odyssey is a rather unique game. The Super Mario series have gone through so many changes throughout the years from classic side scrolling platformers to 3D open world games and throughout these changes Nintendo has managed to keep the core elements and charm of the series in tact. Super Mario Odyssey is no different, while easily the most ambitious if not surreal entry into the Mario franchise, this surrealistic experience is so much more than just another adventure for Mario. From new abilities that keep you constantly entertained to various worlds that as lively as the last Super Mario Odyssey is the latest and perhaps greatest adventure to date from everyone’s favorite little hero plumber.
Each main series Mario game has their own unique take on the characters and Mario’s universe. Every single entry into the Mario games have new features that keep the series fresh and relevant, from the painting jumping in Super Mario 64 to the galactic travels in the Wii’s Super Mario Galaxy each game felt very different from the previous one. As each Mario main series entry became released we saw Mario gain more and more freedom to move and explore. However, none of his previous efforts have ever felt quite as open as they do in Mario Odyssey.
For the first time Mario actually feels as if he’s not tied down or limited to anything and can genuinely explore different worlds. There’s this incredible sense of openness and encouragement to explore that hasn’t been felt before, at least not like this. Super Mario Odyssey is the freest I’ve ever felt in any Mario game. There was this sense of familiarity with the game from the second it started to this overwhelming and extremely welcomed sense of control and freedom that I haven’t felt in a long time with Mario.
A familiar story retold with a twist
Just like every game Mario is involved in, the story feels all but familiar as Bowser yet again has his eyes set on Princess Peach. Mario being the hero of the series and unspoken love interest of Princess Peach is once again thrown into the role of hero as he has to rescue the too often kidnapped Princess. While it’s a familiar set up and honestly tale as old as time, in Super Mario Odyssey we see a progression in the set up that makes the cat and mouse nature of the two feel fresh again. Bowser has already kidnapped Peach and plans to take things further by casting her away and forcing her into marriage…on the moon. That’s right, Bowser not only Kidnaps the princess but he aims to force her to marry him on the moon.
It’s definitely Bowsers most ambitious plot to capture the princess to date. With the help of the Broodals (a group of deranged rabbits) Bowser is able to get the upper hand on Mario and escape. This is where the story begins to change from familiar to new, as Mario awakens from a nearly fatal fall he finds himself in a new kingdom never before seen in the Marioverse. Awakening in Cap Kingdom Mario encounters Cappy a ghost like hat creature who like Mario has been a victim of Bowser. Cappy losing his sister to Bowser who forced her to become a tiara for Princess Peach want’s save her just as much as Mario wants to save Peach giving Mario an equal companion rather than a sidekick.
Earlier this year I wrote an article talking one of the strangest inclusion in Mario Odyssey, that of course is Mario’s nipples. While we all knew Mario and his friends were human we’ve never known about the existence of other humans in the Mario universe. New Donk City shows us that Mario and his friends aren’t the only humans around as it’s revealed that there are in fact other humans out there. This revelation is something that really adds to the over all depth of the Mario series.
Showing a world where humans roam around in a realistic sense not only makes Mario stand out as a character but gives us fans a new perspective into what we thought was a familiar world. Having “normal” humans in a Mario game is something that’s so incredibly weird that it’s a little uncomfortable to be honest. Standing next to a normal man or woman Mario sticks out like a sore thumb as a cartoon character of a man, however weird visually as it may be it does give the whole Marioverse more depth. Nintendo has always done a great job at keeping Mario relevant throughout the years and including new elements to the series like this is what the series needed.
Quality over quantity
Quality over quantity is perhaps the best way to describe your time with Mario Odyssey. Nintendo clearly has their head in the game as Mario Odyssey is set to be in the forefront of many game of year lists proving that no matter how old this little plumber may be he still has it. Mario Odyssey is game that’s catered around content and it’s perhaps the most endearing feature of the game. Visually this is easily the most surreal take on any Mario game to date as we see things like Bowser riding a realistic dragon and Mario turning into a realistic dinosaur. Even though this may be the most visually daring and bold Mario game to day that doesn’t mean that the game doesn’t have it’s faults.
Mario Odyssey for all it’s splendor is a relatively short game. The games progression in the narrative sense is something that lacks depth as each world you encounter is wrapped up fairly quickly. With that being said, Nintendo’s approach with story telling in Odyssey may be fairly linear but it isn’t it’s focus. Mario Odyssey while an essentially short game encourages you to take on the game in a different fashion rather than just straight forward story progression. There’s this massive emphasis on exploration and discovery in Odyssey rather than progression through the story, the game encourages you every chance it gets to explore each world. There’s so much each world offers in terms of content that just getting from point A to point B to progress in the story will mean you’re missing out on a lot of the charm and fun that make Odyssey a stand out.
For those who quickly bounce from world to world you’re honestly doing yourself a disservice. Each world requires you to meet a set number of moons in order to progress to the next world, while those moons are fairly easy to acquire they aren’t the limit of each world. In Mario Odyssey there is a total of 999 moons through out the game meaning each level has far beyond the given amount of moons for progression. This is where Mario Odyssey really begins to shine, the core game focuses on exploration just as much as it does with story progression and those who quickly gather what they need to progress end up missing out on a massive chunk of the game.
From easy to spot and solve puzzles to hidden rooms and character specific challenges (forming a massive stack of Goomba’s to impress a lady Goomba for example) there’s more to do per level than just the standard challenge. In fact it’s one of the reasons why Mario Odyssey achieves what a lot of single player games fail and that’s offer a reason for replayabilitiy. Since there’s so much to see and do in Mario Odyssey after the initial story is long over there’s still and incredible amount to do which gives you more than enough reason to go back. It isn’t all about moon hunting as that’s not the only things unlockable in Odyssey.
