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Be warned: No major spoilers will be in this article, but I may let a few minor ones slip. Nothing huge, I promise, but if you're the type to like to be surprised by even the minor details, come back later.
Standing in the line at a Gamestop for the midnight release of Nintendo's newest sandbox Mario adventure filled me with a mix of excitement and anxiety. I am a person that prefers Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine over their 2D platformer titles so I had a lot of expectations going in. With all the hype Nintendo has been trying to build through their advertisements and appearances at major gaming events, I thought that this game had better live up to and exceed that momentum.
The game came out on October 27th, 2017. I completed the ultimate, culminating challenge of the game on October 30th, 2017. Having basically completed the game to the fullest reasonable extent short of collecting every single collectible available, I feel like I am prepared to disclose my opinion of the game properly.
(This is my first review for this site! The way I like to do reviews is by starting every game off with a maximum of 100 points and deduct points based on anything I feel could be improved. It's at the very least easier for me to keep track—if you would like to suggest a better rating system, feel free to let me know what your thoughts are!)
Game Mechanics and Feel (-1)
Let's start off with the most obvious and exciting gimmick this game has to offer. This time around Mario has teamed up with a little hat being named Cappy who replaces Mario's traditional hat after it gets ripped apart during a scuffle with big bad Bowser at the start of the game.
Cappy gives our hero a few new abilities, one of which is what I believe Nintendo used as the main draw to this game ever since the ability was revealed. In addition to being able to throw his hat friend around and use him to attack and as a bouncy platform, Mario can also use Cappy to inhabit the bodies of various creatures and objects throughout the game.
While not every single creature can be captured, the amount of things that can be captured was enough to keep the game interesting the whole way through. Through capturing, Mario gains new abilities such as being able to rocket through the air with a Bullet Bill or control a Goomba hivemind to seduce a lady Goomba out of a power moon. That certainly is not a phrase I ever thought I would type out. Anyway, the capture power is also used as a main mechanic during many boss fights as well, keeping every single one at least somewhat interesting.
Mario has also inherited a lot of his controls from his days on the Nintendo 64. As soon as the game allowed me to move, muscle memory ended up taking control and I was able to assume that most of the moves from the older games came back. It did take me a moment to adjust to playing the game with the Switch's pro controller, but that is just a side effect of playing something familiar on a new console.
With a combination of Mario's seemingly superhuman acrobatics and Cappy's help, you have the ability to perform some pretty impressive maneuvers in order to get from point A to point B. For instance, you might be able to cross a particularly far gap by long jumping, throwing your hat after a certain length of the jump, diving onto the hat to score another jump, diving towards the other side of the gap, and finishing with roll that uses all of the momentum you've built while completing this jump. The feeling of pulling off some relatively more complicated jumps is really satisfying to me and it is something that I truly looked forward to with this game.
It is not perfect, however. There were some moments that I was trying to get to where I needed to go pretty quickly due to being timed where I messed up in some minute way or another and fell to my death.
You might be thinking, "Well, Kevin, that just means you need to get good!!" However true that may be, I find that the camera in certain areas can prevent many attempts at moving quickly from being successful. In many areas of the game, the camera snaps to a certain angle that, in most cases, may be fine, but I believe there's a high chance you will want to blame the camera for causing you to fall to your death at least a few times in the game.
Remember: this is a 3D platformer, and depth perception and angles are a pretty important issue, both of which can be pretty hard to determine due to a weird camera angle. Because of this affecting the game feel at times, I feel it right to deduct a measly 1 point. It's pretty insignificant but worth mentioning.
Total so far: -1
Level and Objective Design (-3)
I'll just say it very bluntly: I think this section is probably the worst hit to Mario Odyssey's score.
Not that I think that the levels are bad at all. Quite the opposite, actually. I think that the different levels all have quite a lot of personality to them! There are 14 kingdoms that you venture to during the story and 3 more that you reach after the completion of the story.
Most of the kingdoms have their own story, culture, and population species. For instance, one kingdom that's based on a resort area with carbonated water has a population that is comprised of some pretty high class snails. The Cap Kingdom, on the other hand, is comprised of... hats, mostly. The buildings, the vehicles, and the people who live in it are basically all hat themed. This is where Mario's little hat buddy comes from.
In order to understand my gripe, though, I should talk about the main collectible goal of the game. Throughout the game, Mario is sent on a mission collecting Power Moons to help power his little hat ship through the different kingdoms available in the game.
There are over 800 of them.
Because of the sheer number of Moons available to collect, most of them require almost no effort. This certainly makes it more accessible for the players who are not the most skilled at platformers, but the moons that have some semblance of challenge are few and far between. There are a lot of them, but only because there are a lot of moons in general.
