It's almost disconcerting to see how much Nintendo is at work – at least when wizards choose to self-apply. Super Mario Odyssey is an embarrassment of wealth, never failing to surprise for hours and hours and maintain an unshakably positive feeling all the time. This is an essential element for all Switch owners, and highly recommended for any player with a heart and a memory.
When players rushed to buy the Switch earlier this year, it was, in the short term at least, on the promise of a Zelda game that seemed to be the coolest in years, but at the same time return to the series the roots. This is what allowed to achieve these goals, leaving in the dust the recent open world games Zeldas and AAA. He did so largely by giving his players the freedom to go where they wanted and do what they wanted – and making sure that wherever they went and what they wanted what they do, it was fun and rewarding.
In a way, it reminded me more of the original Zelda than any of its successors; The extreme freedom granted to the player in the first game has proven to be a concept well ahead of its time.
Super Mario Odyssey succeeds in a very similar way, feeling both new and familiarly comforting while setting the bar for gameplay on the system. It does, however, not coming back to the NDA (at least, not most of the time) or even SNES, but the N64.
Those of you who played Mario 64 probably remember what revelation it was at the time. Not only controls, which were the first to really move 3D movements (and probably some of the best), but also the density of gameplay ideas: locations, enemies, obstacles, and ways to combine these things to make feel each step and charge.
His collection of mini-worlds, each hiding a handful of stars for further progression, laid the foundation for future Mario games in 3D, including Super Mario Galaxy and its sequel. But they looked more like hybrids between Super Mario World than Mario 64. Their themed worlds, every single step in its challenges, to be approached more or less in linear order – it's a formula winner and these are great games in their own right. Similar applause can be awarded to Super Mario 3D Land and World, which strongly favored the SMW side of the family.
Now, Nintendo can proudly say that it has delivered a truly blue sequel to Mario 64, and although there is little surprise about the overall structure and style of the game, it is more surprising on a momentary basis than any game in recent memory. (That's part of why this review is short on screen captures and videos, I do not want to mess up a thing.)
This is a new Mario, again
First of all, let's drop the ordinary things of criticism.
In Super Mario Odyssey, you travel around the world in pursuit of Bowser and Peach, perpetual kidnapping, collecting "Power Moons" to power your hat-shaped ship, the Odyssey holder. There are coins, piranhas, toads, and all the usual fixins.
The game controls like a second-by-second dream, though it may take a little while to master all the new hat-related controls. The well-known triple jump, the long jump, the crouching jump, etc. are all present, next to a dozen other actions. It's actually a bit overwhelming when you visit the stock catalog and think, wait, is not it a Mario game? And that is before you start putting your hat on things!
His main gameplay trick, although he quickly stops being one, is the magic hat companion that allows you to take care of various enemies and objects in the game. When you own them they wear a Mario hat and tend to push a mustache, and you have their abilities – usually to allow you to interact or navigate the environment nearby, which is often tailor-made for them .
The hat, which you throw directly in front of you, or up, or around you (the movement controls accomplish them quite easily), replaces the ordinary attack. Here, there is a slight stumble, because sometimes the hat is deadly for the enemies, sometimes it possesses them, and sometimes it has no effect. It's annoying to throw a self-defense reflective hat, only to accidentally own a goomba. One must think before acting, when Mario games are usually constructed so that the correct action is usually the first one you think of. This is a small problem, however, and you quickly learn the terrain configuration.
Death is relatively common; you usually only have 3 hearts to lose, and as usual, there is no shortage of bottomless pits. But dying simply means losing 10 pieces and leaving the nearest checkpoint. As the punishments go, it's so light that I wonder why they are doing it even. I've accumulated thousands of coins, so I never think of hurting myself to see if there is an invisible platform or a secret world hidden in the abyss.
Odyssey is in close competition with Zelda to be the most beautiful game on the system, and as this game is because of the artistic direction and attention to detail, no sheer prowess graphic (a resource on which the switch is rather short). The textures of characters and objects have received special attention – the slight plush of a cloud on which you jump, the fishing fuzz covering Bowser (strange, but it works), the many costumes, the flora and the wildlife of the worlds you visit.
Everyone seems to have his signature visuals, and no one is just "forest" or "snowy": The forest is an invaded industrial facility, for example, juxtaposing rusty metal and glued mechanisms with jets and flowers.
While each world is new, everyone also has recurring features, such as the hat shop and some moons with similar acquisition methods. There are also more subtle backbacks that Mario's longtime players will recognize over the last few decades: the characters, themed songs and general situations that most often come back to the 2D Marios. Finding and recognizing these nods gives a vague feeling. (There is also an SNES in this last sentence.)
