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Embark On Mario’s Greatest Voyage

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    Super Mario Odyssey

    Rating: 5.0 – Flawless

    Embark On Mario’s Greatest Voyage

    Of all the signature Nintendo franchises, the most Nintendo-y of them all is Mario. He’s been the face of the company for three decades now, with each console generation producing a Mario platformer that not only defined that console generation, but at times revolutionized it. Thus, when a brand new and shiny Mario 3D platformer was announced for the Nintendo Switch, the resulting hype was so powerful that Elon Musk tried to find a way to power a car with it. Super Mario Odyssey was perhaps one of the most anticipated titles in the history of games, with all major online gaming publications running new articles on it so frequently you thought Nintendo might file a restraining order. It was hard to get away for the hype, and usually when anything is as hyped as this, the only inevitable conclusion is complete and utter heartbreak. I was half expecting a Titanic style disaster, where people would open the box and a handful of angry spirits would emerge and haunt your Switch for the rest of your life. And yet, somehow, Super Mario Odyssey is one of those games that actually deserves all the hype it generated. It might not completely revolutionize the genre, but it is incredibly fun and it is an absolute must buy for any Nintendo fan out there.

    The game starts out with a deep introspective look at what it means to be a man, with a clever satire on the Mushroom Kingdom and ¨C nah, I’m just messing with you. Bowser kidnapped Princess Peach again. They actually cut to the action mid kidnapping this time, too, because apparently even they got bored of animating the whole process. Bowser is looking to marry Princess Peach, and he’s running into problems because ¡°Peach doesn’t love him¡± and ¡°is here against her will¡± and ¡°nobody is willing to officiate the ceremony on account of her being held captive and you being a giant fire breathing monster¡±. Weddings, am I right? Bowser also apparently doesn’t have the budget for this (or maybe he just likes stealing stuff) because he is going from kingdom to kingdom swiping things like wedding cakes, wedding rings, and probably terrible cover bands to get ready for the big ceremony. Mario tries to stop him, and not only does he get completely beaten and kicked off of Bowser’s ship, he has his hat destroyed in the process. Luckily, Mario lands on a planet of sentient hats (no, that isn’t a joke) and he finds a hat that is willing to help him because Bowser stole his hat sister (no, that isn’t a joke either). The two of them take off to find a hat spaceship (seriously, none of these are jokes) so they can track down Bowser and maybe find the milliner who clearly was on the writing staff for the game.

    The hats aren’t just weirdly specific elements of the story from a creepy hat enthusiast who somehow got a job at Nintendo though. Mario’s hat, and indeed hats in general, are a core theme of the game and are centrally featured as the big new gameplay element. A lot of the game should feel very familiar for anyone who has played a Mario game before as all the same sexy platforming goodness is back but with some clever new twists. The biggest of these twists comes in the form of Mario’s hat, which apparently has a role beyond hiding Mario’s ever expanding bald spot. Mario is able to throw his hat, and not in a ¡°COME ON, UMP, HOW DID YOU MISS THAT CALL?!?¡± kind of way. His hat can be used to hit or snag things further away and, most importantly, to possess enemies or objects. Mario can throw his hat on enemies like Goombas, Bullet Bills, and enemies entirely new to this game and by doing so that hat will latch on and transfer Mario’s, uh, consciousness to the baddie, who will now be entirely under your control. Mario’s mind warps into the bad guys, the bad guy in question suddenly grows a mustache to let you know Mario is inhabiting them, and you now have full control over what they do. It is a completely different mechanic from anything we’ve seen in a Mario game before, and the way it is worked into the gameplay is quite clever.

    Each enemy typically has some sort of special skill that Mario can use, a skill that expands upon Mario’s abilities or range of movement. Frogs can jump higher, bullet bills that fly across large gaps and explode into breakable walls, and bird enemies can extend their beak into walls to stick there and then fling themselves across greater distances. Typically, each new kingdom introduces a new enemy and new mechanic, and crafts some challenges in the level around this character and their move set. Even some of the bosses are tackled specifically with a specific enemy, and it really opens up new aspects to the gameplay that weren’t there before. None of these skills are the kind of thing to build an entire game around, but Super Mario Odyssey uses them brilliantly, sprinkling these enemy specific challenges throughout the game while keeping the core gameplay build around Mario. And there is so much variety to the skills that it never feels like you’re stuck doing one thing for too long. They have a couple clever ideas for using a Bullet Bill, but once they’re done they just move on to the next challenge. It never feels like these ideas overstay their welcome, and the way they are integrated into gameplay flows smoothly and naturally. Some of the ideas are somewhat basic, and for example the Goombas just sort of walk around and stare creepily at female Goombas most of the time, but for the most part it is a brilliant addition to the gameplay that expands the movement and challenge in new and interesting ways.

