Super Mario Odyssey (2017) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Super Mario Odyssey (2017)

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Super Mario Odyssey is the logical end-point of Mario's moral regression ever since he got the ability to abandon Yoshi to a bottomless pit for a boosted jump.  I could dig further than that, and think of how Mario imprisoned Donkey Kong, forcing Donkey Kong Jr. on a journey of revenge as Mario throws other creatures at the diaper-clad gorilla.  Manipulation has always been part of Mario's appeal, whether he's claiming natural resources to hurl fire or forcing poor attention starved Luigi to fend for himself.  The rest of us craft whatever narrative we need to make his platforming journey one of heroics instead of selfishness.

Sound deep?  Possibly! I just recall how many times Odyssey stopped to remind me I'm playing it incorrectly.  It never comes right out and says it, but all those little tidbits of extra movement are easier if I undock the controllers and play with wristbands.  I considered it for a moment then, out of spite, decided I would continue to play with both controllers firmly attached to the Nintendo Switch screen and get those moons without the help of all those passive-aggressive reminders ( I would prefer not to.)  I didn't need onscreen prompts to show me how to get through the maze of fortresses in Super Mario Bros., nor to get to 120 stars in Mario 64, so I took the needling reminders on as a challenge.Side-note about Odyssey's needling that verges into gaslighting - I got to Mushroom Kingdom and collected a moon.  My wife, watching me play, confused because Mario collected a higher resolution star that I grabbed in Mario 64.  "That's not a star," she said.  "No, it's not, but the game's insisting it is," I responded.  Odyssey repeatedly told me to forget what I knew about its titular character's previous adventures and accept everything on its own terms.  Like the controls, I refused.

The needling goes beyond the controls and memory manipulation into the musical score.  After the majestic symphony of Super Mario Galaxy and the memorable star collection tunes of Mario 64, some of the tunes in Odyssey practically dare me to like them.  One kingdom features this bizarre off-beat kind of jazz guitar, confusingly doing its own thing while I leapt between trees to get at some of those dangling purple coins.  Points for originality, as I've come to associate jungles with drums more than guitar, but it's another one of Odyssey's dares for the player to take Mario on his own terms and no one else's.Those dangling collectibles have grown exponentially since Mario was grabbing Yoshi coins in Super Mario WorldOdyssey practically shovels them at me, including late game options to buy 10 at a time, and using a seemingly arbitrary criteria to determine which moons are worth a cutscene celebration or not.  More needling here - the moon I collected after double-digit minutes of frustrating platforming around pools of insta-kill poisonous liquid gets me a quick thumbs-up.  But the moon where I easily pick up five tokens and saunter on over to the collection point is worth the full floating celebratory cutscene.  Player experimentation is largely out the window as well since I was forced to stay in each of the kingdoms until I gathered a certain number of moons.  I'm of two minds here, as I like that I can't just skip swaths of Odyssey as I could previous 3D Mario entries, but I also became that much more aware of the cage Odyssey put me in.

This isn't the Mario of early platforming with a fluid identity.  This is Mario the cultural icon, the plumber more recognizable than Mickey Mouse, the chubby little fella who has become so omnipresent in videogaming that we accept his assimilation of life as a fact of life.  It all leads to Odyssey's brilliant central mechanic, Mario throwing his magical hat partner Cappy to take control of whatever does not have a hat.  Early decisions to take control of a tyrannosaurus rex or frog are easy - they're animals and we've exerted control of animals ever since our higher cognitive functions evolved.  The sentient cooking implements and, most distressingly, "normal" humans are a separate matter.  Thinking, feeling, emoting beings are all subject to domination by one button press.It's kind of terrifying, and made worse when I realized Nintendo was aware of these implications and gives many of the sentient targets dialogue when I ditched them.  "What happened?" is a common refrain as the being's essence farts out of existence for a moment so that an entitled plumber convinced of his righteousness may take possession of the being's consciousness.  Wario, once Mario's greedy foil now farting motorcyclist, must have gotten out of the greed game once he realized our society would willingly cede our consciousness to his nemesis.  It's easy to not think about these things because of how thrilling it is to smash the environments as a Chain Chomp, possess a human to drive a little electronic car around, or take control of a cheerful gliding lizard to reach some far-off moon.  Less thrilling is the realization that I could take possession of a fish, maroon the fish on ground, and let it die with no damage to Mario.

Odyssey also, for the first time in my memory, marks when Mario's cultural juggernaut status made Nintendo take one leap too far.  He can dress himself in different cultural and professional garb, most notably a poncho and sombrero, which is a caricature suitable for the debatable quality of comedies like Three Amigos.  There was enough of a hullaballoo to remove the appropriated ensemble from the box, but not enough to keep it out of the game.  Make whatever use of this information however you'd like.  For me, the simple iconic red and blue getup is just fine, no need to stoop to cultural caricatures so I can collect purple drops from beings whose consciousness I possess when I feel like it.So where are Mario's limits?  I've watched him travel to another kingdom, enslave gorillas, annoy a race of dinosaurs to return him to his parents, travel around the galaxy, and now greedily take possession of whatever being is unlucky enough to not be wearing a hat.  And if the being is wearing a hat, just find a way to knock it off.  After all, who needs consent when you're as big a corporate and cultural juggernaut as Mario.

The limiting factor is Princess Peach, whose own sentient headgear is a gift from that aggressive would-be suitor and longtime Mario nemesis Bowser.  Mario may possess then sacrifice hundreds of creatures, and trick lady Goombas into thinking he's something he's not, but at least he recognizes, "No means no," and I guided him gleefully on every precarious jump and traversed candy coated soup kingdoms to get to that point.  Walking a mile in someone else's shoes isn't for a change in perspective for Super Mario Odyssey, it's just a means to more shiny treasures.  Wario would be proud.

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Posted by Andrew

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