I always thought the term “collectathon” was a rather mean-spirited way to describe games like Jak & Daxter, Spyro the Dragon, and Super Mario 64. Sure, Jak & Daxter had 2000 precursor orbs to walk into, but it was the power cells that progressed the story and they took more work. You collected orbs but you earned cells. Likewise, in 3D Mario games you collected coins but you earned stars. With Super Mario Odyssey, the term “collectathon” has never been a more accurate description. You collect moons. You earn nothing.
Contains spoilers for end game content.
You’ll be disappointed, but not surprised, to learn that Mario’s mission is to rescue Princess Peach from the clutches of Bowser. This time Bowser is forcing Peach into a marriage with the aid of the Broodals, a group of rabbit wedding-planners who also pop up in boss fights. Mario has to fly across the globe to track down Bowser and the Broodals who are stealing valuable items for use in the wedding. I don’t particularly care about the stories in games such as this one, so I’m not going to pretend to be all that passionate about it now. However, with every new Mario game that comes out, the goal of rescuing Peach from Bowser becomes more and more painful to watch unfold. It’s especially annoying this time because the cutscenes look glorious and they’re wasted on this trite concept.
Mario’s classic hat is destroyed in the opening cutscene and he’s introduced to Cappy, a more than capable replacement. By throwing Cappy, Mario can take control of most enemies and some friendly creatures so long as they aren’t already wearing a hat. These “captures” range from frogs to Bullet-Bills to Goombas and each comes with its own unique ability. Frogs can jump high. Bullet-Bills can blast through rocks. Goombas can stack to reach new heights. Each capture only offers you one potential option—unless you count jumping or running as a second choice—and so each one ends up as nothing more than a fleeting distraction. There’s only a certain amount of challenge you can introduce when your sole ability is to stretch forward a few feet with a caterpillar or swim underwater longer as a fish. Remember that cool looking T-Rex in all the trailers? You use it to bash up a couple of rocks and that’s about it.
The captures are a direct contrast to Mario himself who has never controlled better and has plenty of movement options. All the usual moves are present: jump; triple jump; ground pound; somersault; and wall jump. The addition of Cappy offers up satisfying ways to reach new areas without having to study speedrunning videos. After a couple of practice tries, you’ll be throwing Cappy and bouncing off him in mid-air all the time. Mario games have always had hidden ways to make movement faster and reach previously inaccessible areas, but for me they were always more hassle than they were worth. When combined with Odyssey’s excellent camera, it’s never been so easy to get Mario where you want him to go as quickly as possible.
Nintendo made a point of labeling Odyssey as a spiritual successor to Mario 64 and Sunshine and the first couple of worlds certainly reminded me of those games in terms of level design. Worlds such as Cascade Kingdom and Sand Kingdom have a clear path to follow from the start until the boss, although of course you can deviate and do your own thing if you want. It’s a strong opening, but the quality takes a huge dip in the second half. By the time you reach the final world, Odyssey is limping over the finishing line like a marathon runner who’s been shot in the calf but is determined to finish anyway. There are fifteen zones in total (not counting two post-game zones) however only nine of them feel like full levels and that’s if I’m feeling generous. The rest of the levels are either boss arenas or hub areas that do little more than vomit moons all over the place. With this limited amount of content, you’ll be hard pushed to stretch the main campaign out for 10 hours.
Mario needs to collect moons to power his ship and get to Bowser before he marries Peach. Previous 3D Mario games required you to collect around 60 stars to complete the story and up to 120 to 100% the game. Those were the days. In Odyssey, there are over 900 moons in total. You need about 125 to complete the story, 250 to unlock a post-game zone with a boss rush mode, and 500 to reach the ultimate challenge at the end.
You won’t have any problems collecting enough moons to beat the story or reach the boss rush mode. Collecting 500 moons requires a touch more effort, but you can still do it without having to tackle any particularly tricky tasks if you don’t want to. For the purposes of this review, I collected 500 moons, beat the ultimate challenge, and then stopped playing. There was plenty more to do, however I had little interest in doing any of it.
My problem with the moons isn’t that they’re easy; it’s that they’re boring. Many moons are lying out in the open, like any gold coin that you stumble into without any effort. Those moons are cheap, but at least they don’t require anything particularly tedious on the part of the player. Not like the moons where you herd sheep into a pen, or stack goombas to impress a lady goomba, or talk to a musician, or turn left in a 2D section, or carry a seed all the way across the level to plant it in a pot. I could go on, but it would be as tedious as moving letters around to spell “Mario.” Which you also have to do.