    New hat gimmick aside, the core of Super Mario Odyssey feels very much like what we’ve come to expect from the 3D Mario games. This is the same school of Mario game as Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Galaxy, a big collect-a-thon where Mario needs to go around picking up as many magical widgets as he can find. In order to power up your hat shaped ship, conveniently named the Odyssey, you need to grab enough of its power source to fuel it up for its voyage to the next kingdom. The ship runs on power moons, moon shaped collectables in the same vein as stars or shines from the past Mario titles. Each kingdom has a basic storyline with a set number of moons that must be collected, usually including a couple moons for moving forward through the kingdom with a couple others obtained from a boss fight or two along the way. This is just the bare minimum though, and the game offers up a whopping 880 power moons that can be collected by exploring, completing certain minigames, and beating up on the game’s collection of baddies that are hoarding them for their own personal use. Collecting more power moons opens up more kingdoms and secrets and allows Mario to explore even further reaches in his spiffy hat ship.

    While this game definitely is closest in the Mario tree to games like Super Mario 64, there are some notable differences here that are worth mentioning. One of the biggest improvements is that things no longer feel so segmented. In those older games, you would go to one of the levels and they’d give you a specific goal, a specific star or shrine that the level was built around with most of the other stars completely inaccessible until you got the one you needed to get first. And, upon completing the task, you’d be kicked back out and need to start things over again at the beginning of the area for the next star. Here the levels are more of a big playground for Mario to explore, and the moons are not divided like they were in the past. There are usually a handful of moons that only become available once you finish the ¡°story¡± of that level and another big bunch that become available once completing the game, but the majority of the game is just sort of wandering around the levels and doing whatever you feel like. Additionally, once you get a moon, you get the little song and dance to let you know how cool you are, but then you can keep on having fun without any interruption. There is no booting you back out the castle or menu or whatever, and the game just continues. You’re free to tackle the levels however and whenever you want, and the game does a great job making everything feel significantly more fluid. Exploration is a cohesive experience here like it hasn’t been in past similar Mario titles, and the game benefits from this change in philosophy.

    And, really, because of this Super Mario Odyssey absolutely nails the exploration aspect of the gameplay better than any other Mario title to date. It is a combination of factors, and the overall design itself is almost perfectly optimized for this kind of game. As previously mentioned, exploration is more fluid because of the removal of the more segmented challenges and how Mario stays in levels after collecting each moon. The controls are crisp and Mario’s movement is extraordinary, which makes the exploration all the more fun. And on top of it all, the game is supremely clever about the distribution of the Power Moons. They are all over the place, and this is the sort of game that encourages and rewards exploration. ¡°I wonder if something’s over there,¡± you may wonder to yourself. The answer is yes. I don’t know what part of the game you’re on, but yes. The maps feel alive with a lot of different challenges and tasks spread out nicely throughout the levels. There are Power Moons hiding everywhere, and unlike the past 3D Mario titles, it actually feels rewarding to thoroughly explore an entire level because there is something hiding around every corner and underneath every Goomba. The superb movement, the gameplay changes, and the multitude and types of Power Moons hidden everywhere make this game an absolute blast to explore, and Nintendo did just about everything perfectly in designing the game around exploration.

    What is amazing is the remarkable variety in gameplay here. There are plenty of Power Moons to get through simple exploration, where Mario is just sort of digging around levels and poking at every weird alcove you can find. It feels like there is something to do no matter where you go, and there is some new gameplay element introduced all the time. The core here is, of course, the platforming. The exploration is very well executed, but it would be nothing if the platforming wasn’t as good as we’ve come to expect from Mario. But it is, and the controls are just perfect and fluid and crisp and whatever other good word you want to throw in here as a compliment. Controlling Mario just feels fantastic, and all his old moves have been put in here perfectly. Wall jumps, long jumps, backflips, every acrobatic move a pudgy little plumber shouldn’t be able to pull off and more, Mario has them all at his disposal. His arsenal is even better here though, with dives put in to pull off jumps across longer gaps, and hat jumps put in to further increase the distance Mario can cover. Mario will throw his hat, and if you jump on top of it you get an extra boost in height after. It is amazing the kind of moves you can string together when you implement Mario’s full arsenal, and you’ll be going places and traveling distances you probably would never anticipate at first. Mario already controlled great in all of his recent games, yet they somehow made it even better in Super Mario Odyssey. This is, quite simply, the best Mario has ever controlled and it makes playing the game an utter joy.

