The reason it’s so difficult to convince the general public that climate change is real is that weather is continually simultaneously reliable and anomalous. It is cold in the winter. It is warm in the summer. There is never a year where this is not the case. But, if you stand downwind of anyone that has been in the same area for longer than about five years, get ready to hear the stories about when it was scorching on Christmas, or that time it snowed in May. These stories aren’t lies, because, yes, sometimes you get an “Indian Summer” or a “Kinda Racist Winter”, and, inevitably, this just leads to the thinking that everything is absolutely fine. So you have to wear your shorts in November? Phhht. It’s happened before! The record set in 1999 is for 76°! This doesn’t mean anything!
Mario has the same problem.
Now, before we go any further, I want to plainly state that I love Mario games. I love this Mario game. It is amazing! There are dinosaurs and mariachi bands and Mario made frogs cool again for the second time in my lifetime. Not only is Mario Odyssey good, it’s damn near flawless. As of this writing, I have collected a good couple six hundred or so power moons, and I have rescued Princess Peach from nefarious nuptials, so I’m pretty confident that, while jumping rope might be a bear, the actual minute-to-minute of this Mario adventure is top notch. In a year packed with absolutely stellar titles, this little plumber is staring in one of the best.
So why is my general feeling something like…. Underwhelming? Yes, that’s it. I am underwhelmed by Mario Odyssey.
Let’s look at those other “games of the year”. Persona 5 was probably the most traditional game on the list, but it was still the first time we saw the series on a modern console (or two), and you can’t say it wasn’t stylish as hell. Do you understand how much of the Persona 5 soundtrack has been playing in my head since April? NieR: Automata also wound up on that mental playlist, and those phat beats were somehow attached to a game that was not only fun to play, but also managed to question the very nature of humanity. Even “lesser” games, like Sonic Mania or Cuphead, managed to distill exactly what makes their respective genres excellent into a mouthwatering fruit, smoosh that conceptual fruit into a jam, and spread out those picture-perfect ideas into some of the best experiences available for modern consoles. And then there’s The Legend of Zelda: The Breath of the Wild.
It feels almost gauche to discuss this game again, but here we are. Some eight months ago, Nintendo released what might have been the most important game in a franchise that has been important for three decades. In short, in one sweeping motion, Nintendo threw out everything that made Zelda Zelda, yet, against all odds, created an experience that is Zelda in every conceivable way. I already put on my lab coat in an attempt to explain this phenomenon, but Breath of the Wild is unmistakably the end result of every Zelda that has ever been. It is also not Zelda at all, and a completely new experience from the absolute moment you realize Link has a dedicated and permanent jump button. Breath of the Wild doesn’t just stop at revolutionizing Zelda, though, as it rapidly becomes the best open world title this world has ever seen. See that hill over there? You can climb it. You can glide to it. You can buy a big fluffy sweater so you’re not cold when you get there. You can kill every errant fox between here and there with your enormous death horse (named Ganonhoof). Breath of the Wild is an amazing experience, and an experience that is completely unprecedented in all of gaming.
Mario Odyssey? Mario Odyssey is merely amazing.
And, let’s be clear, I’m not saying that carelessly. I started this article just after finishing the game, and, somehow, since then, I’ve collected about 400 more power moons, completed the darkest side of the moon, and happily followed a weird little skeleman in his taxi trips across the globe. I did this all with an enormous smile on my face, and never once complained about every time I had to possess a toad instead of a tyrannosaur. Mario Odyssey is fun from the depths of the ocean to all the way up to the top of the moon, and, give or take a few finicky flicking controls, it is an unequivocally perfect experience.
But, it’s a Mario game, so that’s expected.
This might be a controversial statement, but I’m willing to state that there has never been a bad Mario game. Ever. Mind you, that’s with the caveat that I’m exclusively talking about Mario-platformer games, as I’m pretty sure that one Mario baseball game was absolute garbage, and anything involving hotels is obviously not to be trusted. But when you look at the clear line from Super Mario Bros. to Super Mario Odyssey, you see a lot of phenomenal platformers along the way. And I know it’s dope and hip to claim that Mario Sunshine or Mario That One 3DS Game were not really good Mario games, but, come on. I’m not saying every Mario game has been perfect, but if you claim you could never have fun blasting a water gun around Delfino Plaza, well, congratulations on learning to read, you soulless demon from the depths of Hell. Has there ever been a flawed Mario game? Certainly. But have they all been fun, well-crafted adventures involving some of the most joyous movement options available? Double yes. When Mario is Mario, he is always good.
And I literally can’t think of another franchise that has ever done that so well and for so long. Zelda? Phantom Hourglass had some neat ideas, but its centerpiece dungeon was hateful. Metroid? Let’s be real, there has been one really amazing game starring Samus, and everything else has just been… Echoes. Every fighting game ever has at least one entry that could be best described as disappointing, and every new entry in a modern JRPG or shoot ‘em up franchise runs the risk of being really interesting and immersive or a lolicon underwear simulator. And that’s really what it comes down to: with so many franchises, you have no idea what you’re going to get. Sonic the Hedgehog is somehow simultaneously responsible for one of the best games I’ve played all year, and a title where the only plus is presenting offline access to Deviantart. Mario doesn’t ever run that risk. A new Mario platformer is always good, whether it be our first Gameboy outing or something with a few more dimensions.
