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It's-a perfect? Super Mario Odyssey review

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Back in 1985, one of my aunts came home with a curious-looking machine that she borrowed from a friend. Printed on the outside of the white and blood-red device were the words “Family Computer,” which sounded a little bit weird. The cartridge that came with this so-called Family Computer, however, would be akin to a religious experience.

Super Mario Odyssey, Nintendo Switch.
(Photo: Nintendo)

Featuring a mustachioed protagonist who punched bricks, stomped foes and ate mushrooms to grow big and hurl fire, Super Mario Bros. opened my eyes to a new world of video gaming that went beyond the Atari games I was used to playing.

In the coming decades, the mainline iterations of Super Mario Bros. would prove to be the video-game equivalent of a sure thing. Franchises would be lucky to come up with two or even three entries that were considered genre-defining. Mainline Super Mario Bros. games would not only be consistently lauded as such but would do so across multiple console generations.

As the Switch pushes Nintendo as the comeback kid of this generation, we find ourselves once again graced with another mainline Mario title.

With Nintendo essentially opting to skip the Wii U by not giving it a proper mainline title (Super Mario Maker, New Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario 3D World are more akin to appetizers), there’s a lot that’s hanging on the line with Super Mario Odyssey. Does Nintendo still have what it takes to make a fresh Mario game with a new crop of young game designers? Does Mario still have clout with a new generation?

And will the Super Mario franchise continue its streak of releasing definitive mainline games that do well critically, financially and artistically?

Being handed the keys to arguably the most successful video game franchise in history in terms of longevity might sound like a dream come true. But when you think about it, creating a new Mario game can be akin to a thankless job. It’s like being tasked to reinvent the wheel.

How do you improve on a formula that’s been polished, optimized and finely tuned over the years? If I were tasked with overseeing the latest mainline Mario game, I wouldn’t be surprised if I ended up petrified with fear as I wouldn’t want to be known as the guy who broke Mario.

Super Mario Odyssey, Nintendo Switch. (Photo: Nintendo)

Whether by design or not, Super Mario Odyssey appears to shake off the immense pressure that comes with following up on a successful franchise by emphasizing an element of fun and frivolity throughout its adventure.

While Mario is certainly serious business, the game itself doesn’t seem to take itself seriously. Mario himself constantly exudes a playful side as he travels through the game’s various kingdoms, engaging in random pursuits such as dancing to a boombox or playing jump rope with some ladies at a park, just to name a few.

As I played through the Odyssey, the lighthearted and giddy approach of the game was palpable, ranging from its preponderance of fun characters as well as an assortment of goofy mechanics that made me laugh. My niece, who started by watching me play for a bit before joining in as a second player, would practically giggle every couple of minutes because of something cute or hilarious that happens in the game.

It started when I first ran into a sleeping T-Rex and decided to throw Mario’s hat at it. Then there was the time I was controlling a Goomba and decided to jump on another Goomba to stomp it, only to end up taking control of said Goomba as well while perched atop it. Needless to say, we ended up with the same evil look in our faces and ended up jumping on every Goomba in the vicinity until we were controlling a stack of Goombas that towered several stories high.

Falling to Mario’s death as I desperately attempted to steer a scampering Jaxi through narrow ledges became a source of much laughter as well, particularly given the many ways I would fall into bottomless pits because of some trolling mechanic in the game. This emphasis on fun and a heaping dose of charm made even the game’s black-and-white characters feel colorful, something any aspiring character designer should file in their mind for future reference.

While certain aspects of the game feel similar to recent 3D Mario offerings — you can still do three triple jumps and other classic Mario moves, for example — Odyssey also tries to keep things fresh by introducing a new a way to interact with the environment. This is done through Mario’s new sidekick, Cappy, who joins our hero after a run-in with a certain Koopa king.

This time around, Bowser shows up in his Sunday best to, yep, kidnap Princess Peach. The guy ain’t kidding around this time either, skipping the whole wooing process and going straight up to marriage.

Super Mario Odyssey, Nintendo Switch. (Photo: Nintendo)

To prove his devotion, Bowser decides to ransack multiple kingdoms to acquire their treasures for Peach.

That, by the way, is Bowser’s unique way of being sweet. As Mario, you end up chasing Bowser through the various lands, helping solve their problems along the way. Fortunately, the addition of Cappy adds a potent weapon to Mario’s arsenal.

By throwing Cappy at certain foes, you can take over their bodies and control them, adding Mario’s trademark mustache to their faces to boot. From regular Goombas and Bullet Bills to Cheep Cheeps and a ginormous dinosaur, your selection of body-snatching targets are quite plentiful and open up several gameplay possibilities. Slipping on the ice?

