Super Mario Odyssey (NS) - ReviewEvan Norris , posted on 15 November 2017 / 10,230 Views
"Tell me, O Muse, of the man of many devices..."
This line begins Homer's epic poem The Odyssey but it could function easily as an introduction to Nintendo's own magnum opus, Super Mario Odyssey. In Odyssey, Nintendo's latest attempt to redefine a genre it more or less invented in 1981, Mario is a man of many devices, a wearer of many hats (literally), and a possessor of many things, both animate and inanimate. Most importantly, he is the star of his very own odyssey: a platform-adventure game so surprising, so joyful, and so endlessly-inventive that it ranks among the best of 2017.
In this newest Mario adventure, the mustachioed hero must travel from kingdom to kingdom, tracking down Bowser, the big baddie of the Mario universe. Bowser has arranged a shotgun wedding between himself and Mushroom Kingdom monarch (and Mario's sometimes-girlfriend) Peach, and needs several items to complete the ceremony. One of those items is a sentient crown named Tiara. As a result Mario teams up with Tiara's brother Cappy, a being with amazing transformational powers, to rescue the two damsels in distress.
As far as Super Mario storylines go, this is one of the more involving. Don't expect anything as substantial as the game's namesake, but don't be surprised to see a strong through line, an abundance of interesting NPCs, and even a little character development. Odyssey's greatest contribution to the series' narrative gestalt, however, might just be the expansion and elaboration of its fictional world — which is saying something, as previous games sent Mario into the cosmos.
In Odyssey, we meet new races and species; encounter different societies and civilizations, some bustling, some ancient, some decaying; and, vitally, witness, via the heroic twosome's flying machine, how all these things are connected spatially. Never before has a Mario adventure felt so structured or so systematic. Instead of a series of loosely-connected levels or worlds, Odyssey gives players an organized system of kingdoms united by transportation, commerce, and tourism.
These kingdoms form the heart of the game. Each is a miniature sandbox filled with NPCs, platforming challenges, and dozens of collectibles. There are 14 to explore before the end credits, and several more afterward. Every one is thoughtfully-designed, meticulously-detailed, and beautifully-rendered. There are traditional kingdoms with desert, ice, and water themes, but also many surprising locales: a prehistoric kingdom complete with T-Rex; a realm of giant comestibles and cheese as hard as quartz; and, the crown jewel of Super Mario Odyssey, the busy metropolis New Donk City.
Inside all of these kingdoms are scores of collectibles, including gold coins, purple coins, outfits, souvenirs, and power moons. Purple coins buy new costumes and trinkets from each location, and moons power the Odyssey, the hat-shaped airship that ferries Mario and Cappy between kingdoms. Like stars and shine sprites before them, power moons are the main currency of this Mario adventure. In Odyssey, however, there aren't six or seven moons per kingdom. There are dozens. In Super Mario 64, hitting 120 stars meant your journey was at an end. Here, 120 moons is just the beginning.
Some moons are hidden under rocks or locked behind mini-games. Others function as rewards for fetch quests. Many more are found by taking advantage of Odyssey's signature gameplay hook: possession, or "capture" if you're one of Nintendo's PR folks. By flicking Cappy on to unsuspecting Goombas, Lakitus, and even inanimate objects like huge slabs of meat (yes, really), Mario can take over control of those beings' motor functions. It's a brilliant mechanic that opens up a world of "many devices" to our modern Odysseus.
Things start simply. Mario possesses a frog and uses his jumping ability to scale a tall cliff. Then it's a Paragoomba, who flies safely above poisonous smog. Then a Chain Chomp, deployed to smash through a rock wall. Next, a T-Rex, at which point all bets are off. Even without the "capture" mechanic, Mario has a huge portfolio of moves. When Nintendo adds possessed creatures into the mix, the diversity of motions and mechanics shoots off the chart. The sheer number of ideas, notions, and gameplay conceits on display in Super Mario Odyssey is staggering. Each kingdom is a game unto itself.
It helps greatly that, somehow, every captured creature plays perfectly, despite its unique weight, mass, and actions. Odyssey has impossibly flawless controls, across the board. In a franchise known for tight, snappy controls, this game stands above all others.
So, Odyssey provides over a dozen mini-sandboxes with hundreds of moons to collect, and invites players to explore those sandboxes with perfect controls and a unique possession mechanic that opens up virtually endless gameplay possibilities. What's the catch? If there is one, it's this: the game is easy.
Much of Odyssey's main campaign is a breeze. Finding enough moons to power up the Odyssey and advance to the next kingdom is never a problem. Many are earned merely by talking to an NPC or by wearing the correct costume. Others are dislodged with a simple ground pound. Some are on full display, unhidden and obvious.
The counter argument is that nabbing all this low-hanging fruit isn't the true challenge of Super Mario Odyssey. Much like Yoshi's Island, in which finishing a level is relatively easy but finishing that same level with all hidden items and full health is demanding, Odyssey has two layers of difficulty: one of simple completion and one of 100 percent completion. While there's some truth to that, it doesn't explain the game's pushover bosses or the general lack of penalties for failure.
That said, the game's easiness is mitigated in a big way by a shockingly substantial end-game, nearly as big as the main campaign. Upon finishing the final boss battle and subsequent platforming episode, players are dumped into a very familiar kingdom. From there they can use moons to unlock new kingdoms, return to old kingdoms to find new moons, purchase previously-unavailable costumes, and even experience new story moments. Nintendo as a game-maker has long prioritized value and replay value, and in Odyssey it has made a game that can rival Breath of the Wild as a playground of playtime.
In terms of production values, Odyssey is practically peerless. Its orchestral soundtrack is full of catchy, exciting, and atmospheric themes; its sound design captures the diversity of the game's large roster of animals, materials, and weather systems; and its flexible, inventive art direction runs the gamut from gothic horror to medieval Japan. Only a few unsightly textures and a lot of aliasing — particularly bad among the shadows of New Donk City — serve to break the illusion.
While Mario's exploits in Super Mario Odyssey don't match up with Odysseus' quest in The Odyssey (although both feature a hero seeking a love interest pursued by an illegitimate suitor), they do coalesce into an epic voyage. With so many characters, sandboxes, collectibles, and mechanics, the title feels like many games in one — all of which surprise and delight at every turn. Odyssey is one of Nintendo's most inventive, joyful, and audacious adventures, and one of the marquee games of 2017, a year fast becoming one of the industry's best.
This review is based on a retail copy of Super Mario Odyssey for the NS