Mario Odyssey Review

Mario Odyssey is 3d Mario’s return to the sandbox style of scavenger-hunt play featured in Mario 64 and Mario Sunshine. It features many hundreds of collectibles, called Moons, to collect through its levels (called Kingdoms), allowing you to progress from each level to the next after collecting a certain number of that level’s moons.

There are only 3 functional buttons, jump, hat, crouch. They can perform a range of actions based on context. Like crouch does a ground pound in the air, and then pressing hat throw will dive or roll depending if you’re in the air or ground respectively. Crouch and jump will perform a backflip on the ground. It’s interesting that they were able to condense the functionality of the game this much, but it’s kind of a shame that they didn’t use their excess buttons to more directly access functions like diving, even if it feels nice to groundpound into a dive. It can lead to pressing Y too soon after ZR, causing no dive to occur.

The sideflip requires you to have momentum before you can enter into the turnaround animation which cancels to the sideflip jump, unlike mario 64 and mario sunshine, making sideflips harder to do and more time consuming. Similarly, the spin jump requires a lot more rotation to initiate the spinning animation which transitions to the spin jump, and the spinning hat throw. Also, walljumping doesn’t give you much control over the angle you jump off, and doesn’t go as far as a regular jump, limiting its usefulness. Also unlike Sunshine, you can’t dive out of spin jumps, because dive is no longer its own button, but a function of ground pound. The crouch button will cause you to fall faster during a spin jump instead. Because of the nerfs in these moves, they’re much more limited in their functionality than their equivalents in Mario 64 or Mario Sunshine, which is kind of disappointing.

Every movement move has a niche, almost. Rolling is the fastest method of movement, especially downhill. Triple jumping gives you a high jump and works well with steps. Ground pound jump is the highest normal jump method. Long jumping lets you jump really far, but not so high (it’s technically outclassed by ground pound hat jumps for distance, but it’s faster to start up). Back flipping can be a bit faster to set up than a ground pound jump, even if it doesn’t go as high. Diving can cut your jump short, and both it and long jumping can lead into a roll. Spin jump has you hover for a long time, but otherwise doesn’t seem very useful unfortunately, especially since it takes so long to start. The side flip would be useful as a less effective and faster ground pound jump if it were easier to start. There is no fall damage, but there’s a stun for falling from a high height. I think this is an appropriate penalty. I don’t think fall damage would have added a lot to this game, and it’s a bit more forgiving for beginners.

Learning the full distance hat jumping tricks, both to jump as far as possible, and to climb as high as possible, is both fairly tricky and mildly technical. There’s a lot of states you pass through, and a lot going on in the process of the move. First you jump, then you throw your hat with Y, which can set mario’s rotation directly to the direction the stick is pointing, allowing him to make hairpin turns, then you press ZR, which triggers a ground pound, because you’re in the air, but if you tap Y during that ground pound, you’ll do a dive instead, and you continue holding Y, which keeps your hat spinning in place, so when mario touches the hat, he jumps off it. Additionally, in the dive state, you’ll bonk your head if you run into a wall, but after jumping off the hat, you’ll be in a neutral jumping state instead, allowing you to jump off walls, or even throw your hat again, but critically, it remembers if you’ve bounced off your hat already since the last time you touched the ground, and will not allow you to do it again.

The full distance hat jump and its components are amazingly versatile. The jump off cappy resets your air state so you can walljump, making this trick one of the best ways to scale walls, and to jump across long gaps. Since tossing cappy lets you rotate in a direction instantly, it can be used in midair for up to two hairpin turns. The full hat jump somewhat technical to pull off, and honestly took me more than a bit of practice to figure out how to do and eventually become comfortable with, though it was really easy to perform whenever I wanted after I got the inputs figured out. It’s obviously not the most technical platforming trick I’ve ever done, coming from Mirror’s Edge, but it’s really interesting that they crafted this series of mildly difficult moves on purpose, giving them the properties they have. This definitely exists as pretty much a archetypical example of my idea about including lower affordance tricks that enable higher skilled players to have more fun with the game. The game isn’t built to require this trick at any point to progress, even the very last few hidden stages, but it is built to enable its use pretty much anywhere, meaning the game plays differently as you progress from lower to higher skill.