And all those amazing Mario games? They’re all here in Mario Odyssey. Would we have the frequent 2-D sections without Mario Maker? Probably not. Would we have the “themed world” and personable companion without Sunshine? Seems like the clear source there. Would we have a Mario in a sombrero without Qix? Well, maybe… but still! From Galaxy’s amazing controls to 3-D Land’s musical notes to even something as established as Yoshi’s Island’s butt stomp, all of Mario has been wrapped up and stuck beneath an adorable top hat.
And that’s the problem.
(No, not the top hat.)
Take a look at this challenge stage:
And tell me it couldn’t be any other Mario game released in the last fifteen years. It could be a “FLUDD-less” area from Mario Sunshine. It could be a random planet from Mario Galaxy. It could easily be any given stage from 3D Land or 3D World. It’s great! It’s fun! But it’s also very, very familiar. This is not a case of redefining the very landscape of gaming like Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros 3, or Super Mario 64. Heck, even “lesser” entries did everything they could to explain why waggle could actually be fun (Galaxy) or 3-D is a perfectly good reason to make a new portable system (3D Land). Mario Odyssey is just kind of…. Really amazing.
And that’s why, while I absolutely adore this game, I still feel underwhelmed. This is Mario at its best… but the best is exactly what I expected. This is snow in the winter: it’s anticipated, and, what, you wanted a beach trip on Valentine’s Day? Those have happened before, right? I remember that one really warm February back in the Winter of ’17… Can’t we have that again? Can’t it not only be flawless, but also revolutionary? Is that asking too much?
Mario Odyssey: One of the best games I’ve played this year… but I expected more.
FGC #350 Super Mario Odyssey
- System: Nintendo Switch. I believe this is the first game that I’ve reviewed for the site that is exclusively for the Switch. Yes, Breath of the Wild was for WiiU, too! Never forget!
- Number of players: Technically two, but only because that’s the only way to beat volleyball.
- Favorite Kingdom: Sand Kingdom, bar none. I’m not certain if it’s been mentioned before (I really need to reread some of these articles sometime), but I am a sucker for Dia de los Muertos aesthetics. While I generally hate deserts, I love mariachi skeletons. And when one skeleman decides to take a cab ride around the world? I think he’s my new hero.
- Favorite Capture: Actually, I think the capture mechanic summarizes this game perfectly: it’s always fun, but it’s exactly what you expect. T-Rex wrecks up the place, glider dino glides, and a piranha plant just hurls the contents of its non-existent stomach. That said, the humble goomba is my favorite capture, as it offers a clear powerup (better traction), but the additional fun of goomba stacking to satisfy a horny girl-goomba. I just want Mario to go that extra mile (to please goombas).
- Switch it up: Okay, it’s subtle, but Mario Odyssey does its best to sell the features of the Switch… exclusively to me. I’ve spoken before about how my ideal game is one that is “widescreen” for the big dramatic moments, but then I can futz around in the postgame while watching TV or something. Mario Odyssey’s huge postgame is built for this, and, it seems like introductions to the kingdoms are meant to be docked, while postgame “100 random moons” are intended for less laborious portable play. The Switch was made for that kind of dichotomy! Just… doesn’t exactly come off as revolutionary.
- Gooey: Oh, can we please get an option to disable the on-screen tutorial for every power and climbing pole? Look, I’ve been playing the absolute final level for the last hour, I don’t need a reminder to press B to jump every time I possess a lava ball and stand still for two seconds.
- I’m just disappointed: The Rabbit Wedding Planners are a wonderful concept, but I’m dissatisfied with their work. I don’t mind that they stole every valuable item from every kingdom they could find, but they arranged for Bowser’s chapel to be like two blocks down from their home. For professionals, that’s just egotistical and lazy.
- Just play the gig man: I do not understand why this game has ambient effects for some areas, and bombastic, amazing big band music for others. It makes perfect sense for some of the “set piece” areas (like New Donk City in the rain), but why the pastoral post-game kingdom is completely silent is anybody’s guess. Hey, at least you can cue up Jump Up Superstar at any time from the pause menu.
- Did you know? Assuming you disregard the opening “prologue” kingdom, our first world is grass land, the second is desert, the potential third is under the sea, number five is a brief visit to the sky, and you’ve got the ice and lava stages shortly thereafter. Mario is a man of tradition.
- Would I play again: I technically haven’t stopped playing this one yet. It might not be revolutionary, but it is a damn lot of fun, and it’s unlikely to leave my Switch for a good, long while.
What’s next? I’m taking a break. I’ve got a couple of random projects I’ve been ignoring because “oh I have to get the next FGC article done”, and I need a week to not have that excuse. Doesn’t mean there won’t be some content next week (there certainly will), but at least I don’t have to beat a Mario game to get it up. … Probably could have phrased that better. So FGC officially resumes on 11/20, and, in the meanwhile… well, I’ll try to find something to post during the week. Oh, and when we get back, we’ve got Kirby and the Crystal Shards on deck. Please look forward to it!