As much as I love Super Mario 64, there is a 3D platformer from the 64 era that I hold in greater esteem. Blasphemy! You say? Well perhaps, but in my humble opinion, Rare’s Banjo Kazooie was the best platformer of its respective generation. An open level design, witty writing, unfailingly charming and dense with rewards – Banjo Kazooie adventure was more forward thinking in design than the fame mustache hero’s. Unfortunately my beloved duo has fallen into the realm of irrelevance – while – Mario has reinvented himself time after time. Galaxy is a masterclass of level design, packed to the brim with clever ideas and gameplay systems, it’s close to perfection that a game can achieve. 3D world eloquently meshed classical platforming sensibilities into a 3D space. Each title is sublime in their own right. However, despite its grandiose, 3D Mario has yet to capture the magic of the original Banjo Kazooie, that is until now. Super Mario Odyssey encapsulates everything I loved about Banjo Kazooie. The sandbox design, the charm and wit and the richly rewarding gameplay – Mario Odyssey is a throwback to the classical collect-a-thons of the nineties but with modern sensibilities of game design. It is simply amazing and I’m here to tell you why.
Unsurprisingly, Princess Peach has once again been kidnapped by the obsessed Bowser. Creepily, Bowser intends to take things a little further, by taking her hand in marriage to spend the rest of their lives together. And once again it falls upon Mario to save the day. The story is a throwaway and only serves to provide context to the game, however I really enjoyed the writing the story this time around. It is a lot more clever and filled with more humor than the typical 3D Mario games. It’s more akin to the humor of the Paper Mario series. There are moments within the story that made myself laugh out loud with pure delight and joy. The playfulness and lightheartedness of the story elements compliments the setting of the world designs and the absurdity of the major set-pieces.
Super Mario Odyssey returns to the sandbox style level design of Super Mario 64, however, the game no longer takes you out of the level when finding a Moon (this game equivalent to Stars). In this respect, Odyssey shares more similarities with Banjo Kazooie than 64. You are free to explore and discover the games kingdoms level with little to no limitations and there are no structural hurdles that break you away from the action. What’s most impressive about Super Mario Odyssey is how richly dense each Kingdom is with Moons and other nifty collectibles. It seems there is always a Moon around the corner, and with some dexterity I often discovered new surprises even after repeat visits. The game compels you to explore and discover, and it constantly rewards your efforts. It is sprawling with over 800 moons, and any fears that the game will be repetitive or stale is unfounded. Each level is dense but not saturated as to not to devalue the Moons, and the variety of objectives and gameplay was able to maintain my engagement. The designers back at Nintendo should be commended to the care and craft taken to balance the entire experience.
Super Mario Odyssey throws a combination of gameplay styles for the player to enjoy. There’s something for every Mario player. Are you a fan of 2D platforming? Odyssey has plenty of 8 bit 2D platforming sections. Perhaps you enjoy the more linear platforming obstacles of Galaxy? Odyssey has you covered. I think Odyssey ultimate succeed in throwing the player a variety of gameplay styles and mechanics into a coherent experience. Repetition never sets in and predictability is nowhere to be found. As a result the game keeps payers constantly on their toes and constantly surprises with the rewards and fun to be found.
Where Odyssey distinguishes itself from previous 3D Mario titles is Cappy. Cappy serves as a substitution to traditional Power-ups seen in previous Mario titles. Instead of picking up power-ups, Mario can throw Cappy into enemies and possess their bodies. Each possessions offer a unique ability and traits that ultimate provides variety to the standard gameplay systems that Mario offers on his own. Take for example, Lava Bubble allows for safe traversal throw a large river of hot magma. Pokio extends it’s beak to pierce walls and fling itself upwards. There are a number of capture that will bring a smile to your face and having you say “wow.” I love how Nintendo provides one or two new capture enemies in every new level. I found myself looking forward to what I can capture in the next level and what new twists they provide to the gameplay experience.
Super Mario Odyssey is exceptional in almost every regard. It is, however, not without it’s faults. Perhaps the most glaring issue is the difficulty. Odyssey is a relatively easy game, especially in comparison to previous Mario titles. While the title does offer a number of tricky challenges along the journey, it is for the most part a very easy game. It would be fair to say Mario fans and adept players alike will breeze through the game without any problems. If you are looking for the typical Mario-level of challenge in Odyssey, you will be disappointed. There are difficult sections, but the challenge doesn’t present itself often enough. Furthermore, the trademark bosses of Mario are few and far between. The bosses in Odyssey are fantastic don’t get me wrong. They are fierce, well designed and are an absolute blast to fight against. They are so good, I just wanted more of them to fight and I wish there was more.
It is clear that I absolutely love Super Mario Odyssey. Every inch of the game is made to put a smile on the player. It is a game that is pure in intent and put’s fun and the player experience above anything else. It is a game that is so difficult to put down and you will be consistently be telling yourself “let me find one more moon.” It is a game that will be instilled into your memory for many years to come. Odyssey is without a doubt the best game on the Switch, only behind the masterpiece that is Breath of the Wild. If you own a Switch, you owe yourself to play this game.
Images courtesy of Nintendo