Underwater controls are sort of like normal jumping controls, dunno if this has been the standard for mario games for a while, but it’s very different from mario 64, and frankly a rational choice. Crouch can be used to ground pound in the water to dive, and pressing hat throw after that will have mario swim forwards quickly, which is sensible. Cheep Cheeps even use a similar scheme, letting you swim directly upwards or downwards with a button press, instead of rotating freely and having a “gas pedal” like mario 64 swimming controls.

Cappy is a rather flexible tool for attacking enemies. He’s a mid-ranged attack that can be held in place to act as a wall between enemies and you, and he’ll hit things on the way back too. The spin toss and homing attacks add further versatility, as does his ability to grab pickups that aren’t moons. The hat throw notably has you instantly turn in the direction you point on the analog stick, ignoring normal rotational movement rules, which is part of what makes it so versatile compared to the dive by itself. It also hits the area immediately around you, and functions as an air-stall, much like the spin attack from mario galaxy. It’s nice how they were able to roll together the functionality of the mario galaxy spin attack into cappy while also adding new functionality, though it makes me kind of sad that he probably won’t be there in the next 3d mario.

Levels have a very mild interconnectedness within them, though usually have a straightforward path of progression on your first trip through. The horseshoe level design pattern is used a lot, with areas divided either by gaps or walls that can be crossed or scaled with advanced hat jumps, so there’s a lot of small sequence breaks all over the place. Levels are slightly bigger than 64 levels, I think. Except for lake kingdom, which is clearly smaller than most 64 levels. There’s linear sections inside hidden areas, like there were in sunshine, but they have less “density” of level elements than sunshine levels, and consequently aren’t as fun/challenging as say, Noki Bay 6. I do however like that these linear challenges almost always have a second, more challenging, and usually slightly secret moon to collect, even if it’s still not very challenging. Levels in general are not hard to complete. The only significantly difficult level is Darker Side of the Moon, and that’s only because there’s literally no checkpoint for the entire thing. I’m not really impressed by the difficulty of even the harder bonus stages, like the hatless bullet bill stage on dark side of the moon, which I was able to beat in less than 5 tries.

I think there are way too many moons frankly. Not a fan of the collectathon elements in general, though it’s more tolerable here than in other games. You basically have a world with a ton of moons, you have a goal of a smaller number of moons to complete, so you can get by with only picking up a few. Progression up to the first ending on the moon has a pretty steady pace, because the number of moons in each level is so dense, so you’re constantly tripping over moons and get into and out of levels fairly quickly, without much down-time in hunting out the last few moons. The later phases of the game, like dark side of the moon, and darker side of the moon, require you to hunt down a ton of moons before they become available, and this is where it gets tedious, since as you collect more moons, you leave behind the more obscure ones, and the remaining moons are less densely packed together, making it more time consuming to find and reach each remaining moon. Which leads me to say, there’s way the fuck more moons than there have any right to be. A lot of the moons are totally trivial, just find the thing that’s out of place. Along the main progression path of each level it’s pretty okay, because you have more or less structured content that you can follow that’ll give you close to enough moons to advance for solving that world’s issue, fighting the broodal + boss, and you can pick up additional hidden moons as you go. The ability to buy moons at the end of the game is weird. I guess it’s there because it gives you a way to cash in your coins and get to the 250 and 500 moon goals more easily, since the scavenger hunt gets really protracted and tedious at this point in the game. They also have the clever move of adding a moon rock to each stage, which spreads more moons throughout the stage once you’ve finished the moon level with bowser, which can help make the distribution of moons more dense at this late stage in the game. Getting moons as achievements from Toadette is a complete pain however, you need to sit through dialogue and the animation each and every time. This was not a wise inclusion in my opinion, especially since most of the achievements are extremely banal, like collecting a large number of coins, jumping a lot, throwing cappy a lot, etc.

The camera is REALLY GOOD. The max speed is maybe a bit too slow. A ton of areas have meticulously placed camera hints, or will lock the camera at simple angles for framing the action if that area has a mostly 2d layout. Most of the time they allow you to adjust the camera afterwards and will keep it at your adjusted angle rather than defaulting to the hint angle until you exit and reenter the camera hinted area. Some minor flaws are it can still be easy to get large objects in the foreground obscuring the camera (I’m used to moving it manually, so I didn’t notice much, but my dad had it happen a lot) and that it can obscure where mario is in tight spaces. These are fairly standard problems, and it’s hard to avoid the tight spaces problem without causing MGR style camera issues, which are arguably worse.

