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Globetrotting.

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    Malorkus
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    Super Mario Odyssey

    Rating: 4.5 – Outstanding

    Globetrotting.

    The sandbox game was the forefront of the 3D revolution. With the ability to move in all directions for the first time, it’s no wonder that developers and players alike wanted to run wild in those worlds, exploring on their own as much as completing objectives. Despite the platform game genre being alive and well, though, a lot of games in the same vein as Super Mario 64 tapped this well dry quickly. For every stone-cold classic like Banjo-Kazooie, there was a Donkey Kong 64 that turned the collection-based 3D platform game into a chore. Genres began bleeding into each other, and combined with market over-saturation, the open-world platform game started dying off. Even Mario himself was struggling to maintain an identity, with the water weapon-based Super Mario Sunshine being his final foray in the sandbox format before later games were streamlined into a more platform-focused affair. Several years later, the 2D platform revival craze occurred, and the revival of early 3D platform games felt inevitable. Indie developers tried kicking it off, but a big-budget title was needed to really make waves, and who better to do so than Mario himself? Super Mario Odyssey looked to the past while learning the lessons since in order to define the genre’s future.

    Odyssey wastes little time getting to the point, as Mario is already confronting Bowser on his airship, having kidnapped Peach for¡­a wedding? At this point, Peach should probably just go for it, because she’d probably get to keep a few castles in the divorce proceedings, which would come in handy the next time her own castle gets destroyed. Regardless, Mario is blasted off the ship, with his tattered hat floating down behind him. You take control in the Cap Kingdom as quickly as Mario 64’s opening cinematic ends, as you get your bearings straight in this monochrome felt-textured land. This lets you get accustomed to the Switch’s controls, which feel immediately natural, and you might even accidentally activate some new moves like a waggle-controlled roll. Your hat is rescued by a ghostly resident of this kingdom named Cappy. His home has not only been badly damaged, but his sister has been abducted by Bowser to serve as Peach’s tiara. Cappy takes residence in your hat, granting you new moves and serving as Odyssey’s primary gimmick.

    At its most basic level, Mario’s hat can be tossed at enemies to hit them, serving as secondary weaponry to his trademark jump attack. But far more interestingly, Cappy can be used to ¡°capture¡± foes and objects. As Cappy places himself on a target’s head, Mario is sucked inside and possesses them. The game introduces you to this mechanic by letting you take control of a frog, who can swim faster and jump higher than Mario can. Each world introduces you to several new capture abilities, providing different ways to play and many moves to learn. For instance, capturing a Bullet Bill lets Mario soar over large gaps at high speeds. With the Lava Bubble, you can swim through lava without being scorches. Cheep Cheeps let you explore underwater without worrying about your air meter running out. There are so many cool ways to use captured enemies to solve puzzles and defeat bosses that it’s almost disappointing when you toss your hat at someone and it just bounces off or knocks them out instead of letting you control them.

    Even as normal Mario, there is plenty to do in these worlds. On paper, they seem comparable to Super Mario 64, with a similar number of worlds that are similar in size. While each world has a series of primary objectives to advance the story, usually culminating in a boss fight involving a treasure from each kingdom that Bowser has stolen for his wedding, you can largely go at your own pace. When you boil it down to the optional objectives, though, Odyssey is the most massive Mario game ever. Previous 3D Mario titles used the magic number 120 for their respective trinkets, but Odyssey does not stop there, or at 200, or at 500. Power Moons are used to power the Odyssey, Mario’s hat-shaped airship, to the various kingdoms of the world. There are over 800 of these things. Completing plot objectives, like taking out an enemy, will generally reward you with a moon. But these things are everywhere. They can be hidden in nooks, beneath glowing spots in the ground, grown inside flowers, rewarded for mini-games, and so forth. Every stage holds several dozen of them.

    This makes Odyssey’s stages rewarding to explore, as nearly anywhere you go, you can find a handful of moons. Even simple tasks like lighting a torch with a Fire Bro or causing a ring of flowers to bloom can reward you with a moon. Though the main adventure does not require too many moons, and can be completed very quickly and very easily, the game quickly stops holding your hand when it comes to exploring on your own. There are only vague hints from a talking parrot if you need them. It takes the sandbox concept to new levels, actively encouraging you to screw around and do stupid things with capture abilities that may uncover secrets in the process. Some of my favorite challenges took me to miniature platform stages, which usually housed a couple additional moons within. Most of the boss battles are among the best in the series, though you will have repeated encounters with Bowser’s new henchmen, the Broodals, who are evil wedding planner rabbits. These fights are all dull and straightforward, and whenever one of them popped up at the top of a stage instead of a giant monster, I kind of rolled my eyes.

    You could also easily argue that Odyssey’s massive moon count is an example of ¡°more is less¡±. There are so many moons that it stops feeling rewarding when you find them, and outside a few nasty challenges in the post-game, there is little sense of accomplishment. But I have a bigger problem with the filler content, which demonstrates a growing problem in this series. While previous 3D Mario titles held steady at 120 trinkets, they sometimes bloated their way to that count by recycling content, making you collect an excessive number of coins, and having you replay the same objectives with slightly tweaked twists (looking at you, Sunshine). Even the collectible-free Super Mario 3D World faked a lot of its latter-game content size by recycling earlier stages. In Odyssey, any time you play an annoyingly-controlled mini-game (which there are a lot of), you can expect a second moon to be locked behind a harder version of it. Had fun fighting a boss? You might have less fun when you fight it for the second time. Without detailing spoilers, the post-game is especially notorious for making you replay an obstacle course with a different ability. Some players who normally like to achieve full completion of these games may get too burnt out by these repetitive objectives to see it out to the end. It happened to me.

    Super Mario Odyssey arrived at a convenient time when nostalgia for sandbox platform games was starting to blossom, and yet it feels like Mario’s freshest experience in a decade. Each world brings something unique to the table, with charming characters and vibrant environments. The capture mechanic is brilliant, with dozens of foes to control, opening up countless more abilities to help you solve puzzles and reach new areas. The amount of moons is overwhelming, and scouring the lands to find them will surprise you with how cleverly they are hidden. In fact, there might almost be too many, with quite a few being locked behind repetitive challenges or irritating mini-games you have already done. Every 3D Mario game to date has been guilty of this, but it’s especially overkill here. Still, it’s ultimately up to you how deeply you want to pursue them, and even if you do not go for every moon, there is still more than enough content to keep you entertained. Nintendo’s flagship franchise is as healthy as ever, which is good news for all of us.

    Rating:   4.5 – Outstanding

    Product Release: Super Mario Odyssey (US, 10/27/17)

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