Another big Nintendo game I’m getting to fashionably late. I’m very much of two minds about this one.
Aesthetically, the game is an absolute delight. The premise of making the different worlds feel genuinely alien in a way that even the planets of Galaxy didn’t by giving them all radically different aesthetics and art styles was wonderful, and a fantastic way to make even this old franchise feel fresh. I loved all the kingdoms and all the inhabitants, especially the steam gardeners — despite being robots they actually seemed like the most emotional of all the characters, and the duality of their earnest joy at their work and snarky pettiness was so adorable. (I particularly love the one that is very obviously the robot equivalent of drunk hollering that the Steam Gardens are objectively the best kingdom.) I loved the possession mechanic. I loved the 8-bit segments and the callbacks to earlier games, especially the New Donk City festival, which felt like a reflection on how far the franchise has come. I loved that we got to explore Bowser’s kingdom and that it was a completely different flavor of medieval palace than the Mushroom Kingdom. I loved getting to fight a giant frickin’ dragon that looks like it wandered in from Dark Souls. I loved that we got to revisit Peach’s castle as it was in Super Mario 64. I loved that the designers put in the detail that Bowser didn’t just dress up for the occasion, he also delicately coiffed his hair. I loved following up the final boss fight with getting to possess Bowser for a super awesome Metroid-esque escape sequence. I loved all the outfits, and I took a particular delight in dancing around Bowser’s kingdom in a clown suit.
But I feel they really dropped the ball on actually putting a compelling game on top of this phenomenal backdrop. It was clearly trying to experiment with the same open-world approach as Breath of the Wild, but that doesn’t work nearly as well for a platformer than it does for an action adventure. The actual platforming challenges feel tiny, empty, and unsatisfying, and the game as a whole feels like it’s pulling in too many directions.