Each of the broodal bosses is deliberately designed with a quick way to kill them, which is pretty cool. Like, they each function in cycles, where you normally need to wait through their attack and then they set up for you to get a guaranteed attack on them, but there’s always a way to interrupt their attack cycles, like with the purple one, you can hit her bombs back at her with a good angle to knock her hat off early, and during her UFO phase, you can hit the bombs she drops up at her. The blue, yellow, and green ones, you can stomp on them when they turn into hats, forcing them back to their main phase. During the wooden robot boss fight, you can even get back on its head with a fancy extended hat jump. Notably, the Broodals are not invincible during phases where the robot is not knocked down, so they can be attacked when the robot is upright, which is an uncharacteristic decision by Nintendo. Inclusions like this and the existence of the extended hat jump at all indicate that Nintendo is getting a better idea of how to deliberately cater to speedrunners, without compromising on core gameplay.

Levels have a lot of horseshoes, places where goals are placed near the start, usually separated by height, with little footholds, so you can get from the start to the end (or start to the middle, middle to the end) by doing the advanced hat jumps. Really obvious one is in the lake kingdom, with just a high wall separating you from the end of the level. Many levels have a clear (winding) path of progression you’re supposed to follow through the level and usually some side routes or back routes through the level that are shorter, or give different access to the level (cascade kingdom, sand kingdom, wooded kingdom, luncheon kingdom). Others are more sprawling, having a big open area with multiple objectives or no primary objective (new donk city, seaside kingdom, lost kingdom, mushroom kingdom) A couple are out-and-out linear (cloud kingdom, ruined kingdom, bowser’s kingdom, moon kingdom, dark side, darker side). Most of the winding path style kingdoms open up into total freeroam after having the main quests dealt with, thanks to new shortcuts opening up. What I would have liked to see would be more of a happy medium between the more linear challenges, and the complete freeroam areas. I would have liked to see the power moons consolidated more into more worthwhile challenges instead of a lot of, an obscene amount of, scavenger hunt shit. Moving from kingdom to kingdom works pretty well, as you only need a few and you have the freedom to improvise and pick stuff up as you go, but in the later stages of the game, such as unlocking dark side or darker side. It’s tedious to need to comb for almost every single moon in an area. Speedruns of all moons are 10 hours long. Darker side of the moon is just shy of 4 hours. To me, in the context of this game, this is an indication of a lot of filler content. The achievements with Toadette are in particular, a major time-waster to collect them all, and strike me as really unnecessary. Do we really need progression tied to throwing your cap X number of times or collecting X number of coins? It would be nice if every power moon were a challenge to collect in of itself, and if they preserved the way it’s interesting to route power moon collection across the level, because that is still cool. It’s nice to have the improvisational aspect of figuring out which power moons are easiest to grab in the most direct line as you zip across the level’s obstacles through weird routes, but with the compromise that if you’re not speedrunning, you don’t need to engage with any of that and many of the challenges are just kind of simple and one-note if done the intended way, which is kind of disappointing from a casual play perspective. Darker side of the moon is probably the hardest stage, but also the most linear and restrictive in how it can be tackled. It doesn’t emphasize the usual multi-threaded strengths of mario level design. It’s just a sort of tough execution challenge with no checkpoints at all. A lot of the linear bonus sections that mimic Sunshine’s “secret” stages are similar to this, and don’t have the same diversity of platforming options as even Sunshine’s secrets offered.

It was also cool how new donk city littered the city with cars that could be jumped off of, and poles that could be flicked to get a boost upwards or forwards. New Donk City has a lot of routes across it, and most of them involve platforming, which works really well with the different height, multi-terraced buildings. New Donk City is a stand-out for this style of sandbox level design. It’s a shame it wasn’t larger, and maybe that it didn’t have more girders going between buildings.

It’s disappointing they didn’t do more with the moon physics on the moon level. You have an outdoor platforming section which is really small and easy, even by the game’s standards up to this point, and all the indoor sections have normal gravity. You fight a boss rush with the Broodals in low-G on the dark side of the moon, but that’s still a disappointing use of the physics changes. It’s interesting how it’s possible to turn so much more in the air in low-G, even off a walljump, but there isn’t any level design to take advantage of this, so again, it’s just kind of a waste.

