“I’ll Be your 1-Up Girl!”: Super Mario Odyssey Review

Posted in Kulturecade by - November 01, 2017
“I’ll Be your 1-Up Girl!”: Super Mario Odyssey Review

Super Mario Odyssey taught me to love again. The last time I was as excited for a game as I was for this game. The last time I remember allowing myself to wait for a game with the same kind of anticipation was for Resident Evil 6. Before that, it was Twisted Metal on the PlayStation 3, the very game that sold me on the system, but only ended up being half the game that David Jaffe had originally promised. But Mario is not a franchise that has lost its compass, nor is it one that required retooling to fit itself onto a new system. It is as it always has been since it first introduced players to the possibilities of three-dimensional worlds, analog sticks, and nonlinear gameplay — a trendsetter and a reminder of the fact that games are first and foremost about having fun.

Concerning its place in the series, Super Mario Odyssey is most reminiscent of that first foray into 3D with Super Mario 64, as it takes place in free-roaming levels of various size and theme, except that the scope of just about everything in the game has been increased tenfold, making every level at least as big as the largest Super Mario 64 or Super Mario Sunshine level, and often reaching sizes on par with Ocarina of Time’s Hyrule (a standard of size and freedom that still stands nearly 20 years later). Instead of a hub world, however, Mario travels between these self-contained worlds in an adorably steampunk, top-hat-shaped airship called the Odyssey, reminiscent of Starship Mario from the Galaxy games. The resulting structure of the game may not be as directly reminiscent of the two games, 64 and Sunshine, that fans may have been anticipating when it was announced that those would be the biggest influences, but it is integral to keeping the flow of the game so tremendously on-point: instead of leaving players to potentially lose themselves in a central hub world that only serves as an access point for the levels themselves, such as Peach’s Castle or Isle Delfino, players can spend more time in the worlds that sit there begging to be explored. As a result, you can’t really get lost within these worlds, looking over and over again in the same places for the next place to go, but you can very easily get sidetracked the same way you could in Breath of the Wild, where you may not necessarily be on the right track to keep the story moving and “beat the level,” but are consistently accomplishing tasks, finding new things to do, and collecting more coins and Power Moons.

Perhaps in an effort to not decrease the value of the familiar Power Stars, Super Mario Odyssey’s main collectibles are the new Power Moons, which number far more than the paltry 120 in many past Mario games, at a total of 999 that can be collected in the game. Available from various sources, including major story events, hidden areas, buying them from shops, or even seemingly just laying around, Power Moons are both extremely plentiful and yet still incredibly important and satisfying, even if you can buy them in shops for a mere 100 coins, probably because there aren’t enough collectibles in the game: you have moons, which are your only item tied to progressing in the game, hearts, which are, of course, health, and two types of coins, both of which are used in Crazy Cap shops to buy hearts, moons, and superficial but oh-so-addicting to collect hats, outfits, and souvenirs. The value of moons also ties in with Odyssey’s unbelievable scope, because 999 isn’t just some arbitrarily inflated number to keep completionists busy — the game simply is that large. If you were to race through the main story with only the minimum amount of moons, you’d see less than 20% of the game, and it’s only once you hit the post game that you can really start to understand just how much there is to do across the various kingdoms once you’re actually granted what you realize to be full access to do what you want from that point on.

Super Mario Odyssey might also have the series’ best tweak on the storyline up to this point, just in case anyone was going to be turned off by the “Bowser kidnaps Peach” premise. This may be the case again this time around, but with the King of the Koopas taking it one step further by planning himself an extravagant wedding ceremony for himself and the Princess, planned by a diabolical group of oversized rabbits called the Broodals. The Broodals, however, don’t seem to follow the old adage of “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue,” instead choosing to organize the event using goods stolen from each of the kingdoms of the world that Mario ends up traveling to, including a ring from the Sand Kingdom, a bouquet from the Wooded Kingdom, and even a tiara for Peach kidnapped straight from the Cap Kingdom, a world inhabited by anthropomorphic, Boo-like, hat-shaped spirits. It’s from this world that we also get Mario’s latest sidekick, Cappy.

Cappy is Super Mario Odyssey’s answer to F.L.U.D.D. from Super Mario Sunshine, in that his presence is what accounts for the massive array of moves that Mario has access to in this new adventure. Mario and his jumps control as naturally as they always have, and there’s still the same tiny sense of joy that comes out of strolling along through a world, triple jumping the whole way through, but instead of a simple punch action, hitting Y on the controller will throw Cappy out in front of Mario and have him return to him like a boomerang. Nintendo has implemented a number of different throw styles that can be used via the motion controls of the Joy-con, such as throwing upwards or downwards, but even with the extra help that an encircling throw gives when Mario needs to hit a bunch of things around him at all angles, the control scheme offered only by the buttons on your controllers is still better than 99% of the competition. This is before even getting into the major gameplay component of using Cappy to possess all sorts of enemies and objects in the world around you, much like Nintendo tried years before with Geist (because that’s definitely why they thought up this mechanic, I’m sure of it).

