Super Mario Odyssey is a triumph. It takes the gameplay core of Sunshine and Galaxy and extends with influences from Kirby and Breath of the Wild. The result is another classic Mario adventure that you simply will not want to put down.
When Nintendo unveiled the Switch it showed off clips of a new Mario game. During the launch presentation, they stated that not only it would launch with a new Zelda title but that a new Mario game would arrive in the same year. Personally, I thought this was mostly marketing to lure gamers to their shiny new console and expected it to slip into the next year. But when E3 came Nintendo didn’t delay the game, they actually gave it launch-date. Then Nintendo went ahead and stuck to that date and that means we now have a brand-spanking new Super Mario title: Super Mario Odyssey!
A new proper Mario game is always a big deal. For a franchise that is over 30 years old it has been able to deliver a great experience with practically every title in the series, often (re)defining the platform genre. I can try to play coy but let me just cut to the chase: Odyssey is a great game and worthy of the Super Mario name.
Before playing the final version I thought Nintendo wanted to do for Mario what they did for Zelda with Breath of the Wild: open the world. To an extent this is the case but the execution is different. Instead of creating a single open world to explore Mario Odyssey is made up of several worlds (called kingdoms). But within these kingdoms, you are free to explore however you see fit. In practice, it isn’t that much different from how previous levels have worked for the Galaxy games with one key difference. Finding one of the main in-game trophies (which are called power-moons this time around) doesn’t make you exit the level. Instead, you can continue playing. While this may not seem like a big deal the impact is transformative. It streamlines the experience but cutting out mundane tasks like walking back to a certain point to continue investigating. It also puts more emphasis on the exploration aspects that are, in my opinion, the best parts of any Super Mario game. The game also implements other features to further streamline the traveling. Checkpoint flags make an appearance and serve not only as a respawn point in case of an untimely demise but also a fast travel point. Once activated Mario can warp to them by simply selecting them on the map. All of these additions make exploration an utter joy. This is a good thing too because Super Mario Odyssey has a ton of stuff to explore.
As with most major Mario titles, Odyssey has a hook to set it apart from the other games in the series. This time around it’s in the form of a new sidekick called Cappy. Cappy is a ghost-like creature that travels with Mario in the form of his hat. This isn’t a creepy as it sounds because Cappy allows Mario to do several new tricks. First of all, Cappy is Mario’s means of ranged offense as Mario can throw his cap. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. Mario can not only just throw Cappy, he can also have Cappy ‘freeze’ mid-air allowing Mario to jump on him for extended jumps. While the game does a decent job of explaining what moves Mario has it does not include this one. While these skills are useful, Cappy’s real trick is his ability to possess opponents, other objects, and even electrical currents. Each character you possess only has a limited move-set but has a particular characteristic that usually makes them very useful for certain challenges and puzzles. This ability allows for a wide range of new abilities that seriously increases the diversity in the game.
Nintendo was quite clear up front that Odyssey would be a game in the tradition of the Super Mario Sunshine and Galaxy games. So like those games, Odyssey incorporates some form of story into the game. I’ll even go as far as stating that Odyssey is the most story-driven Mario game to date. That said, this does not mean that Odyssey is a story heavy affair but the main quest is engaging enough to keep you progressing through the various kingdoms. With any new Mario game, I often wonder to what extent I want to focus on exploring each level from the start or first defeat Bowser. In some games, like the New Super Mario games, it’s helpful to first beat Bowser as it grants you some privileges (like being able to save whenever you like) that help you with exploring the levels. In Super Mario Odyssey completing the story arc is definitely worth the effort. Doing so will unlock all of the exploration options in the game. Furthermore, the story is a very nice introduction to the various Kingdoms and it can be completed over the course of a weekend.
Content-wise the story just scratches the surface, if nothing else it serves as a means to introduce players to the vast world of Super Mario Odyssey. And vast it is. While playing through the story I encountered so many things I wanted to revisit that I basically need to start from scratch. During the story, the game’s HUD will show how many power-moons you need to collect in order to progress but after that, it just shows the last ones you’ve found. Thankfully, the game’s map has the option to list all the moons that can be found in any area. In total there are 999 power-moons to collect. After completing the story part I had collected roughly 170 of them. Suffice to say I still had enough to do. This vast amount of content and how the game is set-up for you to find that content is one of the best parts of the game. Like with Breath of the Wild simply wandering around the kingdoms looking for new moons or kingdom specific coins is a great fun and something that will keep you coming back for days and probably weeks to come.
Ever since the first Super Mario, but even more so after the launch of the Wii, controls have been a big part of every new Mario game. The Wii’s motion controls have made things fairly controversial as opinions on the topic of motion controls can vary quite heavily. Nintendo seems to be aware with this with the Switch and shows that with Super Mario Odyssey. As the game’s first screen shows you the preferred control scheme is the decoupled Joy-Cons (which I used to play the game as well). This scheme incorporates motion controls. But unlike during the Wii era, it doesn’t force the motion controls onto the gamer. The result is that it’s up to the player to see if he finds them useful or not. For me, someone who tends to like motion controls, I found that I used them when I needed them. For instance, when climbing poles or trees shaking the controllers made Mario climb faster and when throwing Cappy I found myself alternating between pressing a button and moving the controller. For me, this is the best way alternate control schemes can prove themselves so I hope Nintendo will stick with this approach. The end result is a game that you can play in whatever way you prefer and that is a very good thing.
On the presentation side of things, there are no surprises. The game has bright, gorgeous graphics that look great and run buttery smooth. During my time with the game, I haven’t suffered any slowdowns. While there is some pop-up for far away objects it never bothered and I only know because I looked for it. One of the new things this game adds are costumes for Mario and while I usually shrug at things like this I did enjoy collecting them and found myself appreciating how well they were implemented. This, however, also exposed a rare lack of polish. While Mario can dress up in a ton of costumes when using Cappy to possess something it will always show Mario’s default cap on the creature that has been possessed. Another example of missing details was the animation (or lack thereof) when someone hands Mario a power-moon. While this is hardly something to complain about I did find it noteworthy for a game by a developer known to cover details like this. That said, those were the only not-spot-on things I could find in the game’s presentation. Overal Super Mario Odyssey is a joy to see and listen too. If you’ve heard the game’s catchy “theme” song you get an idea of what the music in this game is like. While it’s definitely not as full-blown (with vocals and all) during most of the game the underlying music is indicative of what to expect. It’s a change from relying solely on classic Mario tunes and it works very well.
Super Mario Odyssey is simply a triumph. It’s another stellar entry in Mario’s already epic series of games. Its biggest achievement is how it manages to blend known mechanics, new mechanics with a ton of content that never gets stale. All wrapped in a gorgeous package you can enjoy wherever you are. It does pose a problem for Nintendo because they may very well be in competition with themselves for game of the year.