Video Game Review: Super Mario Odyssey

Details: Released in 2017 by Nintendo for the Nintendo Switch. Spent over forty hours playing through the game. Played mostly using the Joy-Con Grip. Got all the moons except for three, because screw jump rope/volleyball/bouncy races. I got a day job and I’m not a kid with summer vacation anymore. Ain’t no one got time for that repetitive stuff.

The last Mario game I played before playing Super Mario Odyssey was Super Mario 64 for the Nintendo 64. That was over two decades ago. I really enjoyed that game and I came into Odyssey with high expectations. Super Mario Odyssey is a fun game. Unfortunately, it is an imperfect and often times a dated game that made clear to me that since Super Mario 64, I’ve gotten older and my tastes in video games have changed.

Odyssey is a platformer and an adventure game. That means a lot of jumping around and collecting things. In many ways, this game plays like a puzzle game, requiring you to figure out puzzles that require timing and exploration. A large part of the game is simply the exploration. You’re trying to find and collect different objects because… well that’s the whole point of the game.

As with each subsequent Mario game, a new mechanic is generally introduced upon which all gameplay is centered upon. In Mario Galaxy, that element was gravity. Mario 64 brought the game into three dimensions. Odyssey’s core game mechanic is the ability to possess enemies with your hat. You throw it and can then take possession of a character, granting new abilities depending on what you take over. Sometimes, you take over an enemy like a Hammer Brother and you get to throw hammers. Sometimes, you take over an inanimate object like a taxi cab. There’s always that element of discovery and surprise as you experiment and try to figure out what you can and can’t take over.

Mostly though, this is just a replacement for power up items like fire flowers or tanuki suits. All of Mario’s traditional attack moves (like punch or twirl) have been removed from this game (except butt stomp). Your only attack option is throwing your hat and the attacks you gain from possessing other characters.

Otherwise, the game plays just like any other of the Mario games of the past two decades. You travel from level to level as you jump around in three dimensions and collect shiny things. With the exclusion of attack moves and power ups replaced with the hat, most moves from prior Mario games remain in Odyssey. At various points throughout the game (but usually at the end of a level) you get a boss fight which requires pattern recognition and figuring out where/how to attack. Those are fun.

The strongest part of Super Mario Odyssey is easily the presentation and style. The general theme in Odyssey is that Mario is going on a trip to distant lands, much like a tourist. Continuing with this motif, Mario travels to many kingdoms that are very creative and different from one another to a surprising degree. Each kingdom is filled with details and colors that please the eyes. You really do get a feeling of adventure and discovery from seeing each new world and what surprises are in it.

Furthermore, Odyssey is filled with moments and imagery that call back to prior Mario games. If you are a sucker for nostalgia and have played Mario games before, Odyssey is exactly for people like you.

The music is also fantastic. Many of the tracks I’d happily listen to outside of the game.

Now let’s get into some negatives.

As with most prior Mario games, the princess gets kidnapped by Bowser and Mario must rescue her. In Odyssey, that means collecting moons that power an airship which is capable of catching Bowser who also has an airship. It’s standard Mario fare where Mario needs to collect a bunch of crap in order to reach a boss fight and eventually free the princess.

The weakest part of this game is the story, or the lack of one. There just isn’t much here in terms of narrative. I don’t think a story is necessary for a good game. Gameplay is sufficient. However, when the gameplay is lacking, a good narrative provides an adequate carrot for players to pursue. Story in video games is meant as an incentive to get through the parts of a game that are tough or frustrating. Unfortunately, there are many parts of Odyssey which can be frustrating.

In total, there are about one thousand moons (the primary item to collect) in Odyssey. The primary quest line and story take about ten hours to get through. I played the game for over forty hours so that was at least thirty hours spent collecting moons after the core game was over. The main quest was fun, but the vast majority of my time was spent collecting moons so that is where most of my feelings on the game come from. Many of these moons involved tasks/levels that were frustrating and took me many tries. Many were repetitive and unimaginative. Some were frustrating easy, to the point where I questioned why even put that moon in there in the first place.

At times, I felt like I was playing Assassin’s Creed: Unity, which isn’t a compliment. Ubisoft games like Assassin’s Creed often have a problem players know as “map clutter.” In open world games, sometimes developers will just litter the world with hundreds of collectibles that have no point or purpose. The argument is that they are adding content, but really it’s an unimaginative way to pad a game. It’s quantity over quality. A little collecting is fine, especially when it involves creative or fun tasks. A lot of collecting, especially when involving mundane or repetitive tasks is mind numbing. It makes me want to quit and refund the game. Why am I wasting my time on this? I’m not getting anything out of it, no accomplishment or dopamine release.

During Odyssey, I felt this way many times. While many of the moons were fun to collect, many were simply extraneous and added nothing to the game. They were just padding. Furthermore, many of the tasks involved with getting a moon were just tasks that unimaginatively increased the amount of times you needed to perform a task, rather than adding in a new game mechanic. For example, one moon could only be obtained by jumping rope one hundred times at increasing speeds. It was frustrating and repetitive and added nothing to game play. It was just jumping.

On the other hand, another moon involved a race that was difficult but where multiple paths were available. Success depended on your creativity in choosing your path and mastery of Mario’s moves. This, while at times difficult and frustrating, rewarded creativity and proficiency with the game.

Which leads me back to the nonexistent story. As I repeatedly tried to jump rope one hundred times for about an hour, I grew tired of the task. Why was I doing this? I already saved the princess, but that happened days ago. I’m not emotionally attached to any of these characters. There’s no drama, or conflict, or real emotion here. Why was I playing this game? It certainly wasn’t to explore, I already explored everything. I unlocked the secret places and played through them. Why then was I still playing this game? The answer I landed on was because the game was easy enough and there was always a chance something amazingly fun would happen. Now that I’ve played through almost every part of this game, I know that is not the case.

Overall, Super Mario Odyssey is a fun game, but not compellingly fun. It is not a perfect game and does not deserve a perfect score. The two things that I look forward to the most in entertainment is the presentation of something new or something that makes me feel. Super Mario Odyssey sort of did that, but not all that well.

I’m not a seven years old anymore. I don’t enjoy playing things just to play them. I need to feel like I’ve gained something more and Odyssey did a so-so job of that. I wish they either cut out a lot of the moons, or at least made the existing ones more creative and fun to play. Mario Odyssey often times feels like a collection of unrelated mini-games rather than one cohesive game. Make no mistake, I enjoyed the game. I just vehemently disagree with any opinions that think it deserves a perfect score.

If you own a Nintendo Switch, this is a must-buy game. If you do not, this may or may not be a worthy reason to buy a switch. It depends on how much of a nostalgia whore you are or how old you are. If you feel compelled to perform fellatio on anything with a Nintendo logo on it, then this game may be worth paying the three hundred dollars for a Nintendo Switch in order to play this game. Alternatively, if you’re looking for a kid friendly game to play, Super Mario Odyssey is undoubtedly a game that is appropriate for children.

Score: 8/10

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