[Game Review] Super Mario Odyssey: The New Gold Standard for 3D Marios

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The mainline 3D Marios are, for me, the pinnacle of gaming quality. They’re the games I still buy consoles for. Nintendo first party titles in general are always polished to a high shine, but they had a hard act to follow with Galaxy 2 (Let us never discuss 3D World).

Boy did they ever, though. This is exactly what I had in mind when I imagined what a truly next gen 3D Mario would be like, only to be disappointed by the sterile, “New Super Mario World” style of 3D World. Nintendo has made everything right with Odyssey though, I will be putting my Reggie shrine back up.

There are 17 worlds in total after you unlock a few postgame bonus worlds. There’s a lot of postgame content. I would say there’s more postgame content in Odyssey than there is between the start of the game and fighting Bowser for the last time. The term “replay value” almost doesn’t apply here because of how long it’ll take you to get all 999 Power Moons.

What impresses me most is how many of the gameplay mechanics from prior mainline 3D Marios they’ve brought back, albeit as minor elements rather than major focuses of the game. Sunshine’s goop that you can clean up is back, but only in select areas.

Members of the Toad Bridage wait in hiding to give you Power Moons, as they did in 3D World. An enemy type who spits water allows you to rocket-skim across the surface of the ocean, as squids did in Sunshine.

The abstract pure platforming levels from Sunshine have returned as well, and there are even turnips Mario can pluck from the ground and throw, as in Super Mario Bros 2. These callbacks feel much more naturally integrated into levels than the SMB3 nostalgia bait seen in 3D World, imo.

Beyond that, so much of it is brand new to the Mario series. It’s wildly invigorating to see so much new stuff tried in one title. I wasn’t feeling the semi-realistic style at first but there’s really nowhere left to go as graphics continue to improve, and the proportions/style remains cartoony, just more gritty and detailed.

Mario’s moveset is also larger than ever. Rolling into a ball replaces belly sliding from 64 and Sunshine, but you can still dive from mid-air. The new moves made possible by Cappy, Mario’s talking hat (who is mercifully much less talkative and annoying than F.L.U.D.D. was) will surely open up all kinds of possibilities for speedrunners.

Power Moons are hidden more liberally than Power Stars or Shines were in 64/Sunshine. Some of the early ones are just sitting out waiting to be found, or hidden in a lump of dirt you must buttstomp. But these easy pickings will seem like cruel mockery once you’ve scooped up 600+ and are scavenging for the last 300 or so.

Travel and tourism are the game’s central themes. It seems like the team said to themselves “What makes traveling to different countries so fun? How do we capture the essence of that in videogame form?” Indeed everywhere you go, you can buy clothing to suit the environment and a variety of souveniers for the interior of your hat shaped airship.

Not ever locale is based on an actual location on Earth however. Some, like the Wooded Kingdom which blends rusty iron industrial structures with leafy green overgrowth seem taken straight out of a dream.

The most realistic location, New Donk City, generated a lot of negative buzz when clips were first shown because of how Mario’s cartoony style clashed with the NPCs in the city who are of realistic proportions.

…Only for New Donk City to be perhaps the most shockingly fresh and fun section of the game, in particular the opening section (some levels have a dramatic intro that differs from what the level is usually like) and the musical festival you can later participate in. Easily the most memorable part for me.

The usual suspects have also criticized the game for cultural appropriation, referring to how Mario dons the local garb wherever he goes. What happened to “When in Rome”?

Mexican journalists fired back that the depictions of their culture in Mario Odyssey were neon and exaggerated but in no way demeaning, and invited the critics to find something better to do with their time than be professionally offended on behalf of strangers.

All in all this is easily the new gold standard of 3D Marios. Nintendo had to knock it out of the park with this one to rebuild good will and reinforce confidence in the Switch, and they did it. Switch now has both the best Zelda and the best Mario of all time, which leaves me to wonder what Metroid Prime 4 has in store for us.

I give Super Mario Odyssey a rare 10/10. Gaming doesn’t get any better than this, folks. Titles like this one are why Nintendo is the Pixar of videogames.

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