    They give you plenty to do with these new moves, too. A lot of the open area of each map is more geared towards exploration, without too many significant challenges as the game just lets you sort of wander where you want. Each level, however, typically has four or five doors that you can enter that gives you a bit more of a challenge. There are a lot of interesting idea here too. One room might feature invisible platforms that only become visible as enemies hock up poisonous paintballs towards them, while another has you controlling chain chomps to try and knock them into little alcoves pinball style. Each level also has multiple timer challenges where you give up your hat briefly and then try to get through some little obstacles as quickly as possible. it’s a great variety here, and so many good ideas that it is hard to pick out one specifically that really stays with you. A lot of Mario’s moves are more geared towards movement, allowing you to get through the bigger hub worlds quickly and smoothly and as entertainingly as possible. But there are plenty of challenges here, too, lots of good ideas filling up a very complete package.

    I do mean ¡°very complete¡± by the way. There are almost too many ideas here, so many things to do that I can’t even possibly come close to listing them all. There are some minigames ¨C RC car racing or tracing shapes that quickly become invisible. There are some high score type challenges ¨C racing against Koopas to try and get the best time or jumping rope as much as you can. There are the character specific challenges ¨C flinging yourself around as a bird or winding around obstacles as a caterpillar. There are the platforming type challenges ¨C jumping across platforms to avoid oncoming Bullet Bills or making your way across a series of clouds that disappear as you touch them. There are level specific challenges ¨C driving around lion creatures known as Jaxis across poisonous swamps or swimming around treacherous waters. And on and on like this. So many ideas, so many different concepts, and yet almost all of them work. This is the true brilliance of this game. It is a game of so many ideas and so few bad ones. Usually in a game like this, too many ideas can make the game feel disorganized or haphazard, but not here. This is a beautiful cacophony of ideas, with something new and fun waiting around the corner that you haven’t seen before. The enemy abilities, the more traditional platforming, the various minigames, everything works and works well and all of this feeds into the exploration that game actively encourages. It is just a brilliantly put together game, and something that needs to be experienced to fully appreciate.

    While I’ve been so busy singing this game’s praises that my throat has started to go sore, I should probably take a quick break from that to detail some of the game’s shortcomings. I feel a bit like those jerks online that see a picture of Megan Fox and spend five minutes grumbling about how her index fingers are not perfectly even, but there are a couple of minor issues here and I wouldn’t be doing my very important job of a reviewer on GameFAQs that will be read by five or so people in the next month if I didn’t mention them. The biggest complaint I have is that the difficulty veers a bit on the easy side overall. The platforming just isn’t quite as challenging as you might expect from a Mario game, and there are very few examples here where you really need to hit your jumps just right to pull off a particularly impressive feat. Again, the game is focused a bit more on exploration, which is great, and offers a ton of variety in gameplay, which is also great. But because of these two things, the number of actual challenging platforming sections has been scaled way back. The difficulty is at a good level for what the game is trying to accomplish, and taken overall the challenge here feels just about right. I know this all sounds like a minor issue (most likely because it is), but you go into Mario games expecting them to offer some truly amazing platforming, and that just isn’t the case here. There is more than enough other good stuff to overlook this, but there are likely going to be some Mario purists that are disappointed that the difficulty feels a bit on the easy side overall and that the platforming challenges in particular has been scaled back considerably.

    The other somewhat significant issue is that some of the moons are just sort of there. And I mean, ¡°just sort of there¡± literally because some of the moons are just sitting around right out in the open. It is sort of the ¡°parents hiding Easter eggs for their three-year-olds¡± method of hiding the moons because they are just plopped out in the open at times without anything extra needed to get them other than to saunter on up and grab them. They aren’t hidden, there’s no platforming to get to them, no enemies are holding them, they’re just there. it’s almost like the developers realized they forgot to hide the last twenty or so moons and just threw them out on the ground in a panic. Again, this isn’t a huge issue because we’re really only talking about 5% or so of all 880 moons in the entire game, but it can be confusing at times when you walk over and grab a moon without having to do anything for it.

