Since its launch in March, the Nintendo Switch has managed to catch the attention of the gaming world and turn Nintendo’s fortunes around after the Wii U’s poor performance on the marketplace. This was accomplished thanks not only to the system’s innovative hardware that allows the system to be used in a variety of forms but largely because of Nintendo’s stellar lineup of games released for the system, starting of course with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and followed by Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Arms, Splatoon 2 and Fire Emblem Warriors all within the new console’s first months on the market. And while each of these games are important in their own right they might not be able to match what comes next for Nintendo and the Switch.
Super Mario Odyssey opens with how most Mario games end. Mario is battling Bowser in his bid to rescue Princess Peach from having to marry the King of the Koopas. But things soon take a turn for the worse as Bowser manages to best Mario and heads off to complete his nuptials but not before adding insult to injury and wrecking Mario’s favorite hat. A short while later, Mario awakens in the mysterious town of Bonneton where he meets Cappy, a ghostly hat-figure whose sister has also been kidnapped by Bowser. The two decide to join forces to rescue their loved ones and put a stop to Bowser’s scheme of making Peach his bride and, set off across the globe aboard the titular airship, the Odyssey.
Breaking tradition from the more recent 3D Mario adventures, Super Mario Odyssey is a return to the gameplay championed by Super Mario 64 and Sunshine where you explore a large, open environment while looking for a celestial item of sorts – in this case Power Moons. And its these Power Moons that form the main objective of Super Mario Odyssey as collecting all hundreds and hundreds… and hundreds of them will take you far beyond the final confrontation. Unlike previous 3D Mario games where Stars (or Shines which are also stars when you think about it) these Moons are literally everywhere and represent one of the biggest changes the series has ever seen.
You see, instead of jumping into a level, completing your main objective and leaving, Super Mario Odyssey instead gives you an open-world for you to explore at your leisure and where you can find a seemingly endless numbers of mini-adventures along the way. Oh sure, you will have your main objective to complete but the real fun is found by going off the beaten path to find either more Power Moons, each hidden by their own mini-challenge, or the hundreds of purple coins scattered in each of the game’s kingdoms. This style of play is an absolute game changer for Mario and actually feels a lot like playing an old Rare platformer like Banjo-Kazooie as you’re goal is not so much reaching the end of the level but uncovering all of the secrets within said level.
And its fundamental change in structure that proves to be Super Mario Odyssey‘s greatest strength and its biggest weakness at the same time. On one hand, the ability to have countless adventures. all contained within an incredibly well designed sandbox gives the player an insane amount of options when it comes to choosing the path to go down. Every time the Odyssey lands in a new kingdom it feels like the start of a new game as you discover the rules of the new land as well as interact with its inhabitants. Each of the game’s kingdoms shines with its own unique personality that not only rivals the most creative lands that Mario has explored before but takes the plumber to heights never before seen.
On the other hand however, the sheer amount of Power Moons hidden throughout the game does have one side-effect and that’s that they can feel ‘cheap’ to get, especially before you get into the post-game content. In the game’s first few kingdoms it can feel as if a Power Moon is given for doing absolutely anything. Standing in the right spot? Power Moon. Took the right turn in this area? Power Moon, and so on. Getting a Star in past Mario games used to mean something, and for the most part that’s still mostly the case in Super Mario Odyssey, expect for the vast majority of early game Moons which seem to serve more as a reward to keep you exploring (like the Korok Seeds in Breath of the Wild) than a critical plot device.
Exploring and Power Moons aside, Super Mario Odyssey also shakes up the traditional 3D Mario formula in another major way thanks to our newest travel companion – Cappy. More than just regular head-wear, Cappy can allow Mario to inhabit the bodies of whoever Mario whips him at. And this is one of the single most innovative things to come to the Mario series since Super Mario 64 set us loose in the 3rd dimension. Being able to control all manner of enemies, creatures and even some objects opens up the gameplay dramatically and fundamentally changes the way we explore Mario’s world. This is more apparent with some possessions over others as being able to navigate waterways and lava fields with ease is a bit different than controlling a fork to flick you higher. However the sheer joy of entering a new kingdom and tracking down what you can take control of is something that felt truly magical throughout the entirety of Super Mario Odyssey‘s campaign.
But it doesn’t end there, as Super Mario Odyssey also pushes the envelope of what could be considered a traditional ‘Mario’ challenge. Seemingly everywhere you go, you will find something new or a variation on something we’ve seen from the series before but presented in an all new light. Among these highlights include sections reminiscent of Super Mario Sunshine‘s levels where you lost the ability to use F.L.U.D.D. and had to rely on your platforming skills to reach the end, taking control of special vehicles to get your through challenges and (my personal favorite), 2D throwback stages where Mario takes on his 8-bit persona from Super Mario Bros.. What makes these sections truly impressive are how they are woven so perfectly within the fabric of the 3D world. And while I found each and every one of these sections impressive, the portion that concludes the Metro Kingdom will rank among one of my favorite gaming moments of the year.
