Anyone can “finish” Super Mario Odyssey. You can coast through the main “story,” such as it is, by collecting the easiest moons and beating a limited number of bosses. There is an assist mode that can make things even easier on you. The credits are available to anyone willing to put in a few hours learning the basics of the game.
But it’s nearly impossible to be truly done.
This is why the game’s difficulty is so hard to talk about, since it’s left up to the player. Your ship asks you to collect a certain number of moons to get to someplace new -- which I won’t ruin here — after you “beat” the game, but you can do this just by buying the 100 coin moons at any store you want to visit. Just keep buying moons. Coins are easy to come by.
Nintendo is giving you an out, an easy but boring way to get to any goal of moons you might have. But why stop there? The end game is filled with moons to find, and some will force you to use advanced jumping and hat techniques to succeed. The game is easy to beat, but you’re going to be challenged if you want to truly master everything Odyssey has to offer.
Do you really need to see every moon? Do you want to keep going to get the really rare hats and outfits? You don’t have to. You could always call the game done and walk away. But I’ve never been tempted to put the game down.
You can always go after another moon, and in doing so you’ll have to learn the harder techniques of the game. You’re going to have to show that you’re willing to master the range of skills the game introduces to you during your first pass of the campaign. The difficulty level gets ridiculous in places, but you can always drop it back down by going after a simpler moon. Or you can call your efforts finished once you’ve seen each of the kingdoms. It’s up to you.
The reward system in Super Mario Odyssey makes the normal arguments about seeing the “true” ending or figuring out when you’re done all but obsolete. You can always turn on assist mode, and you can always buy a moon. You can say you’re done once you’ve bested Bowser, if you want. There’s no one in a position to argue. But you’ll miss the implicit rewards for bettering your skill level and chasing the toughest moons, and then turning in your achievements in the Mushroom Kingdom to earn even more moons.
This system, which flattens the game’s goals and rewards into a few key currencies, means that everything you do gets you closer to your goals. Hell, just running around and playing means you’re working on the platforming skills that are required in some of the harder challenges, and there are even moons that require you to memorize every part of Mario’s beautiful, ridiculous face.
Super Mario Odyssey never says you have to do anything to get ahead. You can play it however you’d like. But those challenges are there, and it’s always fun to jump in and try to get a few more moons. It’s a passive invitation to play a game that feels like it never ends ... although of course you can and maybe will run out of moons to collect. But it’s an exquisitely long journey to do so.
It’s hard for a single-player game to compete against robust releases with a campaign and multiplayer and loot boxes and persistent leveling and all the rest of the stuff that’s supposed to keep us addicted and coming back for more. But Odyssey survives by simply packing itself full of things to do, see and achieve. It’s a ridiculous amount of content, and once you’ve scraped off the top level of moons and begin to dig deeper into the rest of the game you’ll see just how hard things get.
You can walk away whenever you’d like, of course. You’ve probably already “finished” the game. But I bet you won’t.