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Super Mario Odyssey review

In December last year, we had no idea this was even a thing. We were still of the mind that Nintendo were probably just making a 3D World sequel, which is good but not quite what we truly want to see from Mario. We had no idea if Nintendo even considered 3D World and Galaxy to be fundamentally different from 64 and Sunshine, maybe they didn’t understand what the fans did. We had no idea something like this would be announced a month later, and to be released less than a year after.

At the Switch reveal event we got our first real glimpse of the future of Mario (after like 5 seconds of gameplay in the Switch teaser trailer), and it looked glorious. And then it was instantly referred to as an exploration-based platformer in the vein of 64 and Sunshine rather than linear obstacle courses like Galaxy and 3D World. This was HUGE. The hype was insurmountable already. Then at E3 2017 we got a second trailer (which is the last thing I watched for this game pre-release), and it looked EVEN BETTER, and this is where the capture mechanic was first shown.

Not that Mario has been bad since 64, not at all. Galaxy and especially Galaxy 2 were absolutely amazing, 3D World was very solid and I loved it, the “New SMB” series has 2 games that are fine… but Odyssey looked like a step above those in many aspects.

To say I was excited for this game would be more than an understatement. It was so hard to not watch all sorts of things about the game before it came out, including freaking speedrun races the day before release because somehow Nintendo sent literally everyone a copy of the game (or so it seemed like from where I was looking, so many people had a copy a week early, the people in the race had it for a week to practice). I didn’t want to see anything about this before it came out because I wanted as much as possible from it to be a surprise, and except for a few spoilers from GameXplain thumbnails and video titles I managed nicely.

So now I’m done with the main story, and despite not being done with the game itself (there’s a lot of content) I’ve probably played enough to properly review it (I’m at 720 moons at the moment I’m posting this). I will do something semi-different here and not do my normal “Presentation/Gameplay/Overall” style and talk about several different things… kinda like I did for a few other reviews this year.

So read on and see if the immeasurable hype was warranted.

PS. I will attempt to keep the spoiling to a minimum as far as gameplay elements and level design, since there’s not much to spoil story-wise.

Developer: Nintendo EPD
Publisher: Nintendo
Date of Release: October 27th 2017
Platform: Switch
Genre: 3D Platforming Collect-a-thon

Rated E10+ for Everyone over 10

Overall thoughts

Starting this with my overall thoughts to keep the spoiling to a minimum. Like with Zelda, if you haven’t played this game yet I do recommend that you not watch or read much about it before playing it, a big element of it is the surprise and discovery. I refused to watch anything past the E3 trailer and I’m happy I did that.

So Super Mario Odyssey… it’s right up there at the top of the Mario series. 64 and Sunshine did a few things better, even the Galaxy games were top-notch games, but the whole package is a big step up from what was already at the top of the industry. I do believe it’s the best 3D Mario game. And I wouldn’t say something like this lightly (there’s a chance a lot of it is because it’s also my latest played and I’m still so excited to get back to it and play it more, but right at this moment it is my top game on the 3D side of the series). I haven’t gotten into any game as much as I’ve gotten into this one in a very long time. My first time playing it on release day I played for what I thought was 1 hour. Turns out it was 4 hours. It was that addictive. There isn’t a second of that where I wasn’t fully invested, and all my playtime from the beginning to the end of the story was the same. This game absorbs you into it. Even after finishing the main story this kept going.

The game has a lot to do, but none of it is boring because it keeps bringing in new things to do and new areas to explore. Even the levels I wasn’t a huge fan of were still really good. Will I end up getting everything in the game? Probably not (though I am more than halfway through the 100%). But I have a lot of stuff left to do before I get bored.

It looks great, the ending is one of the coolest in Mario history, there’s tons of new shit, the open levels are fun, the lack of downtime is great, they do nostalgia better than most games I’ve ever played… This game left me in awe. I do have minor complaints, which I’ll talk about later on, but it’s pretty fucking minor. I think scores are stupid and I believe no game ever deserves a perfect score of 10/10 (not even this one), but I fully understand this game getting such a massive critical reception. There’s a few things it could’ve done better in the endgame, but I don’t think it would be fair to judge the game by what my dreams of it would be. It might not be a paradigm shift like SMB1 or SM64, but it’s exactly the kick in the teeth the series needed, and maybe even the industry as a whole. And definitely what Nintendo needed to finally do instead of over-simplifying everything. The fact that this is the fastest-selling Mario game so far is proof enough that people want this kind of stuff.