When it comes to control options, Super Mario Odyssey has you covered as every Switch form is supported including the Pro Controller. Now while each and every control option is perfectly suited to getting you through all of the game, you are prompted to give the detached Joy-Con setup a whirl since it opens up some new moves for Mario and Cappy. and even though none of these moves are deal changers they do give you more options to use, especially when it comes to defeating enemies and so if I had to make a recommendation I would say that the detached Joy-Cons are the way to go. In terms of controls things are mostly great (and I’ll get to the mostly in a bit). Everything controls exactly how you expect it to if you’ve played a 3D Mario game and jumping into Mario Odyssey is no problem at all. It’s not all perfect though as the controls can seem overly sensitive at first, which can be an issue in some of the game’s trickier platforming sections. That and the camera will likely drive you slightly mad as you struggle to find the optimal viewing angle to prepare your death-defying leaps, which are among the longest the series has every seen.
To say that Super Mario Odyssey is the biggest Mario game ever crafted would be an understatement as it absolutely eclipses the next closest game by a large margin. Each of the game’s 17 kingdoms is jam packed with Power Moons to the point that game has almost 1000 of these satellites hidden throughout. Add to that the scores of Purple Coins hiding in each world and you have a game that can, in many ways rival The Legend of Zelda: Breath of Wild for sheer amount of content on the Nintendo Switch. However, unlike Link’s adventure, Mario Odyssey is a much more focused experience, often slotting you into a set challenge with very defined rules and a certain way to do things whereas Zelda was all about forging your own path. Honestly both systems work great in their respective game worlds and for Odyssey specifically, its not necessarily about ‘how’ you do things but ‘how you get there’ that’s important.
In the past, Mario’s 3D titles have mostly been single-player affairs (Super Mario 3D World notwithstanding) and that’s mostly the case here because, while the game is designed for a lone player to go through you can play a two player mode that puts one player in charge of Mario and the second controlling Cappy, similarly to how multiplayer was handled in the Super Mario Galaxy games. While this is a nice option, its not a very fleshed out one and the level designs aren’t particularly conducive to having Cappy control independently from Mario since he’s often best used as a way to extend a jump or to knock away an incoming foe. Add to that that once you possess something the second player just has to sit patiently for you to move on and you have a mode that will either bore older gamers or infuriate younger kids.
Nintendo has been on a mission to modernize not only their image but the image of their various franchises and Super Mario Odyssey serves as a perfect example of how to take an IP that has been around for decades and make it fresh and appealing to modern audiences. Absolutely everything about Super Mario Odyssey screams ‘fun’ and going along with Mario on his journey is a blast from start to finish. This is helped immensely by the game’s out-worldy presentation that I think is the best Nintendo has ever put into a single title. Every single moment of Mario Odyssey is alive with personality that not only brings this world to life but can stir emotions in those experiencing it, whether as a player or viewer.
For the first time since Super Mario 64, Mario’s world feels like a living, breathing place rather than an area reserved for platforming. This is accomplished thanks to Super Mario Odyssey‘s stellar graphics & art direction that show that the Switch can be home to breathtaking experiences just as much as any other system. But beyond the technical aspects, the game manages to give its cast of characters personalities thanks to fantastic animation work, so even the lowliest of Goombas feels like an important part of the world. The art direction is just stellar, with each kingdom feeling unique and bursting with personality. The Metro Kingdom in particular is a highlight and I found myself spending hours in New Donk City simply because I didn’t want to leave.
What’s even more impressive than the game’s visual presentation is what it does in the sound department. Literally every second of the game is musical bliss, which is all the more surprising considering how the game makes just as much use of silence as it does full on music tracks. In this regard its strikingly similar to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, with long, contemplative moments of silence, however unlike that game when Mario Odyssey wants to turn things up it does so in a big, bombastic way that perfectly punctuates the the feeling the game wants you to experience at that moment. Case in point, while being heavily featured in the game’s promotional materials, the first time you hear the full ‘Jump Up, Superstar’ track in the game stands as one of the best moments of the entire experience and will go down in history as one of Nintendo’s most poignant set-pieces ever.
While Super Mario Odyssey features tons and tons of content, completing the game fully will ‘only’ take you roughly 80 hours. An excellent length of time, especially for a platformer but the unavoidable comparison to Breath of the Wild comes up again, and while both of these games are fundamentally different Link’s adventure does have Mario beat by several (hundred) hours. That being said Super Mario Odyssey is a much more dense game and one that you will keep you playing for hours on end thanks to its extremely varied gameplay instead of its long distances between objectives.
In addition to the content that was mentioned above, Super Mario Odyssey also features amiibo support that, while welcomed is a bit of a mixed bag. Scanning in any amiibo will give you hints as to the location of a Power Moon you have yet to find and certain figures will even give you special costumes that you can’t obtain from the game’s shops. While that’s all well and good, I do have a bit of an issue with just how over-powered the new Super Mario Odyssey series amiibo can make you. The Wedding Peach amiibo for example grants you a life-doubling heart that you can call upon at any time, making any challenge (outside of platforming) a cake-walk. It would have been nice if these abilities were toned down every so slightly as the temptation to just grab an amiibo and run through the game can detract from what is otherwise a near perfect adventure.
Its hard to argue with the stellar year the Nintendo Switch is having. Every month it seems like not only is there more to play but the quality of each game increases over the last. Well that trend might just have peaked as Super Mario Odyssey in nearly a perfect game. Everything within it is carefully crafted with the love and attention that gamers have come to equate to some of Nintendo’s best works and its both hard to imagine and exciting to wonder where Mario will take us next.