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Since his humble beginnings in the original Donkey Kong game, Mario has come a long way especially with the release of Mario Odyssey. From jumping over barrels to consuming growth enhancing mushrooms, it’s safe to say that very few people have never experienced a Mario game.
When Mario 64 was released on the Nintendo 64, it was the plumber’s first foray into a three-dimensional world. It gave the series a much needed expansion where it went from simply chasing a captured princess to battling through expansive levels all while discovering new ways to accomplish tasks. With the Nintendo 64 came other iconic titles that introduced previous characters like Link and Donkey Kong to a vibrant 3D world, making sure that the iconic console went down in the annals of history.
Since then, Mario has had plenty of outings across both 3D and 2D worlds as well as trying his hand at a wide array of sports. While games like Mario Galaxy, Mario Kart, Mario Party and even Mario Golf received well-deserved praise, Mario 64 is the last game that the plumber really broke substantial ground with. It was a game that didn’t rely on gimmicky power-ups, or learning new skills, but instead gave you a series of increasingly difficult environments to trawl through that assured you improved your skills before the really intense levels came to the fore. It was a way to assure that seasoned gamers and newbies alike were enjoying themselves and it was something that no Mario game after had managed to the same extent. Or at least, that was the case until Mario Odyssey was released.
Mario Odyssey is a game that is so quintessentially Nintendo that it’s impossible not to enjoy. It’s quirky, it’s inventive and it was a well-needed injection of innovation into a series that sometimes felt like it was becoming a little bit stagnant. From the second you’re acquainted with Cappy at the start of Odyssey, there’s something overwhelming likable about the strange cap. He allows you to possess enemies and some inanimate objects, and facilitates the hallucinatory journey that Odyssey is adamant on taking you on.
While the premise of rescuing Princess Peach is much the same, how it is executed is completely different. With Cappy, you can possess pretty much any enemy that comes your way and gain its skills and traits. This ranges from becoming a tank to becoming a Goomba, which in turn lets you become an entire stack of Goomba. This can be used to reach high areas, hit previously inaccessible blocks and even get yourself a cool Goomba girlfriend. No, really.
Other 3D Mario platformers were impressive in their own right but so many were wrought with problems that made some elements unplayable in certain ways and added fuel to the frustration fire. For example, the camera issues in Mario Sunshine along with the add-ons for F.L.U.D.D being lacklustre at times are things that are still complained about today.
While Mario Odyssey isn’t perfect, what is does do well is execute new elements seamlessly and create a story that is genuinely entertaining for just about anybody. In an age where gamers want everything quickly and also expect perfection, it’s nice to see Nintendo bide their time and assure that their Day One product lacks the problems that so many anticipated titles end up with. We’re looking at you, No Man’s Sky.
For a young gamer getting a Nintendo Switch for Christmas, the story will be challenging but not overwhelmingly so. The game’s collectible Moons are not hard to happen across, and even at times where you’re stumped, getting one from ground pounding a suspicious looking crack in the ground is the instant gratification that makes you feel better even if you haven’t accomplished the bigger tasks. Much of the game is like that but while the story isn’t overly tough if you’re familiar with platformers, the sheer amount of collectible outfits, time trials and moons to acquire provides an almost endless selection of things to spend your time doing. But it also doesn’t make you do it just for the sake of it – new outfits get you to new areas and collecting Moons can give your ship the energy to access post-game levels that were previously impossible to get to. Not to mention the strangely enjoyable mini games that are interspersed throughout the game, where your score can be compared with people all over the world through the global leader boards.
It’s rare that a game comes along where there are so many more positives about it than negatives, even from an entirely objective standpoint. Unlike other platformers that end up being the same level re-skinned and areas that you need certain items for, Odyssey gives you all the weapons in your arsenal from the start. The versatility of Cappy combined with the simplicity of run of the mill jumping mechanics is something that is utilised flawlessly in Odyssey and provide you with a multitude of ways to accomplish your tasks.
While Mario 64 brought the idea of a 3D Mario game to life, Odyssey has come close to perfecting it. It’s fresh and inventive and bar a few qualms with motion controls, it’s hard to find a real negative that doesn’t just derive from personal preference. Worlds like New Donk City are an interesting portrayal of our own world, a level on the moon throws a fun anti-gravitational element into the mix and the dialogue throughout the game is genuinely hilarious at times.
Ultimately, Mario Odyssey is the type of game you could hand to just about anybody to enjoy. The controls are easy to use but hard to master, the story won’t trouble you too much to complete but a full completion will take you countless hours. It is a game that is testament to Nintendo’s ability to innovate and encapsulate just what video games should be all about.