Screenshot: Super Mario Odyssey

Welcome back to our Super Mario Odyssey Game In Progress review. This second and final installment discusses everything in the game, including its many post-credits secrets. If you’re looking for a more spoiler-free discussion, check out the first part of Matt’s review.


No one puts their history to good use quite like Nintendo. I danced around the specifics in the first part of my review, which covered the entirety of the pre-credits game, but it’s worth revisiting just how damn clever Mario Odyssey is with its references, both big and small, to the series’ past. On one end of the spectrum, you have subtle nods to sounds, songs, and sights from decades ago, such as the instantly recognizable two-note trill that plays when you’re sprinting and flying in Mario Bros. 3, repurposed here for when you pick up a Rocket Flower. On the other end, you have the New Donk City festival, which throws you into a topsy-turvy set of 2-D challenges based on Mario’s debut game, Donkey Kong. Just as its soundtrack, the bubbly swing-pop hit “Jump Up, Super Star!” repurposes Donkey Kong’s one-bar theme, the festival level you play dredges up and recontextualizes obstacles from the 36-year-old game. It’s a scene we’ll be talking about for years to come, partially because of how well it uses all the nostalgia-laced relics it resurfaces, but mostly because it’s such an earnest, exuberant moment. It’s a literal celebration of Mario’s history, with confetti flying through the air, fireworks bursting around him, and an entire city cheering him on. That kind of unabashed positivity is priceless these days, and frankly I can’t imagine anyone not at least belly-laughing with delight when Odyssey springs it on them.

Advertisement

But that’s just the beginning of Super Mario Odyssey’s massive surprises. The finale is another brilliantly executed sequence, letting Mario hop inside Bowser’s unconscious body and rampage through an exploding moon. That particular turn of events felt like an inevitability, but the possession scene itself, with Mario zooming through his rival’s psyche and seeing all their past encounters as they evolved from one game to the next, is an ingenious use of the series’ history and our collective relationship to it.

The biggest example of that trick comes after the credits roll and Mario wakes up in a reimagined version of Peach’s Castle from Super Mario 64. It’s another one of those twists, like the Bowser scene, that is so obvious in retrospect but wholly unbelievable in the moment. Nintendo sees Odyssey as a successor to that classic, and rebuilding the entirety of those castle grounds for you to explore in a new context—as a full-on Odyssey level with dozens of Moons, which have been reshaped to look like 64’s Power Stars, and a purchasable outfit that regresses Mario back to his blocky 64-bit state—is the ultimate form of reverence and fan service.

Advertisement

Perhaps the smartest thing about it is how the level is built to take advantage of and reward people’s intimate knowledge of this setting. For example, it eventually becomes clear that the castle’s moat is blocking the way to a few Moons. Anyone who’s played Mario 64 would remember draining the moat, and instantly look for ways to do that here. The same goes for the Yoshi egg waiting on the castle’s roof. Even for the players who figured Yoshi would be up there, the notion that Odyssey would suddenly, after the main part of the game was over, introduce not only a classic character but an entirely new set of mechanics is crazy. But the most fun touch might be the Moon you can only get by staring at the ceiling of the castle’s foyer, a nod to one of Mario 64’s secrets. There’s really no indication that it’s up there. It just comes down to thinking back and wondering if those damned geniuses at Nintendo thought to replicate it. And of course they did.

Screenshot: Super Mario Odyssey

There is an aspect of the Mushroom Kingdom that solidifies what’s probably the game’s biggest flaw. Nintendo didn’t also recreate all the paintings and worlds of Mario 64 (though, I have to admit, I was half expecting to find the door to Bomb-omb Battlefield waiting for me inside the castle), but there are portraits of Odyssey’s bosses spread around the level. Jumping into them will take you to a much more difficult version of the fight you’ve already done.

Advertisement

As your time in Odyssey goes on, particularly once you’ve finished the credits and made your way to the secret levels that lie beyond the moon, this “same but harder” approach pops up more and more. When you revisit each Kingdom after beating Bowser, you’ll find new Moons and some great new platforming challenges, but it also opens new tiers of all the mini-games—all the races, all the face assembling, all the awful Koopa walking challenges. If you’ve cleared the credits and have 250 Moons, you’ll also be able to visit the new Dark Side Of The Moon level, where Bowser’s evil wedding planner crew is waiting to take you on again. The battles are slightly altered, plus you’re now forced to contend with lower gravity, but this is the third time the game asks you to fight these guys. And your reward for getting through their gauntlet? A snazzy new outfit (much appreciated) and a handful of platforming levels that are mostly, you guessed it, slightly altered recreations of stuff you’ve already done.

How great was it to see Princess Peach finally get fed up with these two numskulls and take off on her own? (Screenshot: Super Mario Odyssey)

There’s nothing inherently wrong with asking the player to go through an old activity with a new twist, and Odyssey is far from the first Mario adventure to do it. It just stings twice as hard in this game because, by design, it’s not bursting with as many distinct, elaborate stages as Mario Galaxy or Mario 3D World. There comes a point where you’ve gone through most of the good Moons and unlocked everything that’s tied to your Moon count—all the secret stages and extra outfits. Now you’re just left to scour every inch of these levels you’ve already spent hours inside, looking for some incredibly well-hidden doohickeys to add to your collection. It doesn’t help that some worlds, like the Luncheon Kingdom, make getting around a challenge unto itself. The game’s generous fast travel system alleviates a lot of that annoyance, but bouncing from checkpoint to checkpoint only enhances the feeling that you’ve devolved into, madly, rotely trying to tick boxes on a checklist.

Advertisement

That means Mario Odyssey suffers from a minor case of the same disease we’ve seen infect so many open-world games. There’s a clear delineation and drop in quality between some tasks and others—from the major set pieces like the New Donk festival, to the stand-alone challenges you find in warp pipes and behind closed doors, down to the Moons that are randomly hiding underground, and finally, those blasted mini-games. But Odyssey is only a fraction of the length of, say, Mass Effect: Andromeda, the poster child for this open-world content hierarchy problem, and there’s no denying the peerless inventiveness and verve it shows off in the many hours before it starts to crack.


Purchasing Super Mario Odyssey via Amazon helps support The A.V. Club.

Advertisement