    There are also some moons that get repeated quite a lot. Follow the dog to find the secret spot, find Captain Toad, spot the flying anomaly through the binoculars, hit the glowing bird that is flying around, and on and one like this. The game can lean a bit too heavy on these repeats at times, and I would’ve preferred some more interesting challenges to replace the process of following the dog around to dig something up for the fifth time. I get wanting to repeat themes, and the game does this very well at times like by putting picture clues in all the kingdoms that relate to some hidden moon in another kingdom. They’re the same sort of thing, but different enough that each one feels unique and doing the same sort of things isn’t a bother. Occasionally though, the game winds up reusing some idea that wasn’t even particularly clever the first time, and that is where the annoyance comes in. But this, like everything else, is just a minor complaint. Most of these things have enough variation that it doesn’t feel too same-y and the ones that don’t are in the vast minority when compared to the huge amount of total content in the game. All of my minor gripes are just that, minor gripes. The truth is that this is a very enjoyable and very complete game, and all I’m complaining about here are a couple of misplaced sprinkles on an otherwise beautifully decorated cake.

    On top of all of this, this is a game that is absolutely bursting at the seams with charm. The story itself is kind of goofy, and the design of Bowser’s wedding planning rabbits did seem to be a little lacking. But for the most part the design here just oozes charm. All of the levels feel lovingly crafted, with unique history and characters inhabiting nearly all of them. The maps of the areas pop up as travel brochures that give some insight into some of the more interesting features of it, written as if it was an actual travel brochure. The visuals are bright and colorful, and the music is as exceptional as it always is. There are actually a couple of songs here with lyrics, and surprisingly they are nowhere near as cringe inducing as you might expect. it’s just a fantastically well put together package, everything you’ve come to expect from a Nintendo game and more. The little dialogue here is fun, the locations all have their own identity, and there was just so much thought and care put into every aspect of the game.

    To put it simply, Super Mario Odyssey is simply a joy to play. The controls are sublime, the gameplay is fun and varied, and there is so much here to see and do that it feels like this is the ultimate scavenger hunt. And, sure, the game is a bit too easy and too many of the moons are either basically given to you or repeats of something you’ve already done. But these are just minor imperfections in what was one of the best games released in 2017. If there is any real disappointment here, it is because of just how high the bar Mario has set for himself. Super Mario Odyssey is unlikely to define an entire generation of games like some of the past Mario games, and people looking for something completely revolutionary or Earth shattering might be a bit disappointed. But for anyone else, this is a complete and utter triumph. This is gaming bliss, a pure concentrated dose of fun that would make even the grumpiest of curmudgeons crack a smile. This is a system seller on for a system that didn’t even need it, and it is great to see Mario back and better than ever. There are no qualifications on this recommendation. Get this game. It is a wonderful experience and is one of the best Mario titles to date. And if that isn’t high praise, I don’t know what is.

    Odyssey (THE GOOD):

    • Absolutely fantastic controls that leads to wonderful game feel ¨C it is fun to maneuver Mario in and around all the levels
    • Very good emphasis on exploration and great design choices makes this feel like the ultimate scavenger hunt
    • An insane amount of content with 880 Power Moons to collect spread out through all the levels
    • Gameplay variety is really impressive, and there are so many different things the game does and does well
    • Using your hat to control enemies adds another layer to the gameplay and most of these are integrated into the game almost perfectly
    • A fantastic package from top to bottom that is really smartly design and brimming with charm throughout
    • Simply put, it is one of the best Mario games yet, which is an incredibly high bar

    Odious (THE BAD):

    • Platforming is a bit underwhelming, and is not nearly as much of a focus as you’d expect
    • Overall, the game is a bit on the easy side and a handful of more challenging Power Moons woud have been much appreciated
    • Digging around for Power Moons is a lot of fun, but some of these are literally just sitting there without any challenge to them
    • A couple of the Power Moon challenges are repeated throughout the game and aren’t necessarily that interesting the first time you do them

    Odd, I See (THE UGLY): Mario turns into some amazing things in this game, but far and away the least interesting is the manhole cover. You can move it slowly to the side and prevent poop smells from floating up from the sewer into the city. it’s probably the low point in Mario’s career, although maybe it makes sense considering Mario’s former profession as a plumber.

    THE VERDICT: 9.50/10.00

    Rating:   5.0 – Flawless

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

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