Take over a sure-footed Goomba and walk over it with ease. Wanna swim underwater with ease without needing to scour for air bubbles? Possess a Cheep Cheep and you’re good to go.

The various kingdoms, meanwhile, serve as (mostly) colorful locales for you to get your platforming on, each with its own unique trait to set it apart.

This rendition of Mario differs from past 3D Mario games by eschewing the curated multi-stage approach of past titles and opting for a more open sandbox approach. This adds an extra element of exploration to the game compared to the Mario games of yore, which, combined with Cappy’s abilities, encourages an element of experimentation in how Mario interacts with his environment. The game’s plethora of scattered and hidden moons also gives you extra motivation to poke, prod and look around, especially if you’re a completionist who wants to go above and beyond the minimal moon requirements to fuel up your traveling hat ship.

At the same time, platforming remains an important part of the game.

That tight platforming can still be had via various subsections littered throughout the sandbox, which must still be crossed in order to reach the game’s goal points and bosses. In addition to 3D stages, you also get 2D sections that transform Mario into his old 8-bit self, complete with the mechanics of the NES era. It’s a nice dichotomy that provides variety as well as a hint of nostalgia for longtime gamers such as myself.

Super Mario Odyssey, Nintendo Switch.

(Photo: Nintendo)

Like Super Mario Galaxy before it, Odyssey also is great for family fun thanks to a 2-player option. Instead of controlling a cursor to simply nab stars, though, Odyssey’s co-op mode is a bit more involved for Player 2, who is now tasked with controlling Cappy. It’s something that my niece enjoyed, especially since it made her feel that she was actually contributing to my efforts.

Do be warned that having a second player makes the game a lot easier.

I thought the game’s main campaign was already relatively easy as it is and having a human-controlled Cappy makes even boss fights feel like a breeze at times.

Not that the game doesn’t have any challenges. The game’s tougher portions are typically placed inside its numerous optional side areas as well as its post-game content after the campaign. Some of these are crazy hard, involving automatic deaths from bottomless pits and requiring mastery of the game’s multiple mechanics.

In fact, the tougher challenges reminded me of my time with Super Mario World for the SNES, which was the last Mario game whose challenges I actually completed 100 percent. The decision to essentially separate the challenging content from the easier campaign portions is a great idea, I think, because it makes the main part of the game accessible to more folks, including younger players while still providing a tougher challenge to Mario veterans who decide to take on the game’s more difficult portions.

As much as I love Odyssey, however, it does suffer from a few niggles that keep it from fully realizing its potential.

Visually, the game is a treat, overall, but there were times when I was playing in tablet mode where Mario would look a bit more pixelated than normal, which is weird as Switch games in general look sharper in portable mode despite any resolution downgrade due to the smaller screen. It only happens occasionally, like when Mario is shivering, for example, but it can be a bit jarring when it does.

Super Mario Odyssey, Nintendo Switch.

(Photo: Nintendo)

The motion controls, while minimal and not as “waggly,” feels almost essential due to the extra control options you get, particularly with the Joycons separated. In contrast, the options for traditional controls feel a bit gimped and I wish were fleshed out a bit more for Switch Pro Controller fans, especially given how important optimal controls are in a game like Mario.

The open areas are also a nice addition to the classic formula and give you more freedom but they also add a lot more dead space in between the action. As such, you’ll find yourself doing a lot of uneventful running around in order to get from point A to point B.

Granted, it’s not the same large open-world beast as Zelda but you still don’t get that same super-tight design where every placement has a purpose and you don’t have as much wasted space. While Zelda fully embraced the open world concept, it feels as if Mario is caught between honoring its traditional style and trying something new, and the lack of an all-out commitment to either shows.

That being said, I commend developers who take a risk and try something different as opposed to sticking to the same copy-and-paste formula for successful franchises. All in all, my complaints about Odyssey are minor quibbles for a game that does so many things right.

If you’re a fan, not just of Mario but gaming in general, Super Mario Odyssey is an essential addition to any video game collection.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Mario is back with a bigger sandbox and a new mechanic for bringing familiar foes to the mustachioed side. The addition of open world-style elements adds freshness to the classic formula while charming touches make Super Mario Odyssey ooze with fun. You do get a bit more dead space and traditional controls feel gimped compared to the extra options you have from separated Joycons.

If you love Mario and platformers in general, however, it would practically be criminal to not have this game in your library.

Technobubble[1] covers games, gadgets, technology and all things geek.

Follow Technobubble poobah Jason Hidalgo’s shenanigans on Twitter @jasonhidalgo[2] or his Tabiasobi Youtube channel[3].

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References

  1. ^ Technobubble (www.rgj.com)
  2. ^ @jasonhidalgo (twitter.com)
  3. ^ Tabiasobi Youtube channel (www.youtube.com)

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