Even though the main story is short that doesn’t mean it’s forgettable, Mario Odyssey has some incredibly fun boss battles that feel simplistic enough mechanically to breeze through but creatively enough to keep them challenging and fun. There’s this happy balance between easy and challenging and fun and creative that no matter how easily you beat a boss you enjoy the encounter. From battling rabbits using weapons to possessing characters in order to defeat a boss there’s enough there to both challenge you without stacking the odds against you.
One of the biggest take aways I had from my time with Mario Odyssey was just how far we’ve come with Mario. As some someone who grew up with the series seeing him from a 16 bit platformer to shivering in his polka dot swimsuit because he’s cold is mind blowing. There’s so many subtle detailed added in the game that show not only the progression of the series per consoles but also the progression of each characters. At the end of the day Mario Odyssey isn’t going to be remembered for it’s big boss battles or even it’s story. Long after the game is completed the one thing you’r going to hold onto is just how vivid and welcoming the game is, having so much content to unlock is the one take away almost everyone will have with this game.
Exploration and discovery is the true heart of this game and Nintendo knew that which is why they’ve perfectly hidden mini games, moons, collectibles and more throughout the game. After completing the main story there’s more than enough reason to go back and revisit each world which is what makes this game so great. Nintendo knows that boss battles aren’t everything so even though a lot of the times they seem to be fairly simple, instead of cramming the odds against you Nintendo offers unique ways to get past them to make them fun. As a life long Mario fan I never minded the bosses battles, they’re always the same and have always been the least memorable part of a Mario game. Each boss follows a predictable pattern that they repeat and after three hits they take a fall. It’s always been that way and even though it hasn’t changed, due to the new abilities of Mario and Cappy the game doesn’t suffer from it.
Pulling a hat trick.
It’s this unique pairing of Mario and Cappy that really helps Mario Odyssey stand out as one of the best in the franchise. Cappy isn’t just a run of the mill sidekick he’s an extension of Mario. With the inclusion of Cappy, Mario has new abilities that help breath new life into him and makes him feel more diverse with movements. Cappy has the ability to help Mario take possession of others which really adds a new element into puzzle solving and all around replayability. Throughout the game you’re able to possession over numerous familiar characters and every time you do it feels less like a chore and more like a treat. As a long time Mario fan, having grown up playing Mario games from the NES to the Switch the addition of playing other characters is something that consistently had me smiling.
We all know what Mario himself is capable of on his own, everyone knows that what his skill sets are and even though they’re pretty limited they’re always always effective. However, for the first time we’re able to explore other possibilities and see what other characters can do giving us a new play to a familiar character. Having the option to run around as a Goomba or Hammer Bro is something that far exceeded my expectation in terms of being fun and the new perspective those characters give to puzzle solving is something that never got out in the relatively short story.
With Cappy at hand Mario feels more loose and able than ever before, besides using his hat to possess other characters Cappy is able to do much more. With Cappy at hand Mario can toss his had around like a boomerang to collect coins, attack enemies and use it for extra jump. A lot of the time you spend playing Mario Odyssey there will be this nagging sense that you’ve done this before. Mario Odyssey comes across like a newly rendered take on Mario 64 given how much freedom you’re given and the vibrant nature of each world.
However familiar the game feels to previous entries in the series (and it does feel familiar especially post game) the core elements in Odyssey do well enough on their own that you can’t help but get sucked into. Cappy plays a big part in the games charm as he may not be the most outspoken character in the game but his personality coexists so well with Mario’s that you can’t help but see them as equals. While I love Mario and running around as him is as fun as always, those new features of becoming other characters with their own sense of abilities and limits is something that’s helped the game feel more unique and fun.
Playing as a realistic dinosaur for example is something that I would have never expected or dreamt of when thinking about a Mario game, sure we’ve played as Yoshi a cartoonish dinosaur but a realistic one? It’s those odd moments and visually surreal elements to the game that help Mario not only stick out as a fish out of water type character but Odyssey as the most intriguing game in the franchise. Mario Odyssey is a charming game from start to finish, it’s the type of game that perfectly captures what makes a series so great. From exciting new worlds to re-imagined use of familiar enemies Mario Odyssey has so much right going for it that you never have the time or really care to look around for what it doesn’t get right.
Playing on portable mode with motion controls or the joy con or playing at home with a controller the game never feels out of whack or hiccups. Nintendo is having one of their strongest years in a long time and Mario has rightfully stepped back into the limelight as one of their heaviest hitters. Mario Odyssey’s need to give players more bang for their buck is what helps this game stand out from every other. Exploring each world and finding hidden rooms is something that’s become a highlight in my play through. Not to mention that the game gives you numerous outfit options for Mario making your play through seem a little funnier than it should be (beating numerous bosses in your polka dot bathing suit is always a funny visual)
With some incredibly charming and catchy music to beautifully rendered worlds and new take on characters, Mario Odyssey is a massive leap in the right direction for the franchise. The use of 3D graphics to bring Mario and his friends to life has never looked so good as we’re able to place Mario in new environments that perfectly showcase how far he’s come. New Donk City will forever be a highlight to me as it’s so visually appealing and has enough contrast to make you forget that you’re still playing a Mario game. Honestly I haven’t fallen this hard for a Mario game since the first Mario Galaxy. Nintendo pulled no punches with this title and it’s obvious to see why Mario is regarded as a system seller for many.