So yeah, buy this game now. If you don’t you’re doing it wrong. If there’s DLC for this game I will buy it as long as it’s new kingdoms. Delfino Island IS on the world map so… Give it to me Nintendo!

The review

All the presentation stuff

This game looks beautiful, and they’re not worried about rubbing that fact in your face. You start in the Cap Kingdom which is dark and grey (but still quite pretty), but then you get from the Cap Kingdom to the Cascade Kingdom after the intro and… fuck. Some people said they cried when that happened, and it does provoke a solid emotional reaction even if you don’t go as far as tearing up. This game is just amazing visually. Each area looks completely different, and there’s even unique-looking parts to each area as well. Going from the Wooded Kingdom to the deep underground part of it is a huge contrast that’s really great and striking. Some levels aren’t even the same visual style as the others.

There’s also lots of new character designs here, like the robots in the Wooded Kingdom and whatever those fat cute things are in the Snow Kingdom, or the realistic people in New Donk City. It’s quite nice to see new things in a Mario game, instead of just Toads and goombas and koopalings (who aren’t in the game at all).

Technically the game does have some issues. Some of the textures are REALLY low-res (in general they’re okay or even great, but some of them are pretty brutal), some of the skyboxes are low-res, and even though the framerate keeps a solid 60fps for the most part some areas do occasionally have some drops.

On the music side of things it’s solid. I think the Cascade Kingdom music might end up becoming more popular than the Gusty Gardens theme from Galaxy, and most of the other areas are solid too. Then you have the first song I can think of in a mainline Mario game with lyrics and it’s really fun and jazz-y. And a lot of the music has “8-bit” versions (not quite NES-style, but kinda close). And you do unlock the ability to listen to any of the music in the game as you play which is cool (you need to have heard it once to access it).

Story

Bowser dresses up nicely, even combs his hair, and kidnaps Peach and Tiara (a hat ghost girl) and plans his wedding to Peach as he steals the best stuff he can from many kingdoms on this unnamed planet (seriously what is Mario’s planet’s name?) with the help of the Broodals, some wedding-planning rabbits (note: 2 games this year featuring Mario and a bunch of wacky rabbits… weird).

Mario loses his first fight against Bowser, gets his hat destroyed and falls into the Cap Kingdom, where he meets Cappy, a hat ghost who transforms into Mario’s hat and enables Mario to possess other beings. They team up to go save Peach and Tiara, and hopefully defeat Bowser again.

That’s it. Not much else to talk about here. One thing I will say is that the ending is the best ever in Mario history. Also I actually like Peach more in this game than usual.

Open vs linear (Hub or no hub?)

Super Mario Odyssey is a weird mix of linear and open. You have a level selection screen, but each of the levels it leads to are big and rich and interesting to explore.

In a way I kinda wanted a hub, which were fantastic in Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine, a system that kind of reduced the linearity of those games compared to a game with a level select. You kinda progressed through any level you wanted in any order you wanted, and unlocked things in spurts at a time which was really fun.

In Odyssey you unlock one level at a time. You need to get enough moons in your current level to unlock the next one. There’s a times where you have a choice between 2 levels, but then when you finish one you unlock the other anyways.

The linear level selection is less interesting than a hub, but it makes more sense with the narrative. The levels themselves are so good I don’t even mind that there’s not really anything linking them together. Except for a few of the kingdoms (specifically 2 of the story ones and 2 of the post-game ones) they’re really amazing, and they themselves tend to lead to several sub-areas..

Another purpose of the hubs in 64 and Sunshine were to bring you back after you go a star or shine. Well in Super Mario Odyssey Nintendo took a note from Banjo-Kazooie and you just continue from where you were after you pick up a moon. There’s a few minor exceptions, but it keeps the pace going instead of having to go back to the hub, then jump back into the level, then select which star you want to do, then waiting for the level to load, then having to restart from the beginning.

