2020 marked Mario’s 35th anniversary jumping across our television screens and Nintendo blessed us with a collection of his first three ventures into the 3rd dimension with Super Mario 3D All-Stars. Not without controversy, 3D All-Stars offered the opportunity to play through some of Mario’s classic adventures which I haven’t booted up since I was a little kid. It was so much fun basking in the sun of Isle Delfino and long jumping across the fields of Bob-Omb Battlefield. There was a lot to enjoy from the difficult platforming sections to the hidden secrets but I couldn’t help but compare them to Mario’s latest adventure in the 3rd dimension, Mario Odyssey.
Mario Odyssey launched in 2017 and at the time it reminded me why I like 3D platformers. The game is simple: travel to different worlds collecting moons and coins, defeat a boss, and work your way to stopping Bowser from marrying Peach. It’s all very straight forward and reminiscent of the Mario brand but the abundance of collectibles and areas to explore are addictive to my salamander sized brain. The core gameplay loop of finding collectibles in a giant world like it’s one big Easter egg hunt has always struck a chord with me. You’re gonna tell me that I need to find 999 moons and each one will either test my willingness to explore every nook and cranny of the world or perfecting a particular series of jumps? I’m all in.
Jump man doing what he does best
Mario has all his traditional moves that he is known for like his long jump, ground pound, and backflip. However, this time he is joined by a new pal, Cappy. Cappy is a tiny shape shifting hat that can take the appearance of any headwear and be worn by Mario. His girlfriend was abducted alongside Peach so Cappy and Mario are teaming up and with their powers combined they have some of the best acrobatics in Mario’s history so far.
Mario has never felt so fluid in his movements and Cappy’s addition to the traditional sandbox allows Mario to have a much more varied move set than ever before. You can throw Cappy and perform death defying saves or true leaps of faith as you soar across the Metro Kingdom with nothing but your overalls and a hat to cushion your fall. The additional skills makes Mario Odyssey one of the more accessible Mario platformers for speedrunners but in the same breath can make many of the platforming challenges too easy. For instance, there are several moons you can completely circumvent the platforming section if you know where they are before hand.
Cappy’s biggest gameplay addition would arguably be his transformation ability where he can chuck Mario’s consciousness into different creatures in Odyssey’s Kingdoms. I remember having a lot of fun trying out which creatures were applicable with this ability and there are some great standouts like the lava bubble, cheep cheep, and of course the T-rex. The different transformations help to give the gameplay a nice shakeup in every kingdom as Mario gains access to different modes of travel or interactions with his environment. Even now, I love swimming along as the Lava Bubble in the Luncheon Kingdom like I am a tiny aquatic mammal in search of his next big adventure.
It’s these gameplay variations that really help Mario Odyssey set itself apart, not only from its previous entries but also from its competitors. Odyssey offers up large explorable worlds that have a lot of things to discover and the additional gameplay mechanics are what helps to make these worlds feel so worth exploring.
A blue overalled Odysseus
Mario’s odyssey takes him through 20 different kingdoms in his journey to stop Bowser and Peach’s wedding. Each Kingdom has a distinct feel and personality to it even more so than Mario’s past adventures. Sunshine came close to offering levels that felt like lived in worlds but the issue with Isle Delfino’s worlds were they could be tough to distinguish between as they were all tropical paradise themed. In Odyssey, there is little chance you are going to mix up the Luncheon Kingdom and the Wooded Kingdom as not only does the setting change but the art style can have alterations as well. Nothing seems to have been left off the table in terms of creativity. There is a real looking city with ads for the original Donky Kong game and a fantasy castle where you can fight a dragon in a samurai costume. The easy distinction between the kingdoms makes them so much more memorable even when they might not have the most depth to them beyond what the mainline story requires of them.
Mario Odyssey’s kingdoms hit some dizzying highs with Luncheon Kingdom, Wooded Kingdom, and the Metro Kingdom. I loved cooking with the fork people of the Luncheon Kingdom and exploring the tree tops in the Wooded Kingdom. These worlds offer so much personality and hidden secrets to discover along the way but nothing tops the Metro Kingdom in terms of scale. The kingdom that never sleeps has some of the best set pieces in the game with the dark rainy introduction of the city all the way to Mayor Paulina’s concert celebration at the end of the kingdom’s objective.
When Mario first arrives in the rain washed streets of the Metro Kingdom it is completely dominated by the Mechawiggler who apparently can control the sun and weather. This part of the level offers a nice diversion from the normally sunny smiles of the past kingdoms and if you don’t like this section at all, it’s over fairly quickly in the grand scheme of the game. Metro Kingdom tops this with its concert though. Mario has to put a band together and then jump through a unique 2D section of the kingdom while the Mayor and friends sing one of the biggest bops in the game, “Jump Up, Super Star.”
