I have been a fan of Mario games for a very long time now. Not all of them, mind you, but a good chunk. It’s been a staple in my house for years now through thick and thin. There have been plenty of Mario titles that I won’t touch anymore like the Mario Party franchise or pretty much any new 2D Mario game. I’ll break that tradition with the likes of Paper Mario because that’s not controlled the same way as a traditional 2D side-scrolling Mario. With Super Mario Odyssey (Odyssey from here on out), they tried to bring in some classic 3D style and mix it with a bit of the vastness of Breath of the Wild. Did it work out for Nintendo? Let me break it down for you.
If you have ears to hear or eyes to see, surely you’ve noticed the large amount of praise that Odyssey is getting. It’s almost as if the world forgets how good a AAA casual platformer can been until Nintendo drops a new Mario game. People are fickle and I get that, but it’s still weird to me. At the same time as some of you are probably saying that there are plenty of good 3D platformers out by other developers, but you have to admit that Nintendo puts a load of polish and love into their titles. While other developers put a ton of love in their games, there’s something about the 1st party Nintendo titles that always have you realize the quality. Two games could be very similar, but the Nintendo title would likely just be better. It’s very strange, but it’s there.
Odyssey takes me back to a more Super Mario 64 feel with a Super Mario Sunshine vibe. Both were hub-world Mario games that were more down to Earth than say the Super Mario Galaxy titles (pun not intended, but you’re welcome). I’ll include Super Mario 3D Land in that as well. Those didn’t really have worlds, they had levels. I like this approach. It jives with the goofy cartoons from my childhood with all of the different kingdoms that Mario and Luigi would visit. That, and it also feels more like an adventure than it does a level slog like the non-world titles can. You’ll never get stuck on level 7-6 or whatever. You can get your stars in whatever order you want and move on even if you haven’t achieved 100% yet… if your brain will let you. Sometimes mine won’t.
Another thing Odyssey has going for it is that it looks very
pretty fantastic. It’s probably the most shiny Mario game to date… which only makes sense. They’ve got the power to do it and while Nintendo may “not be in the arms race” with the Wonder Twins… Nintendo knows that they are, in some form or another, being compared to them. Is it fair? Maybe not, but that is the state of things. It’s not photo-realistic, but it’s nice to see Mario with a mop of hair rather than a polygonal shape sitting under his hat. The worlds are even larger so there’s even more to explore! What’s not to appreciate here?
The best thing in Odyssey is the new hat-possession ability. The ability to throw your hat and take over units and use them is amazing. It opened up a whole slew of new moves without adding too much mechanically to the game; you just control the bad guys. Bullet bills have always been there and you now control them (I just wish there was some verticality). It’s the same with Goombas and now you can stack them yourselves That was pretty cool. The best bad guys to take over for me were the stretchy caterpillars and the tanks. It was fun being a Mario tank and drive around to blow things up even if it wasn’t utilized much outside of that funky boss battle in New Donk City (as far as I’ve come across). Other than that it was just, drive and explode stuff which is a shame since the tank controls were fantastic.
With all of that said, the accolades Odyssey’s been getting and the talk of it being “absolute perfection” and a “monumental achievement”… I can’t say I agree really. One of the biggest changes for me was in the goal system. The usual goal has always been the end of the level, maybe a timer and later with stars or shines. You either had to get to the end of the level, or the end of a long path or defeat a “boss” or some level puzzle to get a star. It always felt as if it was rewarding you for completing a task (because it was). In Odyssey, there are around 60ish+ stars per level if not more. If you look to your left, there’s one on top of the tree. Push a button, there’s one behind the moving wall. Blink and one appears in front of you. Sure some are more difficult than the others, but it doesn’t help the general feeling that it’s less of an accomplishment and more like “everyone gets a trophy!” and I’m not a fan of that system. What adds to that feeling is the loss of a sting in death when they removed the life system. I’ve heard it said that they have no place in a modern Mario game, but losing coins isn’t the same. I’m all for encouragement, but it just feels overdone. The purple coins felt about right though, but you didn’t even need to collect all of them.
The larger levels don’t always pan out for me either. I like some of the level design and as I mentioned before, they are all very pretty. My issue here is that some of the levels are a little too big where they don’t need to be. I’m not sure if they just wanted to make the levels this way specifically or someone told them to make it larger just because. There are places that feel too large and empty and it hurts. One of the first levels being a vast desert doesn’t help the game start off very well in my mind. Even New Donk City felt a bit too large even though it wasn’t that big. Maybe, bigger than necessary would be a better way of putting it. In past Mario titles, it almost felt like everything was placed just so and for specific reasons where in Odyssey, it almost feels that things were placed to fill up space. It’s a slight difference, but it’s there and it irks me.