The latest (and some will surely argue, greatest) entry in the main Mario series, Super Mario Odyssey, takes the platformer genre to its limit with both two and three-dimensional puzzles, over a dozen kingdoms to explore, and a new possession mechanic. Full disclosure: while I’ve played plenty of Mario Kart and Mario sports games, I’ve never played a mainline entry in the series before this one. So, is it good, and does it succeed in entertaining even players who’ve had minimal past experience with the series?
This is the type of game where the narrative matters less than gameplay, so it’s fortunate that the gameplay here is so strong. The main highlight is the possession mechanic. Yes, I know it’s not officially referred to as possession, but that’s what it is. The wide variety of creatures and objects that Mario can take over with the throw of a hat is fantastic. Some of my personal favorites include the frog (the morph scene when you first possess one is hilarious), T-Rex (its skin texture looks like something you’d see in a more realistic, Skyrim-esque titile), and pokio (piercing walls and climbing with its long beak is a lot of fun). The mechanic does a lot to keep the gameplay varied and unpredictable so that things don’t get stale or tiresome. Having started with Odyssey, I can’t even imagine going backward in the series and no longer being able to possess things in the games’ environments.
The puzzles throughout the game play with dimensions, shifting from 3D to 2D and back again seemlessly on multiple occasions. Even though I don’t have any sort of nostalgia for 2D Mario games, I still appreciate the different feel that the 2D platforming segments add to the game. The wide variety of tasks necessary to completing the 3D portions is also nice. From pulling odd high jumps and competing in timed races to bouncing Chain Chomps off of one another, there’s a lot to do, and it’s usually pretty fun. Admittedly, there were portions of the game that I found less enjoyable due to a lack of clarity regarding how to complete a particular puzzle or boss battle. Odyssey‘s biggest gameplay flaw might be the major whiplash of its occasional difficulty shifts.
More so than the gameplay, Odyssey‘s most endearing feature is its assemblage of kingdoms, all rendered with beautiful graphics and all sorts of charming small details. My personal favorite is the Cascade Kingdom, full of stunning grasses, mountain cliffs, waterfalls, and the T-Rex I mentioned earlier. Other kingdoms stand out for the drastically different artistic styles utilized while creating them. The Ruined Kingdom, for instance, takes Mario and pits him up against a hyper-realistic dragon in a Dark Souls-esque world. The Luncheon Kingdom, meanwhile, is perhaps the game’s brightest, somehow mixing food and volcano motifs into one big cheerful world.
My only regret as far the kingdoms go is that I wish there were more of them. Now, there are already a lot, and overall their variety is fantastic. With that said, I wish that the kingdoms unlocked after beating the final boss were more distinct from the ones that came before them. That’s not to say they’re not fun, but in terms of generating interest and excitement to keep playing, they don’t succeed as much as the ones players visit while still chasing after Bowser.
My other main con with the game concerns its story and characters. I stated earlier that this is the kind of game where the gameplay is more important than the plot, and I have no qualms with that. Nonetheless, any game with a narrative deserves to have said narrative critiqued, and Odyssey generates virtually none of its charm through its story. I don’t care about Mario, or about Peach, or Bowser, or any of the characters. This isn’t a major complaint given that the game’s fun comes primarily from its gameplay and environments, but it’s a complaint nonetheless.
Overall, Super Mario Odyssey is a lot of fun. The gameplay is impressively varied, with a fantastic possession mechanic and a unique mixture of 2D and 3D platforming. The kingdoms are also a great source of joy, with graphics that are as consistent in their beauty as they are varied in their themes and styles. As a first-time Mario gamer, it’s hard for me to tell if my relatively low (compared to other critics) opinion of Odyssey is just due to the issues I’ve already mentioned, or if a lack of nostalgia also contributes. Either way, I still really enjoyed the game and would definitely recommend it to anyone interested in platforming, bright cheerful worlds, or the idea of hopping around as a cute little frog.