Nintendo’s latest instant classic, Super Mario Odyssey, arrived late last month on the Switch, marking Mario’s first full-fledged adventure since 2013’s Super Mario 3D World. Below, Achievement Oriented hosts and lifelong Nintendo devotees Ben Lindbergh and Jason Concepcion discuss their impressions after completing the ex-plumber’s triumphant return (which took them much more than a single sitting).
Ben Lindbergh: Jason, I “finished” Super Mario Odyssey 10 days ago, but despite a subsequent detour or two into other holiday titles, I haven’t stopped playing. I have hundreds of Power Moons (Odyssey’s primary collectible item, akin to the Power Stars or Shine Sprites of previous 3-D Mario releases), but my thirst for the rest is so strong that I’ve stooped to buying them 10 at a time from the store just to quiet the cravings. A store-bought methadone Moon doesn’t deliver the same satisfaction as one that’s earned by completing a puzzle or platforming sequence, but Odyssey’s 16 kingdoms are still stuffed with the latter type even after the dozens of hours I’ve spent searching for them. Although Odyssey lacks the massive scope of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the other Nintendo tentpole with which it’s tied atop the 2017 Metacritic rankings (side note: Nintendo has been Reaganing ever since the Switch came out in March), it’s equally adept at producing the sense that there’s always something worth seeing that’s just out of sight.
Let me backflip a bit: Odyssey is the 18th game (and seventh original 3-D entry) in the Super Mario series, and the first 3-D sandbox-style installment since 2002’s Super Mario Sunshine. That means that rather than sprinting and hopping through linear levels that test your timing, memory, and pattern recognition, you’ll be paying visits to a series of sprawling kingdoms, each of which contains a set number of Power Moons that must be assembled in order to upgrade Mario’s eponymous airship for the trip to his next destination. Unlike previous 3-D Mario games, Odyssey doesn’t kick the player back to a central starting point upon obtaining a Moon. Instead, Moons are littered throughout levels that the player can roam freely, which shifts the emphasis from timed challenges to open-ended exploration. The absence of countdown clocks in most of the maps, coupled with a forgiving difficulty curve (instead of subtracting limited lives, deaths cost only coins, which are plentiful), makes this a much more leisurely experience than most Mario titles.
As always, Mario is trying to rescue Princess Peach, who’s been abducted by Bowser in a manner that seems even ickier than usual given the harassment stories that have dominated the public discourse in the weeks before and after Odyssey’s arrival. Although the endgame redeems the regressive Peach part of the story to a certain extent, Odyssey’s main claim to innovation comes from a capture ability granted by a sentient cap not-so-creatively called Cappy, who’s also pursuing a kidnapped counterpart. Tossing Cappy at selected objects and creatures allows Mario to take control of them, granting him powers he lacks while he’s just in his usual overalls. (It’s best not to think about what happens to the minds that Cappy possesses.) Neither the capture mechanic nor the revamped mission structure makes Odyssey as drastic an overhaul of its franchise’s formula as Breath of the Wild was, but it’s new enough for me. I’m not sure Mario needed a shake-up the way Zelda did.