Since its announcement alongside the Nintendo Switch, Super Mario Odyssey has generated an insane amount of buzz. Fans have been crying out for a new, proper 3D Mario game since Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine still remained the only two such examples. Fast forward to 2017, and Nintendo have not only pulled from the legacy of those games to craft their new title, but they’ve taken 30-something years of franchise evolution and turned it on its head, meeting modern sensibilities with an unmistakably ‘Nintendo’ attitude. Now that the game is out in the world in full, it’s clear that the approach has paid off, resulting in not just one of the best Super Mario titles of all time, but one of the best games of the decade.
Odyssey begins atop Bowser’s airship, where he and Mario are squaring off, as is the norm in their rivalry-cum-occasional-friendly-game-of-tennis. Mario manages to be knocked off the ship, losing his iconic red cap to a propeller engine in the process. Upon landing he finds himself in Bonneton, a hat-themed world with a very Tim Burton-esque visual style where he meets Cappy, a ghostly top hat with the power to possess (or as the family-minded Nintendo calls it, capture) living and inanimate things. The pair immediately hit it off, with Cappy offering to take the form of Mario’s lost hat and accompany him on his quest to find and stop Bowser, who has kidnapped Peach and plans to force her hand in marriage. Making use of Cappy’s own airship, the aptly named Odyssey, they set off on their grand, globe-trotting adventure to prevent Bowser’s gang of rabbit henchman The Broodals from stealing the world’s most priceless wedding supplies and stop the sham marriage before it starts. It’s a story set-up that certainly won’t win any awards, but as far as Mario titles go it’s one of the most interesting, and perfectly sets in motion the main hook of this game – exploring a swathe of huge and interesting worlds, and possessing their inhabitants.
Mario had collected over 500 moons and yet there was one moon that was always out of reach… the moon
Your primary means of interaction with almost everything in these Kingdoms is through Cappy, whose power of ‘capturing’ provides the game’s core gameplay hook. Mario can throw Cappy onto the heads of a vast number of enemies, NPCs, and even some inanimate objects and take complete control of them, using their forms and abilities to overcome obstacles and solve puzzles. Controlling these other characters is a blast; it’s especially wonderful to walk in the proverbial shoes of so many mainstay Super Mario enemies. Wielding the almighty thing-chucking power of a Hammer Bro is a visceral delight, while simply walking around as an ever-growing stack of Goombas is as adorable as it is impractical. Nintendo may have been marketing Odyssey with the promise of playing as a red-capped T-Rex, but it’s safe to say that almost every capture is just as fun and varied, not to mention the occasional surprise along the way.
One of Odyssey’s biggest triumphs is how well integrated Cappy is into the core platforming gameplay outside of his capturing ability. From the get-go, Nintendo have managed fill out Mario’s own moveset with just about everything he’s learned from his previous outings. Triple jumps, backflips, slide jumps; if he’s done it before he can probably do it now. Adding to these is a whole raft of new moves based on tossing Cappy – Mario can throw him at objects to break them, use him to collect coins or keep him spinning in mid-air to utilise as a platform, just to name a few. Commendably, the gameplay is as simple and accessible as ever, despite the many moves at Mario and Cappy’s disposal, and a handy Action Guide is always available in the pause menu for those having trouble remembering what the pair are capable of. For those looking for extra nuance, the split Joy-Con configuration is the way to go, and the control method Nintendo push from the beginning of the game. While scaling levels and throwing Cappy with button presses on the Pro controller help to inspire the feeling of playing a traditional Mario adventure, as holding a Joy-Con in each hand opens up potential for extra degrees of control using motion gestures. Being able to hone Cappy in on the nearest enemy with an extra shake of the right hand or spin him in a full circle with a wave of both controllers isn’t essential to completing any task, but adds incentive for committed players to play smarter.
Pizza man or mobster? Either way it’s a stereotype!
Every one of the dozen-or-so main kingdoms in the game is wholly unique, each with their own visual flavour and gameplay structure – from the brightly coloured and platforming focussed Luncheon Kingdom with its giant vegetables and sentient forks, to the more open-ended and eerily realistic city streets of the Metro Kingdom. Exploring these worlds is an absolute joy, with each containing an almost insurmountable number of things to do, collect, discover or just marvel at. Progressing through the game means stopping off at each kingdom in the Odyssey, to collect enough “Power Moons” to power further travel. These moon-shaped artefacts are the primary goal, and function a lot like the Stars in Super Mario 64, complete with their own cryptic objective descriptions. Some are dotted around the landscape in plain sight, or hidden in crates, while others lie in wait at the end of a particularly tough platforming challenge, clever puzzle or subtle environmental clue. Finding and collecting Power Moons never gets old, thanks to the same kind of constant stream of new and exciting gameplay ideas that all good Mario games deftly throw at the player, always moving on to the next before they get old. Each kingdom has a set number of Power Moons that must be collected before moving on, usually around 10-20, but the total number available to find is typically double that, with some worlds containing upwards of 50 or more. Super Mario Odyssey isn’t particularly challenging when sticking to the beaten path, and with the meagre cost of ten gold coins being the only penalty for failure, it remains up to the more challenging extraneous activities to satisfy the more ‘hardcore’ fans. As well as Power Moons, much time is spent collecting the requisite gold coins, as well has harder to find purple coins, which serve as currency with which to purchase a plethora of adorable costumes for Mario and souvenirs for his ship. To compare this game to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is already something of a cliché at this point, but it’s more than apt. Odyssey evokes the same sense of discovery as Nintendo’s behemoth RPG, but in a form that’s far more accessible in both gameplay and subject matter. While this entry in the franchise may have fewer overall ‘levels’ than previous games, they’re far bigger and richer than anything we’ve seen in the past. It’s entirely possible to charge headlong through the story and come out of the tail end in less than ten hours, but to do so would be just scratching the surface of what’s on offer. Factoring in the immense trove of optional content could easily double that number, or even more – especially considering the surprising and sensational post-game content.
One simple tip for improving the Mario franchise: add more Mario
Whether fighting a giant floating squid over the fizzing waters of a carbonated beach, or riding a motor scooter through the rain-slicked streets of New Donk City, Super Mario Odyssey is a sumptuous visual feast. Not only is this the first high definition core 3D Mario title, it’s also one of the best-looking games Nintendo has ever produced. Every kingdom has been realised with a completely different artistic style that perfectly matches its unique gameplay conceits, and texture and effects work across the board are simply incredibly. Mario, Cappy, and all the world’s inhabitants animate with more personality than ever before, and Nintendo have brilliantly opted to include a ‘photo mode’ complete with camera controls and filters with which to capture this freeze any moment in time and capture its beauty. Of course, the kingdoms truly come alive through not just their sights, but their sounds, and here Nintendo has done an equally admirable job of making every location feel unique. The infectious soundtrack ebbs and flows with the action, and transforms as Mario moves through the different regions of each kingdom, which in turn come alive with sounds of their own. Characters speak in the requisite garbled gibberish, but are at least accompanied by one of the best examples of Nintendo’s always flawless and consistently hilarious dialogue work. Story, gameplay and presentation in Super Mario Odyssey all come together with a depth and (dare I say) maturity that the series hasn’t really seen too much of before, and the incredible finale really highlights Nintendo’s new no-holds-barred approach to its beloved properties.
Super Mario Odyssey is something of a celebration. For Nintendo, it’s a celebration of every core Super Mario title that has come before it, superbly consolidating over 30 years of franchise growth into a single, tightly refined experience. Fans have cause to celebrate too, because the long wait for a brand new, true 3D Mario game is over, and it was more than worth it.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch