Super Mario Odyssey is the latest grand adventure of Nintendo’s stubby, chubby Italian multi-talent exclusive to their new system, the Nintendo Switch.
And with approximately 2 million copies sold in just 3 days alone, it made one hell of an entrance as well!
Several reviewers already hail it as *the* best Mario title ever made and, depending on what metrics you find trustworthy, is the overall best reviewed game ever as well.
After finishing the game myself, im hesitant to join this choir though, but hear me out.
First of all, „finished“ might not be the right word here.
Much like its predecessors and collect-a-thon genre brethren, the amount of stuff you need to collect to beat the main story is just a fraction of what is discoverable in the grand scheme of things.
Take for instance your main collectible, the „Power Moon’s“, taking the place of Super Mario 64’s and Super Mario Galaxy’s Power Stars or Super Mario Sunshine’s Shine Sprites.
To put Super Mario Odyssey into perspective, lets compare the amount of main collectibles of the mentioned titles:
-Super Mario 64, Power Stars: 120
-Super Mario Sunshine, Shine Sprites: 120
-Super Mario Galaxy, Power Stars: 121
-Super Mario Galaxy 2, Power Stars: 242
-Super Mario Odyssey, Power Moons:………999(!)
Granted, the games hands these out like free candy from time to time, with bosses giving you three of these at once. But even then, the bare minimum required to beat the main story is a measly 124 of them. That makes 875 Power Moons optional, many of them being post-game content.
So there is plenty of game to be had and im far from finished.
But lets get to some aspects that make me hesitant to join the choir that praises Odyssey to high heavens.
When Odyssey is playing like a Mario title, its a phenomenal experience. Extremely tight controls, an adequate moveset, splendid level design, but…
The „but“ being, that a large portion of the game tried to tread some new grounds.
Much like „The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild“ before it, Super Mario Odyssey went for a more „open world“ kind of experience.
While it still has individual, thematically different worlds with a more-or-less de-facto end goal and boss, there are no set objectives besides that. The hunt for the above mentioned Power Moon’s happens at the players leisure, some of them obtained via more obvious means, some of them hidden rather well and often in pretty obscure ways.
So unlike the previously mentioned titles, you don’t get to pick a specific challenge end get awarded at the end, but you get thrown onto a giant playground to explore and discover on your own pace.
So why is this a negative? That sounds amazing!
Well, don’t get me wrong, it absolutely is. But it’s also much more tedious than previous games and thus, does not really invite you to play it over and over again. In fact, Odysseys Powe Moon’s are much more comparable to Sunshine’s Blue Coin’s, a collectible often ignored by many players once they finished their first 100% playthrough.
So, while offering much more freedom and exploration, i can not help myself but feel that it also lacks some sort of focus. But this is certainly down to personal preference and it is very likely that a large portion of gamer’s actually prefer this design choice.
I did it as well, just not as much as the previous set challenges.
In short, Odyssey often feels much more like the „Banjo Kazooie“ we have been waiting for, than a Mario game. Again, which is brilliant, just not quite what i was expecting.
Speaking of Rare’s Banjo Kazooie, one thing that made these games stand out from the crowd where their means of character development, meaning: The duo’s many learnable moves. Those made the inevitable backtracking quite a lot more fun, since now it wasn’t just about turning every stone to find the last Puzzle Pieces you missed the first time around, but to explore the level again with a whole new set of moves.
While the „Caper Ability“ (Throwing Mario’s cap onto enemies to possess them) offered a large variety of playstyles and let the player control some of the most iconic creatures the Mario universe has to offer, it would have been nice for Mario himself to learn something new over the course of his Odyssey.
But then again, this is just my personal preference speaking here.
In no way is a lack of it making the game any worse, it’s just that the implementation of it would have made it so much better in my opinion, at least for me.
Another tiny nitpick i have to mention is the presentation of its setting which felt extremely rushed to me.
Yeah yeah, i know, „who in their right mind plays a Mario game for its story and setting anyways“. And you’re perfectly right. But lets just take a quick look at the other collect-a-thon style Mario games, shall we?
In Mario 64, the premise is that Mario gets an invitation by Peach and upon arrival at the castle, finds that she has been abducted in the meantime.