Worst of all, many of these tasks have to be done more than once. Metro Kingdom has four musicians and you get a moon for speaking to each of them. Multiple levels have seeds that you need to plant in pots which requires patience, but no skill. Most levels have a small rabbit to chase around in circles for a moon. These easy moons are completely unnecessary. Most levels have either 50 or 100 purple coins to collect so players who enjoy hunting down collectibles are already catered for. Many of the purple coins are better hidden than the moons.
Just to be clear, I have no problem with the game being easy. Most Mario games are easy up until you complete the story, with the challenging sections being optional post-game content. There are a few tough sections in Odyssey. The separate zones with platforming challenges akin to the secret levels in Sunshine sometimes require you to move as fast as possible with barely a split second to spare. These zones are the best part of Odyssey, and it’s a shame nothing in the main levels provides a similar challenge. The end game challenge is also tricky, although that’s more due to the complete lack of checkpoints.
After completing the story, a bunch of new moons are added to the existing levels for you to go back to collect. You’d be forgiven for thinking the real challenge was about to begin, but you’d be drearily wrong. Many of these post-game moons are once again out in the open. In fact, I’d wager that the easiest moons in the game are offered up after you’ve beaten the story. What’s the logic behind that? After the story, your goal is to reach a relatively challenging boss rush mode. If you can’t do more than grab moons from the tops of trees then you’ll never beat the boss rush mode anyway.
Perhaps the reason for all these easy moons is the Switch itself. If you ever needed convincing that the Switch is a handheld system you can hook up to the TV, as opposed to a console you can take on the go, then Odyssey settles the matter once and for all. The regular drip of moons is clearly designed with quick pick up and play sessions in mind. You’ll never have to play for five minutes without grabbing a moon and hearing that sweet little tune.
Odyssey’s characters and levels are charming to behold. Nintendo opted to assault your eyes with color instead of adding textures to the environments. The contrast is a little odd at times. The water in Seaside Kingdom looks phenomenal, but step away from the shore and you’ll see sharp edges and flat environments that look like the textures haven’t loaded in yet. I don’t particularly care. Odyssey looks exactly how I want Mario games to look even if it isn’t exactly a ten-year leap from Super Mario Galaxy. A late-game boss looks absolutely glorious and Cappy expresses more personality with just a set of eyes than Rosalina ever did.
If you don’t like Mario’s standard look, you can dress him up in what seems like an infinite number of outfits. Shops sell costumes in exchange for both purple coins and regular gold ones. You can dress as a caveman, a samurai, a skeleton, or even as Mario from the 64-bit era. You even get a moon for wearing certain outfits because of course you do. The shops also sell stickers and souvenirs to decorate your ship. You get moons for doing that too. Oh, and the shops also sell moons for 100 gold coins.
I’ve come to expect Nintendo to produce a polished finished product free of bugs and glitches, and Odyssey continues the trend. Just because Nintendo has set a high standard doesn’t mean it isn’t worthy of recognition. I once thought I’d been clever by breaking the game and reaching an area I shouldn’t have been able to get to. I found a huge pile of coins. Nintendo knew the area was reachable and left a little reward. For once, it wasn’t a moon.
What I’ve also come to expect from Nintendo is unnecessary motion control gimmicks and there are plenty of them here. With a flick of one joy con, you can send Cappy out and have him hone in on the nearest enemy. Flick both together and you’ll spin Cappy in a circle. This is practically required for some moons and useful for situations where you get surrounded by enemies. You can technically pull off the spinning throw with the controller but it’s needlessly fiddly. If you’re playing in handheld mode or with a separate controller then these moves are practically off limits. This is especially annoying because so many buttons are not used. X, A, and ZR just duplicate other buttons and L and R simply shift the camera, a function which is already handled by the right analog stick. The motion controls should have been optional, not mandatory.
There’s a feature on the Switch that tells you how long you’ve played each game on your system. When I was finally done with Odyssey, I checked the hour count expecting to see something around the 35-hour mark. It was 20. So much of my time with Odyssey was meandering around levels walking into moons and being rewarded for my “efforts.”
Odyssey is certainly not a bad game. While much of the content is boring, Mario controls wonderfully which lets you create your own fun. The 2D sections are entertaining distractions and the nostalgia-bait in Metro Kingdom even made me smile and that hasn’t happened since 2011. However, following a dog around and ground-pounding on the dirt he digs up isn’t what I want from a 3D platformer or a Mario game. Odyssey is there for you whenever you need a moon-generating playground to mess about in. You can pick it up and play it whenever you like. Go ahead, give it a quick go. You’ll get a moon.
Images from nintendo.com