With every new, full-fledged 3D Mario game comes a certain set of expectations, and those are generally that it’s going to be one of the generation’s highlights. Ever since Nintendo changed the face of Mario with Super Mario 64, people clamor for the plumber’s next big adventure. Following the duology of the Galaxy games, Nintendo has once again gone back to the drawing board to keep Mario fresh. And Odyssey is easily Mario’s most open ended adventure ever, following the spirit that made Breath of the Wild so fantastic. And while critical response was overwhelmingly positive, I can’t help but feel that this extremely open ended approach to Mario makes it feel a bit more unfocused than his previous adventures.
The game doesn’t even bother with the set up this time, because we already know what it is: Bowser has kidnapped Peach. This time he’s traveling to different kingdoms around the globe to get things for their supposed wedding. Mario’s gotta stop him. He’s joined by a being named Cappy, a sentient hat that allows Mario to control all kinds of creatures. From here, you travel from kingdom to kingdom seeking out Power Moons in order to continue chasing Boswer.
Unsurprisingly the story is not the focus. Instead, the focus is on the variety of worlds. Each one is a self-contained sandbox filled with objectives both apparent and hidden. You can take control of various things, from Goombas to cars and use them to solve puzzles or reach previously unreachable places. It’s a neat mechanic, to be sure, and is used in an amusing number of ways throughout the main storyline (and yes, controlling a giant T rex is as much fun as it looks, even though it isn’t really used again after the first world).
When you first reach a new world, you are given story objectives to complete. Each one typically has you confronting some sort of problem facing that part of the world. For instance, in the desert world, it’s freezing all the time and you must travel to a pyramid to find out why. In one of my personal favorite sequences, you travel to New Donk City during a torrential downpour. Rather than a bustling urban setting, it’s a weirdly dour, borderline dystopian section of the game due to its dark colors and all the tanks and walled off streets. Beating it brings the sunshine back, as well as the return of a familiar face.
Most of the time, completing the mains tory of a given world nets you enough Power Moons to move on to the next world. The thing is that there are loads of optional moons in each world that can be found without a lot of struggle. Sometimes they’re as simple as pounding the right spot on the ground, other times they’re hidden away behind something. It can make the main story tasks feel a bit redundant. Why are there these big story sequences if I can just get enough moons to move on without performing any of these tasks? This leads to the focus issue: there are so many moons in the game that it stops feeling that special when you get one.
One of the main reasons Breath of the Wild worked so well is that you knew exactly why you were exploring: to fight Calamity Ganon. Hyrule castle was visible from just about any outdoor location on the map, and it served as a constant reminder of what all the character upgrades and armor was for. Here, it is definitely a case of collecting for collecting’s sake. As I said before, you can usually find enough moons to move on to the next area of the game just through exploring the world. It lends a feeling of “so what?” to the main objectives at times.
The thing that helps give meaning to the story objectives is that they are consistently enjoyable. The worlds often undergo visible changes upon completing said objectives, and the boss fights are fun in and of themselves, often requiring you to possess one thing or another. In the aforementioned New Donk City, you possess a tank and fire at a robotic centipede who has taken over the main sky scraper, cutting power off. It’s a fun fight, to be sure, and most of the bosses are quite enjoyable, especially near the end when they get more challenging. There are even some surprises, the best one of which comes from the ending sequence. It’s intense, exciting, and empowering, enhanced by the fun song that plays over everything.
It also helps that the game looks, sounds, and plays great. The visuals are colorful and varied, with each world having its own unique aesthetic. To further the theme of diversity present within the world, Mario can purchase various costumes in each world, both with regular coins and with Purple Coins that are hidden within each location and can only be spent there. There’s a wide variety of costumes to choose from, with some of my favorites coming in the special kingdom that unlocks after clearing the main story. The music is top notch as well, filled with upbeat and catchy tunes, as well as plenty of wonky sound effects. The controls have also been tuned to perfection, making the simple act of moving Mario a joy. Movement is important in any platformer, and here Mario controls as well as he ever has.
Upon beating the game, you’ll probably have somewhere around 250 Power Moons. There are, however, around 800 to collect and even more you can buy with coins. So even though the main story is about ten hours or so, this game is not lacking on content. It rewards the careful observer and packs away loads of secrets in just about every inch of every map. Your mileage depends on how willing you are to collect for collecting’s sake, but it’s an enjoyable game to explore thanks to the visuals and movement.
Odyssey is, at its core, a celebration of Mario and his adventures, only with a much more open ended structure, especially when compared to the Galaxy games, which were more linear, challenge based platformers as opposed to exploration based ones. I personally don’t feel this change has been as great for Mario as others do; I think the sheer amount of Power Moons available to the player sometimes cheapens the feeling of beating the bigger objectives and leads to focus problems. The thing is that even though it’s unfocused, it’s still a blast to play. Mario has never looked better, and traversing the diverse landscapes is, at the end of the day, fun. And really, isn’t fun what gaming is all about?
+ Looks great
+ Sounds great
+ Plays great
+Tremendous variety between worlds and lots of secrets to uncover
+ Possessing enemies is a fun gimmick and leads to some wonderful moments
+ Huge post game
- Open ended nature of the game sometimes undermines itself at times