When trying to meet the requirements to progress, especially post-game, you may find yourself backtracking between worlds a lot. Eventually you'll come to realize that these worlds are really small. It's almost a non-issue to most people because despite the size, there exists a lot of little nooks and crannies for you to find new things almost every time you visit.
My main issue is all the fluff Moons, really. All the Moons that were challenging to get were pretty fun to get, but many of them end up being something along the lines of "talk to person A at every kingdom and they will give you a Moon each time" or "hey, I'm-a just a moon floating here! Come get me!"
Maybe it's just me, having collected 520 Moons at this point, but I feel like this could be improved. Perhaps add a hard mode to the game, removing a lot of the "easier" moons and adding more of a challenge for those that crave it.
Not a terrible issue in the least. I did feel like this was the subject I had the worst gripe with, though, so I am deducting 3 points. Yes, only 3. Even my least favorite part of the game is still pretty exceptional.
Total so far: -4
The next few sections will be a lot less verbose, but I still feel like they're important enough to touch on for any game, so I will give a short summary of my thoughts on each.
I beat the story the day the game came out.
The story is short, sweet, and has probably the best ending out of any Mario game I have ever played. You definitely have something to look forward to when playing through this story.
Let me explain one thing, though. In Mario games, the story always seems to be an afterthought next to the gameplay. These adventures don't seem to be primarily about the tale that they are telling. It has always been more about the gameplay and the fun you had along the way.
This game's story was everything I could have expected and more from a Mario game. Instead of using the story as a minor framing device ("Hey Mario, I made a cake for you but I got kidnapped — Peach" or "Everything's messy cause Bowser's son is out of control and thinks Peach is his mom, go clean everything up") the story seems to play a constant role in driving you to get to the end and kick Bowser's butt.
The story also doesn't get in the way of your sandbox adventure. If you didn't plow through the story just out of curiosity, you could end up collecting as many odds and ends as you desired and still have the same effect. All finishing the story does is make you feel good and unlock a couple more places to go and Moons to shove into your ship.
The story is short, sweet, and satisfying. I believe that's how it should be in a sandbox Mario title. No points deducted this time around.
Total so far: -4
The music in this game exceeds expectations set by previous Mario titles. In many ways, the music of this game jettisons the player into a level of fun and immersion that the Mario franchise is known for. Some places have a more atmospheric soundtrack, and some places almost give you a pleasant musical whiplash as it transforms from silent ambiance to an exciting big-band track fitting for a place named the Metro Kingdom.
This game also goes above and beyond by having tracks sung by the voice of Sakura from Naruto. I mean, they're sung by Kate Higgins (voicing Pauline, the mayor of New Donk City and survivor of Donkey Kong). One of the tracks, "Jump Up Superstar," has been played in countless advertisements and accents one of the most notable moments in any Mario game that I've played: The New Donk City Festival.
I'm impressed. Plus one point to the Odyssey.
Total so far: -3
This game thought of nearly everything.
Throughout the game you unlock new and interesting costumes. Many of the costumes are throwbacks to old games and even advertisements. One costume is from one of the commercials from Japan that featured Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, called the Fashionable Outfit. There are also outfits that reference Mario Paint, Super Mario Maker, Donkey Kong '94, and more. These outfits are really nice, but most don't do anything for Mario. Some of them unlock Moons, of course, but that's as game altering as these outfits get. There's a certain hat you can get that may be considered game altering... but you should find that out for yourself!
In addition to the outfits, the game has many easter eggs to find that are almost fanservice in nature. Some of them are just fun little finds, but many others exist purely for the fact of making the people who get the reference feel good. As an example, there is a point in the game where you need to get a birthday gift for Pauline. These gifts are scattered around New Donk City and happen to be points pickups from the original Donkey Kong game and all make the same sound effect when you pick them up as in the old days.
All of these details succeeded in making me feel good and making the whole ride more fun than I had imagined, even for a Mario game.
One more point to the Odyssey.
Total so far: -2
This game is a real contender for Game of the Year. Many people may find it too easy to be worth their time. Sure, whatever, good for them, I guess. The ease of the game and sheer number of Power Moons do take away from the experience a little bit, but not enough to detract from any of the fun that you can have while playing. No game is perfect, and this game certainly has room for improvement.
One thing that I would personally love to see is DLC for this game. This game is obviously as completed as it could be before launch. I believe this is a requirement for any game considering DLC, but the unfortunate reality is that many games feel incomplete before getting that extra content treatment. DLC for this game could bring new kingdoms, characters, or even just costumes. However, this game doesn't need DLC to bolster its replayability because it does just fine on its own.
Final score: 98/100
"It's pretty dang good!"