The Odyssey Continues

One good thing that’s happened during this time of social isolation is the luxury of a wildly unbalanced videogame-to-real-life ratio. In the past two weeks, since the last issue where I discussed my burgeoning romance with Mario Odyssey, I have played one game: Mario Odyssey.

I admit, when I wrote the first article, I was in the honeymoon phase. And guess what. I still am! Somehow, no matter how much I’ve played in the past two weeks (and it’s A LOT) Odyssey still has a grip on me and it’s not letting go.

I’ve completed the “story” and am now in the post game collect-a-thon for additional moons. I find I’ve been enjoying the vibe of the post-game stuff even more than the main story. It’s nice to simply run around in these worlds for a bit, without the pressure of a main goal or a boss to defeat. All my friends are there from their respective home kingdoms, chillin’ and seeing the sites, just like I was doing. Bowzer’s been defeated so there’s no longer any threat. Everyone is happy.

Mario Odyssey has been absolutely joyful, with secrets and goodies and charm galore. Almost every hole you poke your nose into is rewarded, if it’s not with a moon, then at least with a few coins. Mario himself is cute as hell and you can buy all sorts of different costumes with the coins you find around the kingdoms. The ability to swap clothes and keep Mario on the cutting edge of fashion only piles on the cuteness, so I was determined to find as many coins as possible. As I write this I’m glancing over to Mario who has gone into his idol animation: laying casually in his golfing outfit, on his back, legs crossed in the middle of the street, holding up traffic. A New Donk City pigeon has perched on his chubby nose. Perfection.

So much attention to detail like this permeates the game and is part of that joyful experience. It’s not just the clever, ever-evolving level design or the fun, rewarding exploration. It’s the characters and the music and Mario himself, all just gushing style and charisma.

For those who haven’t played Mario Odyssey before (despite it being released years ago) the basic structure is this: the game is split up into kingdoms that you fly between in your ship, the “Odyssey”, each of which has a very distinct aesthetic from the last. There will generally be lots of exploration to be had in the kingdoms themselves, leading to purple coins and moons, as well as a boss to fight somewhere. Each world also has a handful of secret doors and warp pipes tucked away that will take you to a skill-testing mini level where you can get a couple more moons and maybe purple coins (side note: purple coins are only spendable on the world you get them on, as opposed to gold coins, spendable anywhere).

I found 95% of these mini levels to be a good balance of challenge and fun, with only a couple that were simply infuriating. None of them are very long but if you screw up, there’s no check-points, so back to the beginning you go! Aside from those few frustrating times, each was an interesting, fun exploration of a particular game mechanic. Each has a hidden moon which can be tough to get, but definitely doable with enough skill, or sometimes, thought.

Some of my favourite mini-levels (no idea if they have a real name, so I’ll just keep calling them “mini-levels”) are warp pipes that transform your flashy modern 3D Mario into the flat 8-bit Mario of days gone. You proceed through a 2D sequence where your abilities are likewise reverted in old-school fashion. You no longer have a hat to throw so your throw button is now the run button, no more ground pound, no special jumps etc. These 2D portions are a great example of how Nintendo managed to pay reverent homage to the games’ decades-long history while at the same time revolutionizing what platformers can be. The rest of the game is nowhere near the Mario’s of old, but you can see a clear evolution that’s been built off the backs of previous entries.

(Additional side-note: Mario is now sitting on a bench and yet another pigeon has perched atop his cap. He is sitting beside Talkatoo, a bird who gives you hints. They’re also wearing a hat)

I only had a couple complaints worth mentioning. The first were the boss fights. They were by no means bad and I did have fun with them. It felt good when I defeated one and even cheered when I was victorious over the tougher ones. But they just didn’t stand out against the rest of the game. When everything else is so new and exciting and even revolutionary, it sticks out like a sore thumb when the bosses are pretty much what you might expect from any modern Mario game. This is made worse by the fact that several of the bosses are just carbon-copy rehashes of battles you’ve already fought. Some of the late moons you can get are yet more of the same bosses you’ve faced previously, though at least in those instances, they have an additional gimmick or difficulty spike. All in all the bosses are… fine.

The second problem I had was with how you acquired a couple of the moons. Occasionally in a game, there is a challenge where you do X thing Y number of times in a row to get your reward. If you fail, start again. I can think of a couple instances from Final Fantasy games. Mario odyssey has a couple of these and boy were they infuriating. I suppose the risk of coronavirus was the only thing that kept me inside, trying over and over to get them. For one you had to hit a volleyball 100 times and another skip rope 100 times. These are such bummers for anyone who really wants to complete the game. They are tedious and obnoxious and a waste of a player’s time.

Even though I spent an inordinate amount of time talking about them, those two things were so very minor compared to the absolutely wonderful time I’ve had with Super Mario Odyssey. I’m at 685 out of 999 moons and, if I’m stuck isolating at home, I’m considering 100%ing this sucker – as long as the siren song of other games doesn’t call out to me first. My time with Mario Odyssey may be winding down, but I can say with certainty that this is a game that’s left its mark on me, and indeed the entire gaming world. In both instances, for the better.

So everyone, keep safe, keep yourself at home, and keep gaming.

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