Super Mario Odyssey: The Toilet ov Hell Review
It’s been a banner year for Nintendo, the venerable Japanese game company. In addition to the absurdly high demand of the Super NES Classic Edition, Nintendo has been riding high on a surprisingly strong launch year for their latest home console (that’s also an incredible portable gaming device), the Switch. Toss in a couple successful mobile phone endeavors and the physical DLC statuettes called Amiibo (that still practically print money several years after their initial introduction), and you’ve got a recipe to fiduciary growth. On top of all that is the fact that Nintendo has released not one but two potential contenders for game of the year; The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Nintendo’s early-year landmark title that showed the company’s reborn sense of ambition, is now joined by Super Mario Odyssey, easily one of the most enjoyable games I have played in my entire life. Make no mistake. Super Mario Odyssey is not just pure, unadulterated joy, but perhaps the best platformer game ever made.
Warning: This review contains some minor spoilers.
Super Mario Odyssey opens with a story as trite and predictable as any in the long-running series of Jumpman and friends; Bowser, the nefarious turtle demon king, has kidnapped Princess Peach (whose constant kidnapping surely must render her a rather ineffectual leader at this point) with the intent of finally making her his bride, and it’s up to plucky protagonist Mario, with the help of a new friend, the sentient hat Cappy, to rescue the Princess once again. It’s a well-worn story, one that fits like an old, somewhat musty glove, and I’d honestly be a bit grated by how regressive it is if not for how delightfully nonsensical everything else in the game is. Super Mario Odyssey is a zany trip through the most bizarre reaches of Nintendo’s collective creative consciousness, and you never really know where it’s going to go next. It’s best not to think too much about the thin plot, then. Just let all the bright sounds and colors in.
Gameplay-wise, the game picks up ostensibly where the last two “true” Mario 3D platformers, Super Mario 64 for the Nintendo 64 and Super Mario Sunshine for the Nintendo Gamecube (Yes, I’m not including the Galaxy games because they, along with 3D World and 3D Land, were essentially linear pipes that funneled you through discrete levels with clear beginnings and endings) left off. As the mustachioed plumber, you’ll run, jump, and stomp your way through a series of open levels in search of some kind of McGuffin – in this case, Power Moons, the energy source needed to fuel up your siqqq airship The Odyssey. Mario’s movement is as tight and precise as ever, and Nintendo has introduced a handful of new jump mechanics to make traversing the environment even more pleasant. Even if you’ve never played a 3D Mario game in your life, the controls are so responsive and intuitive that you’ll be bounding over Bullet Bills in no time. Seasoned pros will likely find themselves attempting massive combo jumps off the skyscrapers in New Donk City for some serious distance. Whether you’re a neophyte or an old hand, just exploring the environment with Mario’s inherent skill set in any of the dozen or so kingdoms that comprise the levels in this game is a treat.
But it is the additional means of grappling with your environment where Super Mario Odyssey really starts to shine. Remember that living hat Cappy I mentioned earlier? Mario, for some reason the game (intelligently) never really tries to explain, can use Cappy to control the minds of other things. I say things because, while this power is mainly used to bring lowly Goombas and other enemies under your psychic thrall, you will periodically possess some really out there stuff. Like, a giant hunk of meat. Figuring out how to use these other creatures and objects, each of whom has its own unique skill set, to explore the environment and suss out even more Power Moons is where the true depth of this gaming experience lies. Need to glide over to an unreachable island beyond the poison swamp? Take over the body of a flying lizard! Need to infiltrate the sealed gates of Bowser’s Castle? Use that ninja bird to scale the wall! Need to smash through some boulders above a waterfall? Possess the soul of a got dang T-Rex and unleash your atavistic rage! Much like Zelda earlier this year, the fun of Super Mario Odyssey is rooted not in telling you what you can’t do, but in encouraging you to figure out what you can. If you ask yourself whether or not you can possess something, the answer is usually yes (even other humans), and finding the when and why and how of it all is a treat.
Thankfully, the game’s design rewards this type of experimentation and adventure. While the game certainly follows the collect-athon platforming ideas of its forebears, it differs from the N64’s golden era adventure titles in a few key ways. First, and most importantly, unlike Super Mario 64, Super Mario Odyssey does not eject you from a stage after you collect a Power Moon. Instead, you’re free to continue exploring every nook and cranny in each kingdom. It’s a minor touch, but it makes the pure joy of exploration both seamless and engaging; uncovering another of the game’s secret Power Moons feels more a reward for curiosity and exploration than a checklist on a task sheet. The game’s second smart design choice only bolsters this novelty. This game is LOADED with Power Moons – 999, in fact – and they can be acquired in all manner of ways. Some can be encountered just hidden under rocks or atop trees; others require you to pull off some particularly nasty timed platforming or solve some tricky riddles. Players are rewarded for actions, regardless of how great or small, and in turn the game keeps compelling you to look in just one more place or try one more thing. It’s amazing how natural it feels, and the game’s smart departure from the 1-Up based life system in favor of merely debiting your coin purse ten ducats every time you die ensures that you only pay a small price for trying something new and failing at it. Death and failure itself become just an organic part of the experimentation and adventure process, and players are encouraged to keep trying rather than punished for doing something outside the box.
If I had any complaint about the game, it would be the occasionally inconsistent tone. Super Mario Odyssey has some truly bonkers ideas and characters. It’s weird and jarring the first time you possess the mind of a realistically-rendered T-Rex (as I’ve said before, I refuse to acknowledge the sawftboy feathery dinos of modern paleontology; give me primordial leather daddy lizards or give me death). It’s weird the first time you bop up and down on the heads of other human beings. It’s weird the first time you verge between 2D and 3D, leaping onto and off walls like some retro shadow puppet. And it’s got dang weird when you fight a medieval dragon called The Lord of Lightning atop a crumbled gothic castle that seems inspired more by the Dark Souls games than anything in the Mario universe, but as this game assaults you with wild twists and unpredictable turns, all those odd little choices sort of gel into a cohesion of pure absurdity. And then you remember that your main accessory is a hat that can possess the souls of other sentient beings, rendering them so subservient to Mario’s will that they sprout little mustaches, and suddenly the anemic story and tonal inconsistency seem just expected attachments of a game that is fun on a pure, almost unhinged level.
In many ways, Super Mario Odyssey feels like a genuine love letter from Nintendo to its dedicated fanbase, to fans of late 90s platformers, and to video game lovers far and wide. The game is a spectacle, a wild ride full of nostalgic nods to past Mario titles and bizarre left-turns that will leave your jaw on the floor time and time again. In a year full of loot boxes, pricey 4K HDR graphics upgrades, and seemingly anti-player games-as-service design decisions, it’s wonderful to see that someone still cares about the reason we all started playing games as kids: they’re fun. Super Mario Odyssey is pure, unadulterated fun, and with dozens of hours of content with nary a microtransaction in sight, you’re guaranteed to keep having fun for the long, long haul.
5 out ov 5 Mustachioed T-Rexes
Super Mario Odyssey is available right now for the Nintendo Switch.