Despite the original Super Mario Bros. being literally the first game I ever played, I’m not a fan of the series.
Before that gets misconstrued as hate, let me say that it isn’t. Mario is just one of those franchises I never got into as the rest of the world did, and now it’s an incredibly beloved, untouchable phenomenon that I’m not really part of.
For one reason or another, I just never really felt any compulsion to pick up future Mario games, but Odyssey has swayed me.
After its release reviews rolled in and, man, that is a lot of perfect scores. Despite my personal beliefs that everyone gives Nintendo a lot of leeway because of nostalgia, this game looked more and more like something special, even more so than Breath of the Wild earlier this year.
Having finished my first ever 3D Mario, and my first Mario game of any sort since the original, I can sum up Odyssey in a single word: pedigree.
I don’t think I’ve ever played a game that is this sure in itself in terms of mechanics and design. At its most basic, Odyssey only has three inputs: move, jump and throw Cappy. Every single puzzle and enemy in the game can be overcome with just that.
Pay attention, however, and those can be combined into new movement techniques that let you get to places inaccessible before or, and here’s the smart part, skip entire sections of the game.
Yes, instead of using the central mechanic of the game where you take control of other characters, you can simply skip over them if you’re able to run fast enough or jump high enough with the proper combos. Level skips and breaking the bounds of the game are built into the design itself, and the devs even leave you collectables to let you know that you reached somewhere special.
Again, that’s all done with three inputs and and it’s a an absolute masterclass in convincing the player to get better at the game, and then rewarding them when they do.
The only real problem here is the dreaded motion controls. When you boot up the game the first screen you see tells you that you should be playing in tabletop or TV mode with a Joy-Con in each hand. Shaking the controllers in certain ways gives you new types of movement options, and some of them are only possible with motion control as they lack direct button press alternatives.
The game can be finished without ever using this method, and I did just that in handheld mode, but you do feel like you’re missing a lot without them.
Aside from that I only have nitpicks really. I still think that the art choices are at odds with each other. Some parts of the game are cartoonish and exaggerated, then you get to places like New Donk City which looks like it’s from a different game. This extends to character models too, with something like the extremely realistic T-Rex looking so out of place next to classic Mario enemies.
The music is also a bit of an issue. Some areas have great tracks in the background while others are quiet and not noticeable.
So, do I think that Super Mario Odyssey deserves all those perfect scores? Well some of them, yes. I can see why so many picked up this game, put it down a while later and said it was a flawless experience.
As for me, I had an absolute blast with this game. When I reviewed Pokémon Sun (a deeply flawed game) last year I said that it was a great “vacation” to get away from the horror show that was 2016. Odyssey filled a similar niche this year.
It’s not a game that has an inventive story to tell, or a special message to deliver to its players – it’s just a game that’s really good at being a game, with a talented group of developers behind it who know how to make a good experience.
It’s been the perfect welcome back to the world of Mario, and I’ll be scanning the horizon for his next outing.