But none of this is the reason why Odyssey is so good.
Never ceases to discover
The leaders of the Odyssey team wrote a letter that accompanied my review copy of the game. He reads in part:
For this game, we chose to focus on the rather delicate feeling of surprise as a theme, and spent countless hours discussing and producing. It is said that you can not surprise anyone with twice the same thing. That is why we have been working to fill Super Mario Odyssey with as many surprises as possible, so that people can play and experience a Mario game that they do not have. have never seen before.
Throughout the development of the game, we have imagined the look that the surprise players will have when they come to play.
With statements like this, one can never be sure that it is the usual palavers of Nintendo "we hope you enjoy" that accompanies almost every game, or a real choice informing the fundamental basis gameplay. I am happy to say that this time is most definitely the last.
Odyssey, like its namesake hero Ulysses, is a game of "twists" (as Fagles makes πολύτροπον). For this reason, I avoid talking about details because it's true that much of the joy of the game is to discover these twists for the first time.
The game is always cheating on you, but never in a malicious way. Wherever you go, just out of sight, are coins, moons and secret worlds. It's amazing how Nintendo's level designers were prescient, predicting exactly how players would move, how they would look around, what they would see and how they would pursue it. They predict every action, then hide something from you when you take it. I can not tell you how many times I've done something, thinking "there's no way that they could have known that I would do it here like that", just to be agreeably contradicted.
Whenever I found a new creature or an object to possess, I delighted in the pleasure that creators put in it, the joy of stretching or pulling in one direction, swimming freely or raining. Whenever I found myself in a 2D Mario plane navigating to a level hidden in the side of a building, I wondered how I had crossed it without noticing it.
Every aspect of the game, down to the smallest detail, is deliberately designed to grab your attention, whether it's to distract you, guide you, or both. And wow made a lot of them.
The density with which each world is filled with fun details, secret coins, hidden mini-games, Easter eggs, etc. makes them seem taller than they are in reality.
One of the first worlds you encounter is a desert, and I spent some time exploring it, finding coins and moons everywhere; a set of "ghost" moons at the top left indicates how much you need to move forward to unlock another world, although at first I thought it was the number of moons that were in the place . I was happy, then, when I found a couple in addition to the dozen that I had filled. I left the desert world with maybe 24 or 25 moons under my belt, thinking that I would probably clean more or less the place with the exception of a few I had seen around and would come back for.
An hour later, I found that there was a screen that lists the moons available for each step (but not their names or locations, of course). I had not found all the moons of the desert by far. Less than half, actually.
I had a hard time understanding this a bit. Where could they be? How could I not notice dozens of main goals of the game as I roamed the desert? Just now, I opened the game a minute to grab a few screenshots, and I found three moons just arriving at a good view and adjusting the camera.
According to my estimates, I'm at about two-thirds of the game – another handful of worlds coming before the inevitable confrontation with Bowser. I have not finished because I am amused, and because the density of the game makes it more suitable for shorter sessions than the marathon. Enter, take a few moons, leave. Some levels are busier than others: the great wilderness seems quietly pregnant (now) with secret moons, while in New Donk City the streets are crowded with open doors and mini-games proudly promising moons to all comers. But everyone feels as carefully assembled as the last one.
Finally, Nintendo has impregnated, in its unique way, the world with a softness and positivity that make the game suitable for all ages and all players. You will fail, but you will fail trying, with Nintendo cheering you on. There is little violence and this cartoonism; In the end, Odyssey is not an action game but an exploration-em-up with elements of action. You are most often challenged to find things that would have escaped a less scrutinizing eye; you must follow your instincts when they tell you that it is worth climbing that tree, or owning that creature, or passing behind that broken wall, because that is almost always the case
There is one criticism to be made, it is that going through the game for the second or third time may not be as fun as the first, since the thrill Discovery is so crucial for the experiment. But there are few games of what can not be said. On a more abstract level, I'm only worried that the game is too well designed to be broken like Mario 64's was; the worlds are open, but they are meticulously balanced, so that few things are possible apart from the myriad of actions imagined by their creators. We will soon know that speedrunners start pushing and pushing them.
Super Mario Odyssey surpasses his spiritual predecessor in many ways, which is very complimentary when this predecessor is one of the most beloved games of all time. Everyone who owns a Switch should have it, and those who do not have Switch already have another one really, really a good reason to get it.