The koopa races are cool, and are always set in a part of the level with a good linear goal, but which is also mutli-threaded. Or they start at the beginning of the level’s intended progression, with the goal at the end of that progression, which demonstrates how those levels are multi-threaded in of themselves. I’ve seen a number of different ways of beating each of these, which suggests the depth of the game mechanics and the level design.

I actually had my Dad play the game a little. He doesn’t really play video games, but he was interested in this one when I got it, remarking that he wanted to give it a try, having played the old ones, but then the new ones got too complicated for him and he lost interest. Given the game essentially operates everything on 3 buttons, I decided it was worth a try, to see how hard it would be for him, also as a case study of someone learning 3d action games for the first time.

To give some context, he was completely unfamiliar with the controller, didn’t know what any of the buttons did. So I had to show him that the A button was confirm, and B was cancel. As he played, he frequently looked down at his controller to double check the buttons he was pressing.

He was used to using the R button to lock the camera behind him, probably from Tomb Raider 2 and 3 having a similar functionality forever ago, but was not used to using the right stick to point the camera. When he wanted to see something offscreen, he’d frequently either try to move mario over to get it on-screen, or strain his head trying to look offscreen. He got REALLY disoriented when he tried the Jaxi for the first time for example

His movements with mario on the control stick were very jerky, reminding me a lot of when I was first learning to drive a car, making microadjustments, rather than one continuous fluid motion. Over time he learned to move more naturally and slowly got used to using the right stick to aim the camera, forgetting to use R to center it now that he had a new tool instead of smoothly integrating both. He also got confused about which direction to hold the stick to rotate the camera in the direction he wanted, and very frequently ended up with the camera at a much higher or lower angle than he wanted. Also he’d frequently get foreground objects obscuring mario, but because he wasn’t used to using the camera, he’d end up not moving the camera to get it out of the way automatically. Or in tight spaces, mario would be obscured, and he wouldn’t be able to tell where he was.

He had trouble avoiding a number of things, even in the 2d sections and reacting to things coming at them, often overreacting, and walking straight into obstacles, or jumping into bottomless pits. He got a bit frustrated by losing, even though the penalty wasn’t that high, but I could definitely see him improving over time, even if he didn’t notice it himself. At first he wanted to collect all the coins he saw, but I pointed out that he had like 500-600 coins already and he didn’t need the coins that badly. He wasn’t used to building a 3d model of the area from what he saw and frequently got turned around while navigating, going past where he wanted to be, or moving out of place and not realizing where he was anymore.

He also tended to miss details, like all the buildings in the town in the sand kingdom, walking straight through without paying attention to what was around him, though it may have been possible he was just really focused on the objective. I mostly gave him light hints and reminders of the controls to help him along, but generally tried to allow him to fail for himself instead of telling him the answers to problems. I did point out a few hidden moons however.

Versus the purple broodal, he frequently walked into her bombs instead of avoiding them. His ability to aim the analog stick for throwing cappy was also not great, doesn’t seem to connect the direction of the stick to the character on-screen very well yet, though judging perspective can honestly be tricky. After he failed at the broodal fight multiple times, I ended up doing the fight myself, to show him the advanced tricks for the fight, and beat her in one go, stopping before the last hit and killing myself so he could give it a shot. He was then able to get her on his next try.

The difficulty being as low as it is makes it a good fit for someone who has basically never played a game before, which I think was the intent, but it’s pretty obvious that it’s still really difficult for someone to learn how to use a controller, remember the buttons, and aim the camera for the first time if they don’t have a background in it, even if most experienced players find that mundane. It’s probably worth remembering that players like this exist, but it’s hard to say what should be done to help them out. Mario Odyssey happens to be really convenient for this purpose, but Dark Souls or maybe even Zelda would be insurmountable in comparison.

In this way, Odyssey’s mildly multi-threaded level design that allows for advanced players to challenge themselves, and gives them harder moves to figure out and use is a decent compromise. I don’t think the scavenger hunt style design really suits the purpose of benefiting the beginner or expert however. Beginners get lost easily, and experts are likely more annoyed at having to comb the levels.

Captures:

So, the more interesting captures in the game I’d say are the cheep cheep, uproot, hammer/fire/fryingpan bros, tropical wiggler, shiverian racer, gushen, lava bubbles, Pokios, bowser, and yoshi.

