Just wrapping up Mario Odyssey now. Gotta say, it's going down as my fave 3D Mario. I hold a lot of love for 64 and Sunshine, and I was hesitant to place it above either at first, but the more I play, the more I realize it's true.
[hide]First off, I want to address the flaws. I think the biggest one to me is that the capture mechanic is so restricted. I didn't walk into this thinking I could capture anything, but I was hoping that at least most distinct species were capturable, including NPC species. This doesn't harm gameplay so much as miss out on some flavor and fun potential, like going around and collecting moons as a 'human' in the city. The next biggest gripe is the there are a couple levels that are kinda just boring, namely Lake Kingdom and Cascade Kingdom, which are kinda lulls in the experience. Plus, the Cloud Kingdom and Ruined Kingdom are way underutilized. I know they have a few moons post-game, but it's disappointing that they aren't full levels (especially the latter). Additionally, there are some repeated an uninteresting moon concepts (slots, for instance), the music design in a lot of levels is weirdly sparse, and the game needs some sort of purple coin radar, since a few of them are obscure. Minor gripes are that only full costumes are shown in the 2D sections and not any mix-and-match ones, and hats with hairstyles should have an option to have the hair on or off. Also, a hub world would have been nice, but I'm not missing it too much. And the Broodles are kinda lame. That's pretty much it, though. The rest is all positive.
I think the main factor behind Mario Odyssey's success is Nintendo's approach to player freedom. 3D Mario is pretty well known for the way it lets you accomplish levels and tasks out of order, and Odyssey has a near completely linear level order, but the big difference is that, like the Banjo games, goal order is almost entirely unrestricted. There are some goals that can only be done after beating a boss and later after hitting the moon stones, but otherwise, the way you approach the levels any way you wish. There are a ton of moons everywhere, even before you unlock more, with varying degrees of difficulty to them (which allows players of any level to beat the game, too). The amount and variety of moons is key to making the player freedom work, since you learn pretty quickly that they can be hiding anywhere, giving you a reason to full explore the stages. The stages, themselves, are made fun to traverse and fully explore between Mario's moveset and the variety of things he can capture in the area. The whole experience is designed to both encourage and work with player freedom. This is especially exemplified in how Nintendo hid coins in places that would seem impossible to reach. If the player can get there, why not reward them? I spent time at a friends place replaying the beginning of the game on his Switch, and had a blast exploring the levels differently with the new variety of techniques and secrets I learned. It was akin to the joy I have replaying Mario 64 to this day.
My personal favorite level of the game for all of these elements is Bubblaine. While some levels have a certain linear flow to initial exploration (like Wooded Kingdom or Bowser's Castle, for instance), Bubblaine starts with you staring out at the whole level, free to go in whichever direction you want. The various captures and rocket flowers scattered around the level give you several options to explore the level, even without making use of checkpoint teleportation. Each of these methods of transport are also instrumental in getting a variety of moons, meaning that it's encouraged to try out each of them, get used to them, and then use them the way you want to explore the area. Learning the layout becomes somewhat important in the level boss, who is fought in the entirety of the level. The great soundtrack doesn't hurt, either.
While I love the openness of Bubblaine, I have to praise Odyssey for having a real gameplay variety among the levels. The levels come in three 'size' tiers: 0 purple coins, 50 purple coins and 100 purple coins. The 0 ones are basically boss arenas with some moons to find later. As much as I expressed interest earlier in seeing those levels fleshed out, I do appreciate that they did build some content into them regardless of their final size. The remaining two tiers allowed the creators more freedom in designing levels to be as big as they needed, without having to reach an arbitrary goal. In Super Mario 64 or Sunshine, levels needed to have a certain number of stars/shines, each, and as a result, some of them feel really cramped, or kind of lacking. Look at Tall Tall Mountain, where most of the tasks boil down to 'get to the top of the mountain'. Do we really need 3 whole stars for that task alone? In contrast, Odyssey does allow itself to have more intimate areas like Shiveria or the Forgotten Isle, where they don't need to stretch things to fit a scheme. On the flip side, Tostarena and New Donk City can have really big and dense layouts, respectively, because they aren't limited to a smaller size. Each Kingdom has its own central variety of gameplay and exploration, generally defined by their shape and available captures. The whole experience is nice.
Another thing I've gotta say is that man, Odyssey seems to take more notes from Banjo Kazooie than Yooka-Laylee did, so to speak. Teleporters available in each level to bring you to key areas, hidden paths to other worlds available within levels, and fleshed out local cultures. All Yooka has on it is a hubworld. I just wanted to point that out, since a lot of people came out trashing Yooka as something that was bad due to working from a bad formula, but I think Odyssey proves that you just need to take the right lessons to make something great.
Talking about customization for a bit: I love it. I had a lot of fun dressing up Mario in a variety of increasingly stupid outfits throughout the game. Want naked Mario in a sombrero? Got it. Pirate clown? You know it. Skeleton bride? Why the fuck not. Invisible? Do you even have to ask? The costume variety is a delight, and you don't even need to Amiibos to unlock everything. Instead, they're used to gain access to certain outfits early, which is totally a fine use of them. Another bit of customization is the sound test, which lets you listen to any music anywhere. I love this feature, since it mitigates my complaints about the soundtracking some. If the level doesn't have enough music, I can just put on the Bubblaine theme and it automatically becomes great. Even if I just want a tone shift, it's available. It's a really cool feature that I'm glad to have.
So yeah, I could keep praising this game all day. I haven't even gotten into how rad the ending sequence is, the great use of the mushroom kingdom, or numerous other unique things that breathe life in this game (you can play fetch with dogs using your hat because why the fuck not). Just like in the game itself, there's great things to be found in every aspect to explore in Odyssey. At the end of a year that's seen 3D platformers crawling back to the spotlight, Mario still proves it's king.[/hide]