So I do like how this game works. Maybe opening more levels at once would be cool, but it’s not what I’d call a problem. A hub would be cool, but not having one doesn’t diminish it.

Game Flow

So you start in a level. You’re given a story objective. Once you do the objective more of the level opens up and you get another story objective or 2. Eventually you end up fighting a boss or miniboss, which tends to open up the rest of the level, and at that point if you have enough moons you can go to the next level, or you can keep exploring where you are to find more moons. Some levels change entirely once you’re done with the “story” stuff which opens up more of a level. One thing I thought about but didn’t try was to see if I could “skip” a level by getting enough moons without doing the story missions, and I hear that is possible… but I wouldn’t recommend that. The exploration and boss-fighting is worth doing. Especially the main bosses, as they tend to require a certain capture to fight them in a way normal Mario couldn’t.

I like how the levels start up different then how they are at the end a lot of the time. I also like that some levels are big but some are a bit smaller. Gives some variety to the whole thing. It’s actually crazy how much content is crammed in even the smaller levels. Levels have anywhere between 30 to 90 moons each.

Movement

Mario has lots of movement options. Jumping, double and triple jump, reverse flip jump, backflip, long jump, ground pound, ground pound high jump, wall jump, spin jump, air diving, rolling around at the speed of sound… then this game adds Cappy, Mario’s new ghost hat partner thing. Mario can throw him, then holding the throw button makes the hat bouncy and Mario can use that to gain extra height of length to his jump. So you have most of the movement options from previous 3D Mario games, and a few extra things. The movement has a lot of potential, I’ve seen a few clips of people doing really cool things here. Running around feels a bit weird at first, Mario feels like he has a bit of a wind-up, but once you’re in movement it’s great.

Basically this game feels great to play.

Capture mechanic

Using Cappy to jump further is fun and all, but his main feature is to attack and capture things. Capture is another way to say that Mario can possess their bodies. Throw your hat at a Goomba, that Goomba gets equipped with a Mario hat and moustache, and you control him (Mario somehow entering its body due to Cappy’s power). There’s a load of things you can capture. Enemies, people, creatures, rocks, trees, zippers and various other things. You can only capture things that aren’t wearing a hat, though some have some way to knock their hat off. These capture targets allow to do things Mario can’t do, like BEING A T-REX, or swimming in lava and such. This is one of the defining mechanics of this game. Without capture this game is amazing, with capture it’s even better. There’s a lot of gameplay variety due to it. And I like that controlling the capture targets tends to be pretty natural, they all have pretty similar controls.

Motion controls

The motion controls are pretty dumb. You can use it to throw Cappy instead of the button, then when Cappy is in the air you can shake again to change his trajectory or make him spin around Mario for an attack. You can also toss Cappy in the air, or throw him on the ground when in the air (which I never managed to do). In general the motion controls aren’t required, as even the spin move can be done without them (spin around and press the throw button while spinning). Capture targets also tend to have a shake command but for the most part you don’t need it or there’s sometimes other ways to do them.

So I kinda wonder why the motion controls are even a thing. The game is designed without them in mind. Not really a complaint though, since they barely need to even be there.

Exploration and difficulty

So the point of the game is exploring open areas and finding Power Moons. This leads to a game that’s very different from the average Mario linear platformer like the New series or the classic ones or most levels in the Galaxy games. Instead of just being obstacle courses that require you from going from point A to point B, this is about doing tasks and getting rewarded. Exploring and finding things. Experimenting.

As such Odyssey’s difficulty doesn’t quite come from dying a lot or tough boss battles, it comes from figuring out what needs to be done to get more rewards. These do happen. There’s lots of boss and miniboss battles that are decently challenging, and there’s platforming areas that will kill you a lot too, requiring you do redo them each time. But that’s not quite the focus. They even removed the life system, now when you die you just lose 10 coins, which is barely a setback (though if you die a lot it can be, since you need going more than ever in this game).

And the exploration is great. One of the best levels in the game is the originally announced New Donk City, a level that doesn’t even have enemies in it after the story missions. The fact that getting a moon doesn’t make you exit the levels really helps.

Moons vs korok seeds

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has 900 korok seeds. Super Mario Odyssey has over 900 moons. The korok seeds are really bad. The moons are great. So what’s the difference? The difference is progression.