Overall my remark on the captures is they’re mostly pretty one-note and not that interesting, which I honestly should have expected since before the game came out. Trying to make a ton of things deep usually doesn’t work as well as adding more depth to a few things (better to go multiplicative instead of additive). All the captures suffer in that they can only use 2 buttons, B/A and Y/X, since ZL/ZR are used to release the capture. So all the captures are pretty simple, and I’d say the ones that are most interesting are the ones that do something unique with their control scheme, despite their limited button count.

Cheep Cheep let you move freely up and down underwater, which I think is fairly cool in a Zone of the Enders kind of way. Can also spin to go faster and attack. If directed out of the water, they can jump higher out of the water than mario can alone, giving them a unique utility in that regard.

Uproots are pretty cool. Instead of jumping, they grow taller. Then, when the button is released, they snap their legs up to the top, and do an itty bitty jump. This means they can touch anything up their entire length while grown up, and can walk off ledges and jump up overhangs. It also means you need to be careful of their feet when grown up, which is an interesting consideration to have which jumping normally does not.

The hammer bros are neat mostly because their standard form of movement is jumping, and you can jump out of their jump, giving them a sort of double jump. Also they hurl their respective weapon in a random arc in the general direction their facing, which can be kind of annoying when it doesn’t cooperate, but it feels kind of cool to use.

Tropical wiggler are unique, extending themselves across gaps, carrying their length along like it’s a flexible rope. Similar to the uproots, they’re vulnerable along their whole length, and their sections are usually designed around this, creating a unique “platforming” challenge, like those old games where you need to draw a line across an area without letting the line get hit until it’s done.

The shiverian racer can be kind of interesting. To go fast, you gotta bound every time you hit the ground, and keep steady control over which way you’re going, as well as the angle of the ground you land on, which can be an interesting combined challenge.

Gushen are mildly cool. They can jet along the water extremely fast, but also adjust their height in the air, practically flying above the water, much like a cheep cheep does underwater, except to descend they need to drop like a stone. They can also hit things by either getting above them, or pointing away from them, both of which can be tricky to manage, since you’re affecting your movement at the same time as you do this.

Lava bubbles are kinda basic, their big deal is that they can jump really high, and only move in lava, so their levels tend to be about jumping between puddles of lava. They don’t have much air control either, so you need to build up speed to get a good jump with them, and you generally have a lot of commitment. It’s also cool to aim for the tomatoes to make new puddles to jump into. The cookatiel fight with the lava bubble is really neat, platforming onto blobs of lava suspended in the air.

Pokios are really cool. They’re kind of a play on the poles and forks which were featured in the game before them, but they’re much cooler. They can attack with their spear beaks, but also poke into any soft wall and flick themselves in any direction up or along the wall, giving them very unique platforming challenges. Their moveset is deep enough and has enough potential that you could probably build a whole game around them and it would be pretty decent. To use them well, you need to carefully time when you poke into the wall, you need to flick accurately and move in the air to get around corners, while still orienting yourself towards the wall so you can peck into it. Using them effectively is a real challenge, and they get a few really nicely designed sections. It also helps that they can redirect bowser’s bombs like billiards balls and do a spin attack with their spear beak, also a motion control air stall.

Bowser is basically Strider. He can attack while running, triple jump, and shoot fireballs. Honestly, on review, his section is better mostly because it has some neat level design, rather than because the capture is particularly interesting, though the capture does go hand-in-hand with the levels, placing blocks in your way that need to be attacked to get past. Also the falling boulders, ground falling out on you, and rolling rocks help make it interesting. There’s a lot going on all at once, and you’re expected to keep moving while dealing with it.

Yoshi really suffers from the lack of a groundpound button, since he’s basically just Mario with a tongue and flutter kick. The tongue can be used to grab stuff like enemies and fruit, or to grab onto walls and hang onto them, then awkwardly dive off the walls. Flutter kick lets you hover, which is pretty okay. It does not allow you to gain any height however. Yeah, Yoshi’s kind of boring.

Overall I think the most appropriate rating is 7/10. It has the spark with a neat moveset, but it’s not an amazing game. I’d say most of the game’s faults come down to not pushing the challenge and multi-threading in its level design as much as it could. I’d like to see a game with more routes through its levels, and all of those routes being more challenging, even if the challenging content is reserved for the end. Still, it represents a small shift in the way Nintendo is thinking about their games lately, trying to be more accommodating of multiple skill levels.

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