Review: Super Mario Odyssey (Switch)

Mario’s first game on Nintendo’s Switch. An “open-world” adventure, harking back to Super Mario 64’s multiple goals per level. TRIGGER WARNING: This is not a whitewash. I give my honest opinions, no-one has paid me to overlook the game’s shortcomings, and nor do I feel the fanboi well up inside me when I think bad things about it. If you feel you might be offended by having your worldview crushed, look away.

It’s been a while now, three weeks, since Odyssey came out, and I’ve played a good amount of it in this time. Like everyone else, I was quite excited to play this new Mario game. I’ve enjoyed just about every entry in the series, with the recent Super Mario 3D World and 3D Land being highlights of the guy’s exemplary career, and the two Galaxy games before them being my favourites of the whole series.

Unfortunately I was left a little unsatisfied, and I’ll try to explain why – with some bullet points to make it easier for you.

  • “Forced” motion controls. OK, so you can beat the game with a minimum of Joycon wiggles, but some important moves are only possible by various shakes of the controller. This is almost forgivable unless you are using the system in its ever-popular handheld mode, when you will have to shake the whole console, losing sight of the screen in the process.
  • The large levels are quite empty. This feeling stuck with me throughout the first few levels, the first half of the game really. Right up to New Donk City there just wasn’t much going on in each stage, with few enemies and little challenge to block progression. Any environment puzzles were easy to overcome. I felt the same way about Breath of the Wild (except that game’s enemies often presented substantial challenge, particularly in the early stages of the game.
  • There is little to no challenge. Of course we’ve all heard by now that there is no Game Over screen in the game. This isn’t a problem, any Game Over screen in the last 20 years simply means continuing from your last checkpoint as if you have infinite lives anyway. This isn’t the problem. What is a problem is that it’s very seldom you even die. There are so few obstacles to progression that you will rarely struggle through a level. With lack of challenge comes lack of reward. The whole thing starts to feel like a slog; I often felt like I had to get through a stage, through the game, without really feeling compelled to do so.
  • The bosses are recycled over and over. This is inexcusable, given the wealth of boss characters in Mario’s universe. The annoying Rabbid wannabes, the Broodals, repeatedly return to slow down progress with the same attack patterns and requiring the same strategy for defeat. Some stage bosses show a greater sense of effort in their design, and some great humour is found in them. How about taking over an ice boss’s hand and flying it straight at his nose to teach him a lesson? Awesome. But these moments are scattered far and wide, with too many Broodal fights in between the fun times.
  • Costumes are pointless. Coins come in two flavours – standard gold coins, and special purple coins. The purple ones are unique to each stage and all must be found to 100% the game. Shops exist in each world that allow you to buy costumes and decorations for your space ship – some are purchase with gold, some with purple coins. The costumes mostly add nothing to the game, besides each world having a door that can only be opened when you don that world’s special costume.
  • The game is too short. This of course depends on how you define “the game” but the main story can be done in a few short, easy hours. Which leads into the next point:
  • The game is too long. Once you defeat Bowser and free the idiot Princess Peach just before their marriage is consummated, you unlock the postgame. A total of 500 moons are now available for you to find. Moons are the items you receive for completing stages, completing stages, or sometimes just by stumbling upon them by accident – equivalent to Power Stars in other Mario games. 500 of them. Less the ones you found to progress to bowser, you’ll still have around 250-300 left to get, for no reason. There are new zones to be unlocked with enough Moons, including Dark Side which takes you to Pink Floyd’s home on the other side of the moon for a boss rush. That’s right, you can fight the fucking Broodals AGAIN.

So, unless I think of some more and come back to edit this post, these are the main points that make this a less-than-perfect game for me. I started with the negatives because I felt there needed to be some balance for the blind praise heaped on the game (game of the year? fuck off), however there are of course things I enjoyed, and to bring balance to this review, here’s another list of the good things!

  • The platforming is, for the most point very enjoyable. Jumping around to shouts of “wahoo!” is hardly going to be dull in and of itself, is it!? Mario controls very smoothly, as you’d expect. Ignoring the motion controls mentioned about, Mario remains the pinnacle of 3D game controls.
  • Nintendo’s inventiveness shines at times. Besides the boring first half, the game has plenty of fun little nods and winks at the past. Some pipes take you into the wall (a la The Legend of Zelda A Link Between Worlds), reverting Mario to his Super Mario Bros self and tasking you with some fun 2D platforming sections. These are not as inventive or challenging as similar sections in Super Mario Galaxy (such is the theme here) but are a fun look back in a modern setting. Later in the game you may find yourself in a familiar zone from a game that this one tries, and fails, to follow, with graphical flourishes to add to the nostalgia. The use of Cappy as part of the platforming feels extraneous, but his use in possessing creatures is a great central mechanic to this game. It’s just a shame that the possession of a T-Rex is so short-lived and ultimately pointless.
  • Presentation is, by and large, great. Of course the game looks great. Nintendo know how to create a beautiful cartoon world, regardless of the hardware. The music, too, is wonderful, adding to the atmosphere of fun that permeates each area.

That’s about it. My thoughts on Super Mario Odyssey. It doesn’t follow the “script” and for that you’ll just have to forgive me. What about you? What are your thoughts on this game? What are your thoughts on my thoughts?

Thanks for reading.

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