Super Mario Odyssey – The Collect-a-Thon We All Needed

Evidently, Mario is not popular in Thailand. Our original honeymoon plans were going to put me in Japan for the Super Mario Odyssey launch, where our favorite Italian plumber enjoys fame and fortune, but despite my best efforts to steer my honeymoon to a more Mario-friendly destination, we enjoyed up going further south to Thailand.

Still though, I did not get to see one iota, not one mere mention of Mario during or after launch day. I swear, Thailand doesn’t have video games. MMOs, sure, Internet cafes with people playing World of Warcraft, perhaps, but not a single video game store, or even a media store, for hundreds of miles in all directions. I checked!

Since I dare not go on social media or do any sort of research whatsoever when a game of this scale launches for fear of spoiling or in any way impacting my own personal hype, I avoided Twitter like the plague, and I don’t have a Facebook. And then I did the unthinkable: I ignored the game completely for 4 damn days. A game of which I’d been looking forward to since I finished Super Mario 64 back in 1997, ~20 years ago.

But then I get home after 20+ hours in the sky to find that everything in the world has righted itself! I had put through a USPS “Hold Mail” request, and thus would have to wait until the next day when they delivered the accumulated mail to play Odyssey. Luckily, someone screwed up and let two boxes slip through. Which boxes were they? Well, perhaps it was all the Buddha statues we saw in Thailand, but a power higher than myself made everything right with the world.

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Waiting for me in my house, same and sound! Thanks Mr. Buddha!

I threw all my luggage on the floor because who cares about that and ran upstairs and slammed the cartridge into… oh wait, my Switch is back downstairs in my backpack from bringing it on vacation. I was a mess. But finally, FINALLY!

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It felt great. I’ve mentioned before that Super Mario Sunshine and the Galaxy series never worked for me, but this game felt like the Mario games I remember.

Now before I go on any further, I need to bring something up. I absolutely despise the fact that so much footage of this game was shown. At E3, at every single Nintendo Treehouse Live event, everywhere. It littered YouTube, spoiling every last world. They basically pulled a Yookah-Laylee out of thin air and spoiled every last thing about the game. I managed to avoid all of this, but I saw the recommendations in my YouTube related videos and in my suggestions, and I saw all the Twitter and Reddit posts before I filtered them out.

This is a hot topic for another day – but what is it with spoiling games? No one likes it when a film trailer for a comedy shows all the funny parts. So why is everyone content with riding the hype train up until the point it derails and kills everyone on it? The point is to garner attention to the game. If you already know about it, watching 3 and a half hours of gameplay footage is just robbing you from your own experience. But like I said – a topic I’d like to cover another day.

I was running around the little black and white tutorial level world, getting accustomed to the controls, which took roughly three seconds since the surgical precision with which they work cannot be overstated. I’m running around, practicing all the moves and discovering how to throw the hat, with the help of the very well done on-screen hints that do not interrupt gameplay but serve more as a hint than an instruction.

I thought to myself, “I’m so happy that I didn’t spoil anything! All I know is that there’s a hat and you can control stuff and I think there’s a dino-“. And then there it was. The dinosaur from the E3 sizzle reel. Just laying there, sleeping. Why the heck is a dinosaur just randomly sitting here? Uh, ok – that’s cool I guess. I guess I’ll control him with the hat – yup, there ya go. I already knew I could do this but I’ll try it I guess. Now I’m running around as a dinosaur and stuff.

The dinosaur struck me as shoe-horned in, and very out-of-place. And when you leave control of him, he just falls asleep on the spot, before warping back to his original position. What’s the point of this?

Now, Mario games are clearly not praised for their story, nor will they most likely ever be, and the loose narrative thus far about Peach being kidnapped yet again is forgivable for the sole reason that we need an excuse to play a Mario game, and Peach isn’t going to kidnap herself. The dinosaur doesn’t need a reason to be there, and really, it simply serves to demonstrate to the player that you can take control of pretty much anything with Cappy, regardless of whether or not it is a native of the Mushroom Kingdom. Part of me just wished that there was more of a purpose of taking charge of a freaken dinosaur that didn’t just involve running into some bad guys and breaking a few blocks for coins, all within five minutes of the game.

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Like a child showing up half an hour late for curfew, Nintendo has their own way of keeping me up all night, and that is their innate ability to go overboard with concepts. They may have a terrific idea, but too much of a good thing is usually bad. In regards to Super Mario Odyssey, this whole cap mechanic was the source of my panic.

The central gimmick of Odyssey is Cappy, who lives on your head and possesses creatures like a demon, swallowing their souls and allowing Mario to control them like a ragdoll and carry out his dirty work. Something like that – again, I’m not a story guy.

But what worried me was that Odyssey was going to take this too far and make the entire game about this. Mario himself is a fairly talented individual, what with his gymnastics moves that could put even a seasoned teenaged acrobat to shame. His diverse moveset was always the central focus of his character. Running, triple jumping, wall jumping, side-hops, crawling – even with Super Mario Sunshine, while his water jet was his main tool, it was never the focus of the game. It simply helped Mario move in ways that he already could.

Would Cappy take over Mario and turn him into a magical hat with legs? Well, this was my fear. But I’m happy to say that after my first five hours of gameplay, I can conclude that this isn’t the case. So far, it is my experience that Cappy serves to enrich Mario’s moveset by adding the potential moves of the creatures he possesses, but none of them seem overpowered. They all have special moves with an obvious catch. Possessing a Caterpillar for example allows you to stretch your body across chasms, but you cannot stretch to higher or lower platforms. You also lose access to all of Mario’s moves once you take over another creature (or object, for that matter), making it feel more like an enhancement to the gameplay rather than an artificial inflation of Mario’s moveset. It works.