In Sunshine, Mario goes on a vacation only to find him falsely convicted of polluting his holiday resort and sentenced to cleaning duty.
In Galaxy, Bower kidnaps Peach’s entire castle and flees with it into outer space, sending Mario onto a wild goose chase across the galaxy.
In Odyssey, we open up mid wedding between Peach and Bowers on the latter’s airship fortress, only for Mario to get kicked off, stranded in „Hat Land“, meeting Cappy, joining forces, traveling to a prehistoric land by…power line…to pick up the Odyssey, Cappy’s airship to try to catch up with Bowser’s flying fortress…
Yeah, its all over the place and not coherent at all. Like i said, the storyline is not at all the reason people play Mario games, but in universe, they have all been rather coherent, this one just isn’t.
Which is sad really, since Cappy is one of the most charming sidekicks Mario had over the years, yet, he feels less „personal“ than the Luma child (basically a Star in the making, not a Pop-Star, a celestial body) that accompanied him in Galaxy.
But enough of the nitpicking now, lets get to some of the things that give ample reason for praise.
Let’s start with the astonishing attention to detail put into this game.
One of the new main gimmicks of this game is Mario’s wardrobe. For the first time, you can play dress-up with the chubby plumber.
While every world offers a thematically matching outfit, like flippers and swimming goggles for the water themes world, many outfits reflect past promotional artwork.
Some of it even referencing extremely obscure one-shot designs, such as the „mad-scientist“ outfit worn by Mario in the TV-advert for the GameBoy game „Donkey Kong“.
The wardrobe alone is a trip down memory lane across 30 years of Super Mario history.
Another aspect would be the Caper-Ability, which lets you play as a plethora of different character, old and new.
Like a Goomba for instance. But waddling around as this adorable mushroom isn’t enough. They have the ability to stack on top of each other if you, playing as one, jump onto another waddling mushroom goon, like they did back in Super Mario 3D Land.
Or take the Hammer Bros. Their main gimmick is…that they cannot walk. Instead, your regular walk is replaced by shot hops, just like in the other games.
The sheer amount of references made to previous games is truly astonishing. Even more so since nothing feels like mere fanservice, everything is cleverly implemented into the core gameplay and serves a purpose.
Even more interesting is the fact that, while every thematic world has its distinct inhabitants, Nintendo didn’t recycle older staples, like the Pianta’s from Sunshine for instance. Every species is new to the universe.
The interesting part about this is, that during the WiiU era, Nintendo had a very bizarr policy to not invent new Mario universe characters and species.
It was especially noticable in the most recent Paper Mario entries, which populated their game world’s almost exclusively with Toad’s as friendly NPC’s and used only stock Super Mario Bros enemies, while previous titles were famous for their vibrant and colorful array of characters and foes.
Here, you have a wide arrangement of new enemies, species.
Even stock enemies like the Goomba’s get a special makeover depending on the levels theme. They all wear matching little hats!
It is rather refreshing to see so much love and creativity put into this title after so many drab and almost depressingly bland releases.
So, to come to an end, why am i so indecisive?
Well, good question. Like i said, its a phenomenal game, no questions about it. Its content rich, diverse, colorful, almost insanely creative and simply oozes charm but yet, something is missing for me.
With the sheer amount of collectibles that get handed out like candy, hunting all of them down can quickly become a chore, which is my main point of actual critique really.
Its basically the same flaw people pointed out in Donkey Kong 64 back then. Its just…too much, too unfocused. Again, its in no way bad, far far from it.
But its just not what i would call a perfect game, if something like that even exists.
So, is it the *Best Mario Game Ever* ?
Well, yes and no. It all depends on your perspective. Judging its gameplay alone, its a really solid, really fun game with just a little too much busy work on the sidelines.
Its story and setting is a little less coherent than past entries.
But one can not ignore the sheer nostalgia trip this game causes without being a heavy handed fan-service schlock. Its just the right mix of old, new; nostalgia and new innovations.
So bottom line:
It is a fantastic game on its own and a brilliant Mario title. The best of them?
Maybe, but it surely doesn’t need to hide in anything’s shadow!