Super Mario Odyssey regains some, but not all, of Mario 64’s magic

By Brian Harris, Staff Writer

Everybody knows Super Mario.

Whether you’re talking to a hardcore fan with twenty years of gaming experience or just a regular average Joe, they know Super Mario.  A grandpa who hasn’t touched a game in his life? Knows Super Mario.  A five-year-old who can barely speak?  Knows Mario.

In the thirty-six years since his inception, Mario has run, jumped and platformed into the hearts of an entire generation, and then some.  The face of gaming, Mario is to the burgeoning platform what Mickey Mouse was to 2D animation so long ago.  A mascot.

Super Mario Odyssey, released October 27, 2017 for the Nintendo Switch likes to remind you of that.  Throughout the lengthy adventure, Mario’s history pokes at the seams.

A familiar location here, a long-forgotten theme there. Even the style of the game seems designed to remind you of days gone by, with a shift back to a Mario 64-styled open world, full of exploration.

But while lesser franchises would go about this in repetitive, almost derivative callbacks, Nintendo EPD (Mario Odyssey’s developers) have used these merely as stepping stones.  Where many would see emulating iconic elements enough and call it a day, Odyssey expands upon them in almost every way.

First, let’s talk about those open worlds: while most games go for purely the size of their open areas, Odyssey finds its groove in moderately sized maps filled to the brim with the game’s collectible “moons.”

To clarify, Odyssey’s plot very much follows the tried and true series formula: the maniacal Bowser kidnaps Mario’s beloved Princess Peach, and Mario begins his “odyssey” in pursuit.

How do you chase him?  With the collectible moons of course, divvying up certain required amounts designated for progression, thus giving you a massive incentive for collecting them. And collecting you will do throughout over ten jam-packed worlds.

And I really do mean jam-packed.  There isn’t one single moment where you aren’t either getting a moon, solving a moon’s puzzle (which, while not difficult, are always satisfying to complete), or both at the same time.

I’ve had instances where on the way to one moon, I’ll find two or even three more on the way there.

And while some of the almost thousand moons can be thrown about haphazardly in plain sight; the fact that those are the vast minority throughout the worlds given the sheer amount of the things is an incredible accomplishment in level design. As are the worlds themselves.

Sprawling, beautiful and creative, almost every area in Super Mario Odyssey seems designed for long, investigative stretches of exploration.

There’s something hidden in almost every crevice, no corner left un-mooned, no stone unturned.

While you do get the occasional bit of classic Mario (it wouldn’t be a Super Mario game without a slightly generic beach level), there are plenty of genuine surprises in the themes that feel like ideas Nintendo has had for maybe decades.

I’m a firm believer that a boring theme or bland visuals can ruin an exploration based game like this; it requires emotional investment from a player that wants to find its literal hundreds of secrets. Odyssey crafts over ten worlds full of them with seeming ease.

Of course, a review of Odyssey wouldn’t be complete without addressing the somewhat game changing mechanic: Cappy.  Cappy is a ghost cap who befriends Mario, becoming his hat and buddy.

Now, as crazy as that sounds (and is), what that really means in terms of the game is the all new capture mechanic. With the press of a button, Mario will throw his hat, and whether its enemies, friends, or even inanimate objects you’re aiming at, Mario will “become” that thing, complete with the iconic hat and moustache.

So, if you’ve ever wanted to see a realistic looking T-Rex sporting the classic get-up, you’re in luck!

While the concept is nuts, in execution its brilliant.  Practically every transformation has some sort of ability that factors into the puzzles scattered throughout the game.

Need to climb a wall?  Possess a woodpecker and climb with your beak.  Need to blow up some rocky terrain to grab a moon?  Just capture a tank and get to blasting.

Worlds are designed around this mechanic, not the other way around, and puts a new twist on the classic Mario formula.  And that really sums up this game, a new twist on the classic formula.

Now, compared to this year’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (also for the Nintendo Switch), Odyssey can seem a little tame.

It doesn’t fundamentally change its franchise’s genre (and just about everything else) like Zelda did, but it does offer an evolution and refinement of 3D Mario.

It’s not a reinvention, its attempting perfection of the existing formula.  And to be honest, it’s close.

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