Nick Daily has spent a life immersed in video games, and now he’s here to share his opinions on the state of the gaming world with you in Gaming w/Nick.
By Nick Daily
Sandboxes. Ever since Grand Theft Auto III began the boom of “sandbox games,” so many other franchises have come and gone, trying to make their own personal mark on the term. However, these sandbox trends tended to waft more westward, and Japanese game development watched and waited for their chance to strike. Earlier this year, Nintendo astounded us with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, embracing this more open world scenario, and Mario Odyssey continues that trend.
Mario Odyssey, as far as how it controls, is almost identical to Super Mario 64. The movement options are far more varied than they have been in almost 10 years. Games like Super Mario Galaxy began a trend of Mario losing movement options, eventually leading to Super Mario 3D World, where Mario and friends were only offered eight degrees of movement. Those days feel long gone as any distance you need to traverse feels possible and limited only by your ability.
Structurally, Mario Odyssey is more akin to a Banjo-Kazooie style platformer, with wide worlds containing treasures you don’t have specific instructions on how to collect. After completing a world’s story based missions and boss, you’re left with huge worlds and hundreds of moons to collect, and this can feel daunting. However, the pacing of the game up until the credits roll is spot on. Only a handful of extra moons are necessary from each world to continue forward, and the joy of a game like Mario Odyssey is seeing what the next world holds, so the game does very little to get in the way of your discovery.
I understand the more vocal critics of Super Mario Odyssey, as they miss the mission structure and more objective-based levels. And while the game does give objectives for each level as story missions, those missions can actually be ignored and moved past, so I understand the complaint concerning the lack of urgency. When Nintendo embraced the sandbox approach for these levels, they clearly were striving for quantity of collectibles over challenge of collecting. As a result, whereas games like Super Mario 64 usually have seven stars to a level, Mario Odyssey’s levels can have over a hundred.
And while the main collectibles in Mario Odyssey are called Moons instead of Stars, they function essentially the same, allowing Mario to progress forward through the game by powering his air-ship. The approach of having hundreds of collectibles is a world that feels brimming with content. Characters give Moons for talking to them, for planting seeds near them, for wearing the right outfit when you speak to them, or even winning their slot machine game. If we are going to use the sandbox metaphor, this sandbox is massive, but every time I stick my shovel in the sand, I find a new toy or reward for my trouble. The gameplay hook of entering a world, finding moons, and returning said moons to the ship is broken up by the fact that I cannot enter a world without finding or seeing a moon or area I’ve never seen before. I’m moving the camera around areas I’ve been to time and time again, and a new angle gives me a visual of pipe I haven’t entered yet, and I know in that moment I need to see what is in that pipe.
The gameplay gimmick of Mario Odyssey is your hat, Cappy, who can function as his own platform and give Mario a small mid-air delay, while also functioning as a method of POSSESSION. Some enemies are susceptible to Cappy’s unfathomable abilities, and while Mario controls them, they not only get a hilarious makeover, but also use their unique abilities to traverse their environments. Of course, some of the transformations have more utility than others. While the early frog possession simply allows Mario to jump high, possessing enemies like Pokio allows mario the ability to deflect bombs and stick his beak into walls to fling around and reach new areas. If you are going to boil it down, the possessions that give Mario a new method of traversal tend to be the most memorable, and a handful of lesser transformations like the Lakitu simply function as mini games for specific moons.
There is a level of polish to be found in every Mario game, and this one is no different. Odyssey clearly pushes Mario and his worlds into newer more vibrant areas, a favorite of mine being the Luncheon Kingdom. The commitment to allowing each area to have a unique art style is commendable, even though there is a small disconnect between each world as a whole because of it. Having one of the human characters from New Donk City end up in another kingdom is always funny and out of place, but can also feel a bit distracting, as though the style could have used a unifying theme if the styles were going to interact.
Mario Odyssey is fun. Filled with new ideas, unwilling to settle for a simple formula, each new challenge in Mario Odyssey feels like a new way to look at the same Mario I’ve had in front of me for twenty years. Of course this game has its issues, but very rarely does a game come out that simply feels like it was made to have fun with. To explore and find new twists on old favorites. Every great new Mario game is a reason to celebrate, because the guy who got the party started has gotten back up on stage again. And his performances are always fire.
Header Illustration by Meredith Morrison