Yahtzee reviews Super Mario Odyssey.
Mario having always rampantly and eagerly put his face on things like a very affectionate and itchy cat, I think it's fair to say that the phrase "Mario game" has lost whatever meaning it ever had, even before that whole Rabbids business. One can now officially expect from a "Mario game" anything from turn-based combat to sport simulators to typing tutor to Nintendo-branded mustache-shaving kit, and I feel like we're going to have to come up with a new name for what I hesitantly call "proper Mario games", as in a platformer in which we chase a princess-stealing lizard through a highly-circuitous path of themed worlds, wrestle with the finer points of the triple-jump, and devastate the landscape with the unyielding force of our mighty Italian buttocks; let's call it a "Mario gammon-soiree". Super Mario Odyssey is a new "Mario gammon-soiree", and I guess we know what that means: Nintendo are turning a profit this year! Yes! I know some Japanese salary men who will be drinking irresponsibly tonight: all of them, as usual, but that's besides the point.
Mario Odyssey knows why we're all here and wastes no fucking time, with the game literally starting mid-princess-kidnap. You see, the plot is driven by Bowser traveling the world, gathering the essentials for his fairy-tale wedding ceremony, which is very adorable. Bowser's a properly-raised fire-breathing lizard tyrant; he's not going to father a bastard rape-baby. How would he explain that to his parents? Shortly, Mario is left in the dirt and meets the inevitable magical spirit character that basically acts as glorified mouse-pointer: the star child in Mario Galaxy, the butterfly thing in Super Paper Mario, the Roomba from the Rabbids thing. This time, it's a magic hat, and as has been well-documented of, Mario throws the magic hat at a living thing that isn't already wearing a hat, then Mario parasitizes their body and overwrites their free will like a Cordyceps fungus with a slightly-racist accent.
The levels are more on the Mario 64 and Mario Sunshine side of things than the Mario Galaxy approach: large hub levels rather than a sequence of contained challenges that you must shake down for magic stars by probing their every secret crevice. Oh wait, it's not stars we're collecting for once; it's moons! Who says Nintendo never innovate? Well, the level themes, for starters. You guessed it; it's the classic ditty: "Grasslands, Desert, Ocean, Jungle, Ice World, Fire World, Boss." It's even got all the usual wildcards thrown in as well: City World, Spooky World, and Food World, although "Food World" manifests as a Vegetable-and-Healthy-Snack World rather than the usual Candy World; maybe Nintendo were feeling the pressure from child obesity groups.
Incidentally, the mayor of City World is Pauline, who may be the same one from Donkey Kong, but I'm not sure they ever directly admit that; probably a hard thing to bring up in casual conversation. "Hey, sorry if this sounds weird, but didn't I rescue you from a monkey?" This is the same City World that's populated with realistically-proportioned humans, by the way, which, for me, raises the question of what the fuck Mario is, if not a human like these lads. Some frighteningly malformed species of hairy pygmy?
It's one of the things that underlie how Mario is now essentially just a brand with no consistent tone that can be put alongside literally anything without a blink. See also the realistic dinosaur we possess in the first world for all of two minutes - I suspect just so they could put it in the fucking trailer - and a strange interlude late in the game wherein Bowser shows up riding a fucking Dark Souls boss! I guess it's not really a complaint; it's just not fair on other games that worked jolly hard to keep a consistent visual tone. You wouldn't see Dark Souls introduce cartoon mushroom people out of nowhere-- Ahem. Moving on...
Not much to complain about, gameplay-wise; you've got your jump, your slightly-higher jump, your other slightly-higher jump, your third slightly-higher jump that you do from a crouch, the fourth slightly-higher jump you do right after a butt-stomp, the fifth slightly-higher jump you save for family occasions and bar mitzvahs. So if you've played Mario Galaxy, you should settle back in quick, and you'll be relieved to know that you no longer have to shake a Wiimote to attack like you're trying to give yourself tendinitis.
Not that Nintendo have entirely un-dug their heels from the motion-controls filth. "Hey, don't forget! You can shake the controller to climb poles a bit faster and throw your hat a bit differently and various other nonessential things!" I hadn't forgotten; thanks, Nintendo. "You're going to do it, then?" Hadn't planned it, Nintendo. "Okay! I'll just remind you again next time you fucking blink!" In fairness, I suppose shaking the controller to climb faster makes some sense, since this is the sort of thing you might do if you're frustrated and in a hurry. Maybe next, Nintendo could make a controller that can detect when you're swearing at it, or when you're two minutes late for your appointment at the STI clinic.
All in all, the game is as fun, playable, and full of variety as one should expect from a Mario gammon-soiree, but the question for me is, have we surpassed Mario Galaxy, the erstwhile peak of gammon-soiree, as going to space often is? Jason Voorhees can attest. And as often follows a high, everything since then has been a sort of haze of comedowns and self-indulgence for old Stachey-Bollocks. True, Galaxy was a lot more linear and suffered from that tendinitis business, but if you want to see self-indulgence, then Mario Odyssey spurts it out in long, ropy strands with both fists. It being a modern Nintendo game, and therefore, enamored with a nostalgia for itself, there's a self-congratulatory air to the whole thing that ofttimes, is good, and makes things come alive, like the big musical number in the city level - another thing conspicuously present in the trailer - and at other times, tries my patience a bit, like when it goes back to a 2D 8-bit Mario and it all feels kind of regressive; deliberately so, I'm aware, but still cheap.
Ah, you don't want to listen to a 30-year-old man pontificating on where this cartoon game for kiddy-winks belongs in the history of modern culture because he lacks the qualifications for any serious field of criticism, do you, madam? You want to know if Mario Odyssey will keep little Jimmy and little Susie off your back for five minutes. And that brings me to the two-player mode, for as well as being serial masturbators, Nintendo are also big on the "family fun time" angle, so you'll notice an option for two players in the pause menu. But don't fall for it; this is a highway to acrimonious divorce. See, one player controls Mario and the other controls the magic hat, and all you have to do is make use of the miracle of Switch hardware: just snap the controller in half, and hey, presto! The game's fucking unplayable!
Firstly, the Joy-Cons are so fucking tiny, it's like trying to fluff an elderly hamster, and secondly, there's only one stick, so you can't move your character and the camera at the same time, which, it turns out, is pretty bloody important when you're trying to accurately land on things in 3D. There are even challenges like the races that will flat-out turn you away at the fucking door if you're not playing solo. So Mario Galaxy's on top there, at least, because as humiliating as it was for the second player, who was basically doing nothing but pick up the main player's litter and flicked bogeys, they were still only being a help. Force little Jimmy to interrupt his moon-collecting to let little Susie join in, madam, and ain't no one gonna be collecting shit, except things they discuss with their future prison therapist.
- Wedding crasher: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- So I'm guessing Pauline swept into power on a wave of anti-giant monkey sentiment
- What's with all the hat-themed games lately