Mario Odyssey is a fuckin' great game. Like, it's been 20 years since the last Mario game that was this good. I'm not very original for saying that, but I want to get it on record before I criticize what I don't like about it.
But it has got me thinking. The basic formula of a Mario game is a pretty well documented thing. A new mechanic is introduced in a safe environment, then iterated on with gradually increasing complexity. Think about the first level of the first Mario game: you jump over a lot of pipes before they ask you to jump over your first pit.
It's a simple formula, but really effective at producing fun gameplay. In the more recent titles, the formula has started to be ever more on-the-nose. At the same time, the series has started to feel more and more hollow to me, which is why I've played fewer and fewer of them as they've come out.
Part of that is just the bloat and fatigue inherent in a series that has been ongoing for 30-some years now. It's descended into self-parody, which is really the only thing you can do when you're obligated to tell the same story so many times over. But like many other problems in video games, I think the core of it is that these games "benefit" from having too much disk space to work with.
In newer Mario games--including Odyssey--each new level introduces a new mechanic. Like always, it's introduced in safety, then an element of danger is added, then a twist, then a complication, and then everything is thrown together and amped up to 10, and when you get past it, you get whatever the game's cookie is. A star, a moon, the end of the level, etc.
That's all fine, but the weird thing is that they then throw the mechanic away, and start fresh with new stuff in the next level. Once you've played that mechanic's level, it'll never show up again.
In the older games, they couldn't get away with that sort of thing. They had to stretch a lot fewer tools over a lot more space, and they had to get creative about new challenges. Mechanics got mixed and remixed together in so many different ways, that by the end of the game the player had truly mastered them.
It's certainly fun, in Mario Odyssey, to play around with a new creature to posses in each level. But I don't feel like any of them are explored as deeply as they could be. They go by too fast.
Also, while I'm on the subject of criticizing this mostly-amazing game, it's bullshit that they brought the long jump back, but nerfed it so you can't grab on to ledges at the end. I get that they want you to use cappy to reach stuff that is far away, but that's dumb. They did the same thing in Sunshine, with the goddamn F.L.U.D.D. The joy of Mario 64 was having a robust and diverse moveset that felt natural to use, and then throwing the player into environments where their mastery of that moveset would be tested. It's one thing for later games to have a gimmick, it's another for that gimmick to encroach upon the naturalness of the moveset.