My gaming timeline didn’t match the stream of latest trends until just a few years ago, so the first Super Mario Brothers had to wait behind the Sega Genesis, Sonic, and Duck Hunt to be discovered. Because back then, Duck Hunt with its peripheral and dickhead dog seemed superior to a jagged man jumping up some bricks. Eventually, my brain evolved and Mario made me swoon taking over the gold medal of platformers at about Super Mario Sunshine (shut up, I loved it). Since then, I can name a handful of titles that have come close to the worst of 3D Marios (probably 3D World) in quality, and even fewer series that I love for far different reasons – an ironically rarefied air that I’m nowhere near alone in holding this weird little human half-breed.
So imagine my lack of surprise, but no less gratitude than ever, that Super Mario Odyssey continues the tradition of literally raising the roof of what a game can do. I’m not going to be able to stress enough in these words how critical the following statement is, and how successful Odyssey is for following it: it’s simply a game.
I make this statement with Occam’s razor in mind; this isn’t in regards to the rise of loot boxes or microtransactions. Many games take the idea of objectives and run the player along a line, point of leveling to point of completion in a constant build towards more, until you realize somewhere near a third act that there’s not all that much freedom in what’s often billed as a freeing experience. For me, it’s a reminder that there’s a gnarled, ugly machine behind the curtain that’s trying to tell me I’m not good enough to relax or enjoy the scenery. If you’re not assassinating, if you’re not leveling some number or another, you’re dying – that’s the prevailing “grind” that can wear me down as a gamer sometimes.
The very reason that Super Mario 64 stopped so many in their tracks, me included, is that Nintendo realized quickly how fun the three-dimensional space could be to just putz around in, and molded Mario as the perfect humanoid avatar for players to move in any direction. The few lessons that the Nintendo hivemind hadn’t come around to learning yet there have finally appeared in their crystal ball with Odyssey, creating their second showstopper this year and this generation’s platforming magnum opus.
Super Mario Odyssey kicks off quick with Bowser’s poignant plea for Peach to stop denying her feelings for him turning into a wedding, which sends Mario into a jealous rage. He stomps through worlds after them, trying to stop Bowser from making standard wedding arrangements and gathering accoutrements for his beloved by stealing her crown princess tiara. That’s my version of the story at least…play the game with that in mind and Mario looks a little desperate.
Anyways, the former plumber runs immediately into the central power-up of the game, named Cappy, and the adventure is on. Your weird morphing companion will serve as your proverbial satanic portal that siphons your soul into many an object, imbuing each with a delightful mustache and “M” hat combination. This is another part where willingness to fill in your own, macabre story turns into pure gold, and it’s really not that hard to imagine Mario dominating orcs….
Anyways again, your main communication with the world will be through Cappy and moons, often throwing the former in a multitude of ways to find the latter. Moons are nearly as plentiful as coins in Odyssey, which I have mixed feelings about given they’re your only real reward. There are bundles of moons for defeating one of the entertaining bosses and single moons for exploration-based findings in the world, both and all functioning to power your hat ship, appropriately named the Odyssey, and progress to further worlds. I wonder what made Nintendo scrap the idea of getting larger versions of moons – “You got a Full Moon!” – as even a skin change, but we’re wading in a very shallow qualm pond here.
Equally shallow and ultimately unoffensive are the now muted question mark blocks. The currencies of the realm are thematic purple coins that can be found in groups of 50 or 100 depending upon the size of the zone and your classic gold coins. Both are necessary for unlocking the many adorable and terrifying costumes and trinkets for the Odyssey, and the golden milk can squirt from question mark blocks in fountains. With Cappy serving as the bridge to the non-traditional power-ups Super mario Odyssey offers, that’s all you’ll get from the blocks. Even lives and death are invisible macguffins that are infinite and a ten-coin penalty respectively. Nintendo took the question out of the question mark!
ANYWAYS, those should serve as musings rather than legitimate complaints. Gun to my head, I’ve got nothing for actual grievances that detract in any real way. The baker’s dozen open areas you’ll travel to are all completely open islands of activity so densely packed with movement and cheer-inducing rewards that you’ll have more trouble avoiding untold objectives than finding them. Mario’s never had so many varieties of movement at his disposal, and the tuned sensitivity of the Joycons works to your favor when you’re surrounded and need a hat tornado.
Super Mario Odyssey is just freedom in video game form, plain and simple. There’s not a more clever, unrestricitive, or smile-inducing game that’s come out in years, and there may yet be a noticeable wake of games that suffer from not being Odyssey moving forward. It will always feel familiar and enticing to come back to this little cartridge in my Nintendo Switch and pick right up on my hunt for enough celestial bodies to fill a sky because of the encouragement for the tangential and diversionary. That’s the ultimate appeal of simplicity, and that’s what helps my love for Super Mario Odyssey fit better than a custom-made white wedding tuxedo.
Super Mario Odyssey Score