Super Mario Odyssey is a game where you can possess everything from a dinosaur to an anthropomorphic ball of lava. The destinations you explore are charming, whimsical and overflowing with inventive gameplay concepts. But the game’s lack of difficulty left me bored and feeling like I would’ve been better suited flipping through a book of concept art than spending $60 on a game that offers no sense of accomplishment.
Odyssey starts much like every other Super Mario game. Princess Peach has been captured by Bowser. This time, he plans to forcibly marry her, collecting the rarest food and decorations for the wedding from the kingdoms you visit while you chase him down.
Your companion Cappy, a ghost-like hat originating from the Cap Kingdom, accompanies you in order to save his sister Tiara, who spends the entirety of the game trapped on Princess Peach’s head. As ridiculous as all that sounds, it’s enough to push what little story there is forward, while giving an explanation for why you’re travelling from kingdom to kingdom.
The aesthetic of each kingdom can vary substantially. You’ll begin your journey in the dark, foggy and Tim Burton-esque domain of the Cap Kingdom before jumping to the lush, pre-historic jungle of the Cascade Kingdom. You’ll jump across giant pieces of meat to save a magical stew in a world where everyone is a fork. You’ll dive to the bottom of the ocean in a world completely covered by beach and shipwrecked vessels. There is never an absence of things to gawk at in Odyssey.
With every new area comes a new set of characters/enemies to inhabit. In one area you might become a giant cloud with the ability to blow obstacles out of your path, in another you’ll become a frog with the ability to leap distances that open parts of the map that were previously inaccessible. There is a certain sense of wonder to be had when you randomly throw your hat at something and suddenly you’re a tree, a fish or even a franchise enemy like the Chain-Chomp.
Through every discovery a steady framerate is maintained, both in handheld mode and when the Nintendo Switch console is docked and displaying on your television.
The music in Odyssey is an absolute treat. The score will change and crescendo along with your actions. Every new enemy, battle and location has a corresponding vibe and musical palate to be uncovered. These instrumentals are memorable and sprinkle in hints of past soundtracks like that of Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Galaxy, all the while carving its own tunes into my head.
Variety is Super Mario Odyssey’s greatest strength thanks to the options in which the game presents for you to navigate the levels.
In one instance my progress was impeded by a wall higher than my standard jump could take me over. A green pipe to my right would activate a retro mode in which I could traverse a nostalgic 2-D Mario level, but I could also use a combination of moves with Cappy in order to climb the wall and skip that retro section altogether. Its design choices like these that kept me engaged through the roughly 12 hours I spent on the story campaign.
Super Mario Odyssey isn’t without flaws and the biggest stems from a lack of difficulty. Previous Super Mario entries weren’t explicitly difficult, but offered a respectable challenge, even for seasoned platforming fans. But Odyssey offered no challenge I couldn’t best with two attempts. Even the end-stage boss battles were predictable and easily overcome, as every fight consisted of some variant of throwing your hat at an enemy hat and either jumping on or punching the boss until they were defeated.
The variety seen in the world design and mechanics doesn’t transfer over to combat. It’s the equivalent of being granted a supercar in a racing game that for some reason locks the maximum speed to 30 mph. A lack of challenging engagements caused the latter stages of the story campaign to feel like a grind. You can only see so many gorgeous vistas and possess a number of enemies before it becomes overtly repetitive and the law of diminishing returns starts to affect the amount of fun Odyssey supplies.
Once you finish the main campaign, which only takes 120 collectible moons to complete, you’ll be able to seek out the remaining collectibles in order to reach a grand total of 999 moons. Even though there was so much more game to play, I wasn’t motivated to continue my journey. The childish combat designed to be accessible to a wide audience had left me fatigued on simply going through the motions to discover new moons, enemies and kingdoms.
Super Mario Odyssey is a quality buffet for your eyes but prioritizes quantity when it comes to challenge. While fresh concepts, a wonderful soundtrack and the new possess mechanic are a treat to discover, Odyssey stumbles by cranking down its difficulty and creating hollow combat that offers little reward for the player.