Let’s get this out of the way: Super Mario Odyssey is the next true 3D Mario game. While the Wii U’s Super Mario 3D World was largely impeccable, there’s no denying it catered towards a more casual audience with its multiplayer-centric focus. The same can be said about New Super Mario Bros. U, and Super Mario 3D Land on the 3DS. With those titles, Miyamoto and co. were looking at ways to make Mario more accessible, while retaining the staples that defined the series. They achieved this outright, but some of the core audience wanted that focus to shift back onto them. Enter Super Mario Odyssey then, a game specifically designed for veterans of the series with a single player-centric focus. It’s fair to say that Mario hasn’t been this good for quite some time… around 7 years in fact.
Super Mario Odyssey Review: Marrying The Princess
Odyssey’s story quickly becomes one we all know and love… Can you guess? Yes, Peach has been kidnapped by the King Koopa but this time there’s a twist: Bowser is now intent on marrying the princess as well, presumably to anger Mario more than anything else. After a crushing defeat then, the plumber finds himself in the Cap Kingdom of Bonneton, a moonlit, fog-shrouded land inhabited by ghosts in hats who speak in old British English – jolly good show, old bean. It’s here that Mario befriends newcomer Cappy and the duo set off to rescue Peach and Cappy’s sister Tiara. That’s pretty much your story. You didn’t expect anything else, did you?
The first thing we were pleased to discover upon controlling Mario was that he has all of his classic moves in this adventure. We mean all of them: the long jump, triple jump, side and backward somersault, the spin jump, the dive forward, you name it, it’s here. The new roll move is a welcome addition too that helps you more easily traverse the larger environments. Most importantly, he feels good to control as he “wahoos!” his way around, with even the pitter-patter of his feet, in some odd way, gratifying. There’s no doubt in my mind that Charles Martinet had a lot of fun with the new material as well – brace yourself for more ravioli-fuelled, dream-dialogue.
Sublime Platforming That Innovates
As for Cappy, he’s much more important to the gameplay than the story, as you’d expect, and adds a range of new moves to Mario’s arsenal, including the cap throw. The cap throw, as you’ll get accustomed to over the course of the game, enables you to attack enemies as well as possess 52 different entities – some of which we simply must not spoil. And it’s superb. The new capture mechanic effortlessly breathes new life into the series, making Odyssey feel fresh, wacky and full of vigour without overshadowing the sublime platforming the series represents. Frogs, Goombas, tanks, Bullet Bills and even a T-Rex, almost everything around you can be captured in the Kingdoms you visit, which serve as the ‘power-ups’ in the game.
The sandbox-style Kingdoms are magical. Tightly packed, and beautifully designed with secrets galore, they house the Power Moons you need to fuel your eponymously titled ship, the “Odyssey”. Collecting enough Power Moons in each Kingdom allows you to travel to the next one in pursuit of Bowser, and is the central objective of the game. You earn these Moons by completing tasks, often small, which range from helping the locals to completing 2D, 8-bit sequences (damn good), to taking down one of the many bosses – there are superb platforming sublevels in every Kingdom to boot. You’ll also notice elements from 64, Sunshine and Galaxy in there.
The gameplay is so varied that none of this ever feels like a chore. It feels immensely rewarding, but deftly balances that sense of challenge as well, ensuring that it’s not a walk in the park either; those that go the extra mile are always rewarded for doing so. The Kingdoms change based on your actions too, which evokes an ongoing sense of progression that beckons you to continue; you will want to explore every nook and cranny. The sense of discovery rivals that of Super Mario World back on the SNES.
Brimming With Creativity
Odyssey is easily the craziest Mario title to date. We know during development that Miyamoto had a hands-off approach, instead offering advice about certain elements, but never fully taking charge. It’s as if the new captain of the ship, Yoshiaki Koizumi, (producer of both Galaxy games) told his team: “Go wild. We can do what we want here – as long as it works.” This unparalleled creative freedom can be felt, and it creates an abundance of ideas, some of which could be used for full games on their own. Yes, the series has always brimmed with creativity, but Odyssey takes it even further. Certain points of the game will genuinely surprise you, and things take place that you wouldn’t necessarily expect in a Mario game, in the best possible way.
Odyssey does have a slight niggle though. The motion controls generally compliment the on-screen action very well and are satisfying to use, but every now and then they’re not as precise as they could be.
It’s also worth noting that every single motion-controlled move is not compulsory, you can complete the entire game without them, but they do add extra power to moves. A few of these ‘powered up moves’ are required to get all of the Power Moons. This means that when holding the Switch in handheld mode the motion controls, and a few Power Moons, are off limits unless you shake the entire system. It’s not even close to a serious issue, but isn’t particularly practical out and about and means that playing in tabletop or docked mode is the way to go if you want to get every last collectable. Considering the otherwise flawless production here then, this seems to be overlooked. A minor update turning off motion controls completely could fix this, however.
There are so many positives things to say about Odyssey that you couldn’t possibly fit into a single review, but here’s an effusive list of a few of them (no big spoilers, trust me): the pause menu that Mario reacts to, the increased, and highly detailed expressions on his face that further the relationship between the both of you while playing (Nintendo specifically worked on this), the holiday brochure-style maps, the costumes, the assist mode that guides younger, more inexperienced players, the stunning soundtrack full of whimsy and heroism, the fact that it’s the best looking Switch game to date running at a rock solid 60fps, the satirical humour, the bonus mini-games, Pauline, that particular festival, that particular Kingdom, the better than expected two-player mode where one of you controls Cappy – really fun. I could go on…
That’s without mentioning the incredible post-game content: if you want fan service and more to do after seeing the credits roll, you’re in luck. Odyssey may finish at around the 10-hour mark, but what comes next will keep you playing for days on end.
It’s worth buying a Switch for alone. As for being better than Galaxy, well, I’ll be having an internal debate about that one for quite some time. Simply put: this is why we play video games.
Super Mario Odyssey is a grand celebration of Mario and his long-running history. It’s pure, unabashed joy for all ages, but veterans will love the additional challenge. With efforts like this, gaming’s most famous icon isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon.