Mario Odyssey: Embarking into newfound territory

 

I’ve never been a fan of Mario games. Their traditionally linear structure and one-dimensional platforming has never appealed to me, and while the 3D Mario games offered some interesting mechanics, the games still felt flat. Along with Mario Galaxy came a completely new style of Mario, one where exploration was encouraged within a looser 3D platforming experience and the traditional quick fun Mario tropes of the past made way for a more satisfying experience.

Mario Odyssey is the impressive yield of Nintendo’s efforts to create a Mario that allows for plenty of exploration while still maintaining a cohesive story. While Mario games have never been focused on catharsis or real drama, the journey to again save Princess Peach from the evil Bowser is as endearing as it is simple. In Mario Odyssey, however, Bowser kidnaps Peach and undertakes preparations for their wedding.

Visiting several kingdoms to restore the sacred heirlooms that Bowser stole to adorn the ceremony, Mario finds himself working with Cappy, a living hat that can be thrown at enemies and objects to possess them. This opens the door to tons of fun interactions, like controlling enemies with bizarre abilities such as the quick yet tough-to-steer bullet bills or the power lines and traffic cones meant to quickly get you around. Cappy changes the way you play by not just possessing enemies, but by offering powerful attacks and doubling as a trampoline any time you need it.

However, these complicated hat maneuvers require you to use motion controls.

With the joy-cons (the on-console controllers) separated from the console, gestures like flicking your hat up, down or in a circle can be somewhat inconsistent. If you choose to use the pro-controller or the switch in handheld mode, flicking up and to the side for special Cappy moves is really awkward and makes me feel like I am going to drop the console or accidentally throw my controller. I strongly dislike using separated joy-cons for basically every game on the switch, but unless you are willing to completely lose your downward throw the pro controller isn’t an option.

Despite the somewhat inconsistent gestures, the world is an absolute joy to explore. Coming off of Zelda Breath of the Wild, I was surprised to see just how much effort went into making exploration interesting and challenging. Power moons, a type of fuel used to power your ship to the next kingdom, are hidden everywhere in each kingdom, and the story driven portion of each world is relatively short. I was surprised to see just how many little puzzles were hidden in the world, and these moons were one of the better collectibles in a game that I’ve seen in quite a while.

While some of the motion controls are rough around the edges, Mario Odyssey’s excellent design and interesting mechanics will surely pit it against Zelda, Breath of the Wild in the fight for game of the year.

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