The Mario series has gone everywhere; from single-screen arcade games, to super, to lands, to worlds, to… 64’s and sunshines. Anecdotally, a lot of people were wondering where Mario could possibly go after Super Mario Galaxy. Super Mario Universe? Super Mario Continuum? We got Super Mario Galaxy 2, which coyly avoided the question; how do you go bigger than the Galaxy?
The answer to that is incredibly Nintendo. Super Mario Odyssey just drops any reference to locale, and while it may scale back the scope of its travels to the more local setting of a globe, the series has never taken us to such strange places. Forget the paint soaked resorts or gravity bending planetoids, Mario Odyssey has freakin’ New York City!
A ROYAL WEDDING
Odyssey opens with Mario locked mid-fight with his recurring antagonist and sometimes tennis rival, Bowser. Bowser, in turn, is mid-monologue about how he’s planning on marrying Princess Peach. I mean, isn’t that normally his plan? I guess it’s maybe never explicitly stated, but why else would he be kidnapping Peach all the time? In a child appropriate game, I mean. You pervert.
Anyway, Mario gets beaten, because he hasn’t turned control over to you, yet, and then has to catch up to Bowser and object to that wedding. Assisting him is a sentient hat-ghost named Cappy, who can not only change shapes to match your purse, but is also able to brainwash anyone who has it plopped on their head. That’s not something I’d want to put on my head, but Mario has a ceremony to crash and his last cap got shredded. By Mario 64 logic, that means he would take double damage.
Soon after, Mario gets a hold of an airship that can travel the world when fueled up by power moons, the game’s collectible object de jour, and sets off on adventure. This, in my case, means getting distracted by absolutely everything on the way to the final destination.
DISTRACTED BY EVERYTHING
At the time of writing, I have absolutely no idea how many power moons there are in the game. I can tell you how many stars are in Super Mario 64 — that’s easy — it’s 120. There’s that many shines in Mario Sunshine, same with Mario Galaxy, and Mario Galaxy 2 has 120 vanilla and 120 green stars (plus change). Mario Odyssey shot past that pretty early. Now I think I’m somewhere in the realm of 600 power moons, and the game still mocks me by pointing out that there’s more to collect.
I hope you like collecting.
Don’t take that as an indication that Odyssey is a much grander game in terms of scale than any of its predecessor. Its length is roughly in line with previous core 3D Mario games, and the number of worlds is similar to what you’d find in Super Mario 64. What it is an indication of, however, is that there’s simply more to do. Levels range in size, but each is packed to the brim with tasks that promise a big fat moon as a reward. Everything from climbing to a high spot to R.C. car racing is packed in, demonstrating the teams unquenchable thirst for experimentation and variety. It never really gets old; there’s always something new to do.
Your first time through the game is guided by each world’s primary goals. Typically you find each world in some manner of peril and have to free it from Bowser’s wrongdoings. Whether you immediately spring into action or diverge off to plant flowers and probe the margins is completely up to you. The game never holds your hand or tells you where to go (unless you directly ask for assistance). Personally, I kept a lot of people waiting for salvation. Regardless of your preferred method of progression, you need a set number of moons to repair your ship before you leave, but it’s a rather low number.
What’s funny is how diverse the worlds are. I’d prefer not to spoil too much, suffice to say that the kingdoms beyond the Mushroom Kingdom often feature art styles that feel like they belong in other games. New Donk City, the New York City impostor that features in a lot of the game’s marketing material, is one of the weirder ones, with inhabitants featuring human proportions. To see an awkwardly animated man in a suit conversing with a sugar skull headed cartoon character looks like something you’d see in a fan made mod lacking in restraint. It’s jarring and weird, which may be the intention.
The actual objectives have a similar variance to them. There are ones that repeat from world to world, but for the most part, each kingdom carries its own focus. The capturable enemies are frequently exclusive to one specific world, and the design, and even the visuals, tend to be built around this. The game isn’t afraid of repetition — frequently remixing the same boss battles in harder and harder configurations — but the repetition is mixed in with so much variance that it’s rare that boredom sets in. I found that whenever scouring for moons began to chafe, I’d switch to a new world and become re-engrossed.
DO THE MARIO
Yet it isn’t the story, the diversity, or the collecting that makes Mario Odyssey so worth playing; it’s the simple joy of running about the worlds. Mario’s movement systems hasn’t changed much since Mario 64, to the point where, through mere muscle memory, I can still maximize the effectiveness of jumps. It’s a one-of-a-kind control system that has been replicated in other games, such as Banjo-Kazooie, but typically at the expense of being boiled down and restricted. With Mario, his arsenal of maneuvers is so massive that it lifts the skill ceiling into the sky and ensures you have options for any situation.
With the agreeable music, the joyful (but not overly cutesy) animations, and the plethora of fun transformations, Mario Odyssey never feels like a chore. In my experience, scouring for moons became more meditative than tedious. The game challenges at times, but with the removal of the life system, it never feels as though it’s deliberately strict. I dropped a few f-bombs when things didn’t go my way, but I found it difficult to remain dour while engrossed in the simple fun of the game.
Tie into this the inclusion of dozens of costume options, and you’re just icing an already sweet cake. The costumes don’t apply additional skills or have any effect on your abilities, instead just giving you a way to customize your jovial adventurer. Every time I’d settle on a wardrobe, something new would show up in the shop that I absolutely needed to romp around in. I can’t possibly express the sheer joy I felt when certain outfits showed up in the inventory.
Super Mario Odyssey features all the essential ingredients to a excellent Mario title, and when you consider the fact that Mario has remained head and shoulders among many of its comparable peers, it goes without saying that it’s worth your time. Super Mario 64 was a landmark game that set the course for 3D platformers, with its influence still felt today. Following in its footsteps was never going to be an easy feet, but between the Mario Galaxy games and now Mario Odyssey, they’ve done a wonderful job.
Paying tribute to the classics, ditching some of the mainstay conventions that just don’t fit, and tying in some pretty far out ideas pays off in remarkable ways. It’s difficult not to be enamored by Mario Odyssey. It’s built on the foundation of simply providing a fun experience, and tying in the series’ tried and tested movement system results in a pleasing treat. It may not be as inventive as the Mario Galaxy games, and you may want to pass if the prospect of collecting hundreds of moons sounds like a chore to you, but it’s still an enjoyable treat for those who still have a taste for the 3D platformer. It’s yet another amazing release in a year already packed with them.
This review was conducted on a Nintendo Switch using a physical copy of the game. It was purchased by the author.