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[Game Review] Super Mario Odyssey

It’s taken me a while to get around to it, but Nintendo did indeed shit out another fully-fledged 3D Mario game this year! It’s finally time to review Super Mario Odyssey, the game that surprised me most by it’s theme. You see, anyone that knows me in real life knows one thing: I fucking love top hats. I have one myself, and I wear it when I can. So to have a Mario game where I can wear and weaponise a top hat, fighting Bowser who is also wearing and weaponising a top hat? …Yeah, safe to say I already like this game.

So, yeah, Odyssey is much like other 3D Mario games, in that you’re running through worlds, looking for sta- hm? Moons? We’re collecting moons now? Yeah, for some reason, Odyssey forgoes the stars that have done the plumber so much good in order to go after power moons instead, but functionally, they’re identical. You do tasks, you get moons. The interesting thing is that Odyssey actually changes up the formula – there’s moons for going through the levels and fighting bosses and the like, but there’s a massive number of moons (my first campaign playthrough clocked in at about 170, and I wasn’t being completionist about it) and you can get them for anything now. I like this a lot, because it promotes exploration and playfulness, and like a young child, Nintendo are nothing if not after lots and lots of fun.

Odyssey tasks Mario with chasing after Bowser and his wedding planners, the Broodals, since Bowser’s decided to marry Peach and in the opening cutscene, he defeats Mario and destroys his cap. It’s pretty rough on our poor guy, but this is where we meet the new friend, Cappy. Firstly, Cappy is a top hat ghost, so I immediately loved him, but turns out my love was right: Cappy grants Mario his powers, allowing Mario to fling his hat in every direction like a boomerang, capture enemies and leap on the hat to get to ever-greater heights. I like the cap attack, and the controls are nice and fluid, though I may as well take a moment to say this is the best-controlling Mario game in, like, ever. It’s wonderful.

But what was that about capturing enemies? Oh yes, you’d better believe it. Mario can fling his hat, and if it lands on certain enemies and characters, he can possess them and utilise their skills and powers. It’s a really nice and fun feature; you can capture Chain Chomps, Bullet Bills, Podoboos and all sorts on your quest, and generally, they’re fun to solve puzzles with. It’s very fluid to leap from enemy to enemy, making your way through a level quickly with skilful use of each foe’s unique skills.

Finding a metric shit-ton moons is all well and good, but at some point you just know we’re going to fight Bowser, just like a dying man knows that his browser history desperately needs to be deleted. The Broodals, the unique bosses of each area, and Bowser are all really fun to fight. I can’t think of a single boss fight that isn’t unique, engaging and moderately challenging – hm, maybe not Spewart, who’s a fucking pushover of a fight every time you meet him. Bowser’s fight is especially challenging, and I absolutely love it. A lot of the fights require you to possess specific enemies, testing the skills you’ve honed during the levels themselves, and I cannot fault any of them. Furthermore, you fight a fucking dragon. I won’t say any more than that, but I’m not kidding – Mario goes toe-to-toe with a big fuckoff photorealistic lizard that breathes LIGHTNING. Step over, Bowser, the Lord of Lightning looks to be the new foe that Mario needs to be keeping one eye open at night for.

The kingdoms, of course, are the main attraction. Though they feel quite small, there’s enough to do in each one that you can enjoy the narrative of each area – multiple moons usually make up a single narrative thread for each area’s story, and this, I like. Each area also uses a currency that isn’t quite coins, but can be used in the souvenir shops to buy new outfits for Mario (I didn’t use these, since I bought the top hat in the first area and didn’t change it until endgame) as well as souvenirs for your ship, the Odyssey. It’s a nice way to reward exploration, since getting moons for every single thing can get a little dull. Exploring the kingdoms is kinda what you’re there for, though, so it’s nice that there’s so much effort on display with making each area come to life. They’re all visually distinct, which I appreciate, since one of Galaxy and Galaxy 2’s few shortcomings is that they contain a number of galaxies which are so similar you might get them mixed up.

Odyssey is not without shortcomings either. Firstly, in comparison to Galaxy and Galaxy 2, the scope is much less grand, since we kinda already did the ‘go to space’ thing in both those games, so here when Bowser randomly claims that his wedding ceremony is taking place on the moon, I actually burst out laughing. It’s a nice venue for a climactic finale, sure, but it’s nowhere near as grand and epic as the original fight-in-the-middle-of-a-newborn-star that Galaxy boasts. The writing is irritatingly flat, too – the dialogue is overall funny, but I wanted some more information on the Broodals, Bowser’s motivations for marrying Peach, where the hell the Lord of Lightning came from, how Bowser defeated Mario in the opening cutscene (plot power, yes, I know)… yeah, there was a lot that was never actually elaborated on.

Without spoiling the ending, I just want to say that from the point where you go to the moon, the endgame is a fucking trip. It’s the most insane thing I’ve ever seen, and honestly, it confirms my fears: that Nintendo made a game for fun instead of money. Here’s how I imagine the board meeting went:

“Everyone got their ecstasy tablets?” asks the head of the meeting. Everyone nods and pops their pills. Suddenly, the ideas begin to fly. “DINOSAURS”
“MARIO NEEDS A TOP HAT”
“THEY GO TO THE MOON”
“PAULINE COMES BACK”
“PUT IN NEW YORK, WHY THE FUCK NOT”
“A FOOD KINGDOM”
“THE FIRST BOSS SHOULD BE AN OBESE RABBIT”

…Yep. That’s about the size of it. And really, whilst it’s quite mad, the ending is incredibly awesome and touching at the same time, and I suppose I can say the same thing for the game as a whole. I’m still getting into the postgame, working my way through all the goddamn moons, but I’ve enjoyed my experience with Odyssey. It’s not the most narratively sophisticated game ever, but it exists purely for fun value, and for that, I have to give it props. The outfits, customisation, music, visuals… everything isn’t necessarily as good as it could be (except Pauline’s songs, which are equal parts trashy and my guilty pleasure) but it’s got heart, and I feel like this is the next step in the Mario story. Neat, fluid controls make it a damn good experience, and whilst I thought Galaxy was hard to top, Odyssey is definitely on equal terms with Galaxy. Better? Perhaps – I’ve not replayed Galaxy in a while though, so I can’t say for sure.

Odyssey: it’s good. That’s about all I can say. Now, allow me to nerd out for a moment: really, Bowser is already technically married to Peach, since Paper Bowser married Paper Peach at the start of Super Paper Mario – question is, is the paper world the same as the one Odyssey takes place in (probably not, considering the events of Paper Jam prove the paper world and real world are separate), and was Bleck’s wedding for Peach and Bowser a sham, or did it have to be official to allow him to get the Chaos Heart?

…Nerding out complete. Sorry about breaking character for a moment there.

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