From the first moment you imbue Mario’s consciousness on an unsuspecting frog in the Cap Kingdom to take advantage of its superior jumping abilities, the satisfaction that comes with hijacking the inhabitants of Super Mario Odyssey becomes the game’s defining characteristic. Say what you will about the level design that appears perhaps a bit predictable, the structure that Nintendo took as a cop-out of creating a new Isle Delfino, or the overabundance of moons that leaves so many of them gift-wrapped for even the lazy players — Super Mario Odyssey cannot be defined by anything but the process of stumbling across a sleeping Tyrannosaurus Rex in the Cascade Kingdom, stopping in your tracks in fear of waking it, and cautiously tossing your cap on it only to immediately become the T. Rex and start stomping around the island, kicking aside Chain Chomps as if they were dodgeballs carelessly left across the backyard.

The process is made so plentiful and feels so satisfying because like everything in the game, it just works. Not everything is available to be captured and brought under your control, but it’s surprising just how much of it is, and it not only adds another layer to the sense of exploration, trying Cappy on everything in sight to see what works, but there’s so much about it that doesn’t even feel like exploring because you often immediately know what you’re going to do and that you can, in fact, do it. If, for example, a Power Moon sits on a platform farther away than your typical jumping distance, you can try and execute a long jump, which will get you as far as you need, but can also overshoot it or miss due to your aim, but you can also throw Cappy on one of the Wiggler-esque enemies you just saw for the first time, and stretch yourself across the gap exactly as far as you need. This may seem like a simplistic example, but the reality of it is that every action you take in the game is this sensible and this nature of an implementation of the mechanics, which, I can’t stress enough, are far and away more befitting the Mario universe than that of F.L.U.D.D. in Super Mario Sunshine, a feature that I have always found to be too far outside typical Mario platforming for my liking. Cappy and his abilities are, on the other hand, both flavored right for the series (hats, just like Mario’s always worn) as well as being more easily tied to exploration and platforming.

But if you asked me to name one thing about Super Mario Odyssey that really defines it, that really exemplifies what makes the game truly outstanding, or what makes it worthy of so many perfect ratings… I couldn’t. Because the answer is “everything.” The reason Super Mario Odyssey is the best game of the year is because everything about it is so amazing, I could swear I find something new to smile about at least every 30 seconds. From the way Cappy bobs around on Mario’s head when he runs around, to the texture of the grass that somehow differs between each world, to the non-cartoonized inhabitants of New Donk City (the finished product of all those girders from Donkey Kong) shouting “jump, man!” as Mario takes a spin on their special 2D section inspired by Mayor Pauline herself (yes, that Pauline). There is an attention to detail in Super Mario Odyssey that I’ve never seen in a game before, not even in Breath of the Wild if I’m being perfectly honest. Things like the soundtrack, which incorporates both old-school, happy-go-lucky Mario music as well as sweeping orchestral works like those of Super Mario Galaxy and even the incredible and catchy big band number that Pauline sings in celebration of the mustachioed folk hero that has returned to the city he helped create.

Super Mario Odyssey is the game that Nintendo has always made, that nobody else can, and it shows why the company and Mario himself cannot be taken down. Capcom couldn’t restrain themselves with Mega Man, inundating their fans with sequels and spinoffs that ultimately killed his series. Sonic’s core concept, speed, was never meant to translate to 3D the way it was originally laid out, and Sega still can’t seem to figure out how to fix it. Crash Bandicoot’s attitude gave him a short shelf life, while Naughty Dog’s ambitions were always too great for the series anyway. Mario has been prolific, sure, but rarely at a sacrifice in quality, and never with his main series. Mario has changed his mechanics, yes, but never his core vision. Mario has changed his appearance, but never his attitude, if he ever had one in the first place. Super Mario Odyssey is simply the latest adventure of the perfect video game character, made with all the attention, care, and precision needed to keep him on the throne he built 32 years ago. And either Super Mario Odyssey or Zelda: Breath of the Wild will be the best game you play this year, no question.

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He is a video game staff writer and dreamed of being a video game as a young boy. Then somebody told him that you can’t really do that, so he compromised by doing a bunch of stuff related to that, playing video games, reading about video games, writing about video games, working at a video game store, and all those good nerdy things. Aside from video games, he’s also a dork of all trades, with an interest in heavy metal music, wrestling, sports, and Magic the Gathering.

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