The point of Super Mario Odyssey is the moons, while the point of Breath of the Wild isn’t the korok seeds. The big thing is that the korok seeds are basically useless. I got about 70 in my playthrough and had more than enough for what I felt like I needed. The other 830? Useless. If you want to be more precise, a bit over 400 korok seeds are required to max out your inventory space (which is not something that’s really needed), the rest do nothing but give you a pile of gold shit. Plus you find the seeds at very long intervals and they’re annoying to find and no one wants to pick up every rock in the game to find all the koroks.

As for the moons, there’s a lot of them too, but for the most part you’re showered in them. It’s really fun to find them, you’re actually rewarded for picking them up (up to a point, I didn’t see what the reward is for getting them all but I’m past 500 moons so far and I’m still unlocking stuff for doing so, it’s very cool). There’s fun and unique challenges for most of them, and they sometimes give some to you just because “hey I wonder if doing this will give me a moon” and it does. It’s really exciting.

So moons are fun, koroks are “fucking finally I found one of these fuckers who gives me basically nothing of note”.

If there’s anything to complain about here it’s purple coins. Each level has 100 or 50 of them that are exclusive to that level, and there’s no way to know where they are. Missing 2-3 of them? Good luck. At least with the moons there’s a parrot that gives hints and you can pay a Toad to be given a position on your map.

The 2D segments

There’s a few segments where you get into a blocky warp pipe and transfer onto a wall in the environment where you play in the style of the first Super Mario Bros game, graphics and all. These are really fun for the most part, one or 2 of them are kinda unacceptably designed… but this is a really fun and unique way to traverse the environment, or hide stuff. One of the coolest things if you ask me is that the 8-bit Mario sprite actually changes depending on what costume Mario is wearing, it ends up looking really good.

Speedrunning

I haven’t watched a speedrun of this yet actually. I did see one part of one level though, and man this will be a fun run to watch and play. It might not be a good 100% speedrun (I assume there’s gonna be a few categories for different amounts of moons, because 100% would have to be really long unless some infinite coin trick is found), but any% enables for lots of free sequence “breaking” (just something I noticed as I was playing, I mentioned earlier you don’t really need to do all the story objectives before going to a new level), and the movement options are likely to lead to interesting jumps and ways to get different moons. Plus the routing in general will be really interesting, like which optional moons will be grabbed and the such.

Complaint time

Some of the moons suck

In a game with so many collectibles, there’s gonna be some that aren’t as great as the others. There’s an NPC that counts some of the things you do and gives you moons as “achievements” when you do enough, but she gives them to you one by one… ugh. There’s one where I had to walk a Goomba from one end of the Sand Kingdom to the other which was just… stupid. You can buy moons, a lot of them, which is just annoying to. Some moons are restricted behind “oh you’re wearing this costume, here’s a moon” which is pretty meh. The majority of the moons are fine and fun, but some are just annoying.

Some of the kingdoms suck

Two of the kingdoms are basically nothing but a boss battle. Another is a set of boss battles, and another is a challenge level. These 4 kingdoms are pretty disappointing, even though two of them would be SO cool if they had fleshed them out. There’s 17 Kingdoms in the game, but 4 of them are basically pointless… But the other 13 are great so whatever.

Costumes don’t do enough

So Super Mario Odyssey is a Mario dress-up game. You buy costumes (or get them from amiibos, though those are still buyable), which change what he looks like. These costumes are awesome, they just look great and give Mario all sorts of cool looks. I love this element and many of the costumes (Maker Mario and Gangster Mario are some of my top choices). However… that’s all they do. I kinda wish there was a bit more to it. I already mentioned some moons are locked behind needing a certain costume, but it’s not because that costume actually does anything. I figured the snorkel costume would, like, let Mario swim underwater longer, but nope. Another thing… when using a costume and capturing an enemy or something, said capture target is always wearing Mario’s hat… that’s a bit odd to me, why not make them wear what Mario’s wearing? I wanna see a T-Rex wearing a snorkel mask, just saying.

We know how to control the game Nintendo

Seriously, by the time you get to the end of the game you’re STILL getting NPCs and signposts telling you how to play it. Why?

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