This is the moment that I hold most precious in my little salamander brain. Something in this song just makes me happy. The gameplay is simple 2D Mario antics with the Metro Kingdom in the background but the overall presentation is what makes me smile every time. Mario should implement more music theater into his games and show off some more of those moves.
I could totally get behind levels that were designed around their soundtracks. I’m thinking something like Rayman Legends’ platforming levels that synced up to the music as you raced through the level. It would not only help to create more diverse levels but they could offer additional challenges that forced players to stick to the beat to avoid danger. If Nintendo could pull the same thing off but in 3D, I think it could be something really amazing. Even if they couldn’t manage it in 3D, Nintendo has the 2D sections which are just begging to be expanded upon.
Even Odysseus struggled
I love Odyssey and there is no way around that but this is my 4th time playing through the game since it released and I admittedly have started to accumulate some complaints. I have collected all the moons twice already and even with the year or so break I took since the last time I really played Odyssey, I could remember most of them without any issues. Now this wouldn’t be a problem if like Mario Sunshine these moons were difficult to collect but they aren’t. I would say two maybe three of the moons can be challenging out of the 999 total moons you can collect.
Originally, this lack of difficulty didn’t bother me because I enjoyed the exploration but if I already know the secrets then there isn’t much left for me to do. It’s only a matter of time before I collect everything. For instance, compare Odyssey to Mario Sunshine where there are legendary shine sprites that people dread getting in their completion runs like the lily pad ride or the pachinko machine. Those shines felt like events that the player had to mentally prepare themselves for. Odyssey really doesn’t have that.
Instead, there is just the tedium of running around all the worlds collecting the hundreds of moons which is great fun the first couple of times but wears on repeat playthroughs. Plus, there are repeat moons that appear in every kingdom. Moons that require you buy them, answer a trivia question, play eye spy, and even dress up to get the reward. The repeat moons are never a challenge but they appear in every world as a box to be checked off as you play. I wish they had offered more variety with even these moons and made them more difficult as the game progressed.
There are also some kingdoms that don’t match the same caliber as the Metro Kingdom and Wooded Kingdoms too. I recognize that some of the kingdoms are filler like the Cloud Kingdom but others like the Lake or Lost Kingdoms feel like missed opportunities to do something more. They aren’t bad kingdoms but they don’t reach the same level of greatness as some of the other kingdoms. The Lake Kingdom is a small area with a slow going underwater tunnel section to get to the underwater palace. It’s fun to use the cheep cheeps for the first time but you can’t help comparing Lake Kingdom to the Seaside Kingdom which does everything so much better.
The diversity between the worlds can directly correlate with their specific challenges too. For instance, the lake kingdom doesn’t have a unique boss battle but one of the recycled rabbit battles that occur regularly throughout the game. The Seaside Kingdom on the other hand has its own unique boss that requires Mario to perform a series of challenges before he can even face off against the royal octopus. Once the big baddy gets in the ring with you, Mario has to use one of the kingdom’s unique transformations to defeat the octopus. That is how you make a boss that is unique for an area. The recycled rabbit bosses can really wear on your especially since they don’t offer much of a challenge.
Let me be clear, all the bosses are easy to defeat but the rabbits are especially easy and they don’t even have any relationship to the kingdom’s that you fight them in. Even if the special kingdom bosses are easy to defeat, they are memorable and an additional set piece related to that kingdom. The Mechawiggler, Ruined Dragon, Cookatiel all feel like real bosses because you are learning more about that kingdom through them. Maybe in Mario’s second odyssey we will see a larger scale of challenges being presented to the player.
A round trip home
Mario Odyssey is a true celebration of all the Mario’s history with references to his other games with the 2D platforming sections and the reimagined Mushroom Kingdom. In fact, it’s the recreation of the Mushroom Kingdom that best shows how Mario has evolved over the years. The kingdom highlights a lot of classic features from Mario 64 like hidden stars and painting warp portals but now with Odyssey’s upgrades you can reflect on how much more streamlined the gameplay has become.
I had completely forgotten how frustrating Mario 64 and Sunshine were back in the day. The moment you grabbed a star or shine you would be kicked out of the level and would have to traverse the entire thing again. The same thing happened if you died. It could become a really tedious experience but Mario Odyssey does away with all of that and allows you to go on a moon shopping spree. If you know the locations, you can hop around each kindgom in quick succession picking them all up. It can be really satisfying and saves the player a lot of time in loading worlds.
Mario Odyssey is the most streamlined and accessible Mario to release yet. It offers first time players many fantastically charming worlds to explore and Mario’s most diverse move set to date. That move set though does make the game a little too easy at times especially when coupled by the lack of challenging platforming sections.
I wish I could play through Odyssey for the first time again. Finding all the moons can be a lot of fun but just like an Easter egg hunt if you know where the eggs are the fun just turns into work.