Looking inside the physical box, I was yet again left a little disappointed by a single cartridge and not much else. I really wonder why they bothered with these huge cases if they had roughly a postage stamp-sized thing to fit inside of it. A thinner plastic, a-la the Vita cases would have done just fine, really. The reason I bring this up is that while I tore the case open looking for at least a small control sheet to ogle over, Super Mario Odyssey does a tremendous job of showing you how to play via subtle in-game hints. They’ll fade into view and then quickly fade out when you become idle. Not sure how to do something? Just do nothing. It’ll tell you what to do next.

My fiancée wife wandered into my office as my audible excitement boomed through the house, and it was at that point I discovered a 2-player mode in the main menu! As I avoided all information about the title, I had no idea this was a thing – but I quickly threw her a JoyCon and we begun to play together. And let me tell you – it’s really an absolute blast how they set it up. Essentially, one player controls Mario, the other controls Cappy. It gives a shared responsibility to each player, rather than having one of the players filling in a meager support role. We played for about an hour and found probably 20 moons. It was one of the few times I’ve actually seen my wife enjoy herself playing a game, as she usually gets stressed out very quickly if she doesn’t know what to do or hits a wall of frustration.

Eventually she excused herself to “pass the hell out” as it was now 1am and we were both working the next day, but I pressed on! I kept chugging along, and then it hit me – I was really enjoying myself. Time had been flying by and I didn’t even realize it.

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I had collected dozens of Moons and was searching through each level, learning the landscape and experimenting with Cappy. It dawned on me that Super Mario Odyssey felt like the perfect collect-a-thon that I had been craving for almost two decades. But before I go into more detail of why it’s a perfect collect-a-thon, we need a brief bit of history.

Collect-a-thons seem to be seeing a resurgence lately in the gaming industry, this trend jumpstarted a few years ago at the announcement of the Yookah-Laylee kickstarter. The ex-Rareware team members claimed that they wanted to bring back the wonder and sense of exploration of the early 90s 3D platformers. However, the lukewarm reception of the finished product proved one thing – when you bring back an old trend, you still need to modernize it. I’ve never played Yookah-Laylee, but after playing Odyssey, I don’t see any reason to play anything less perfect. This is just my personal preference of course, but my point is that Super Mario Odyssey is the collect-a-thon we all needed!

In this age of instant gratification and constant reward systems in things like mobile games, Super Mario Odyssey gets the item collecting frequency right on the nose. Each level contains dozens of Moons to find, but you find them so often that you never lose the momentum to keep finding more. The gameplay is addicting. That first night I played, I kept doing that thing that is typical in all games that are actually fun: “just 1 more minute, just one more minute, just one more minute…” and then two hours have passed by and you may or may not have peed your pants due to not wanting to get up off the couch. (IT WAS ONLY ONE TIME.)

Each level is so special in its own right – they are masterfully crafted and they make you want to explore every nook and crannie. The difference between subpar collect-a-thons is that you could spend all day running around levels, and feeling like you wasted time because you have nothing to show for it. Aside from Moons, you have coins and special coins, and I’m still not sure what they’re called. Those special coins have a different shape and color in each level and can be used only to buy trinkets and costumes and stickers for your ship in that specific level. The collect-a-thon game is strong in this one – it really never stops offering you things to add to your collection.

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In fact, there’s a whole beautiful checklist in the theme-park-modeled map screen that shows all of the collectibles and your status with collecting all of the Moons and special coins in each level. Nothing beats a good checklist for this sort of collecting madness, and I personally cannot wait to go back and find everything.

What sets Odyssey apart from the other 3D Mario games is the frequency at which you are rewarded. In a typical gameplay setting, you arrive at a new level, and must find a set number of Moons to power up the Odyssey (your hat-shaped ship) to move to the next land. This is where the fun begins. Just by exploring, you’ll find all sorts of fun things going on within the level, characters to possess with Cappy, and interesting scenarios to work through, most of which reward you with a Moon. Find a little pipe sticking out of the side of a hill? Wander in and you may find yourself one dimension short as you play a quick game of 2D Super Mario Bros.! It’s little ideas like this that make this game a huge charmer that will make you fall in love quickly.

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To add to that, when you find all of these Moons, you never get warped out of the level (such as in Super Mario 64), so the momentum just keeps going. There’s even a fast travel system implemented within the levels, and they make sure you don’t ever get bored of wandering around once you’ve found the major landmarks of each level. Getting bored is practically impossible, as Moons are so frequent and numerous in each level that you can collect a Moon practically every 30 seconds when you first enter a level and start running wild. It’s a tremendously rewarding process that doesn’t get old.

At this point, I’m on the last level and almost done with the main story of the game, and it’s only been a handful of days that I’ve been playing. I’m eager to wrap it up, so that I can go back into all the beautiful levels and continue exploring and collecting Moons. Nintendo did a tremendous job with Odyssey, and despite an odd tutorial level, the game really pulls itself together and looks gorgeous while doing it.

It feels good to truly have a sequel to my favorite childhood collect-a-thon!


Have you played Odyssey? Of course you have, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this! How are you liking the game so far? Let me know in the comments!

 

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