The little man with a big mustache is back once again, and this time he’s taken a cue from a Greek writer and gone on an odyssey. This odyssey isn’t quite like Homer’s however, as instead of trying to get home our super friend Mario is looking to save Princess Peach from a rather unwelcome marriage to super villain Bowser. It’s a fairly typical premise for a Mario title, but this is certainly no rehash or slouch; Super Mario Odyssey is a hell of a ride, and it’s just what the Switch crowd ordered.
A 3D platforming action game typical of the series, Super Mario Odyssey takes a lot of cues from Super Mario 64 and its follow-ups. It employs a series of open world areas, a hefty set of movement mechanics, nearly a thousand moons to find, and tons of little bits and bobs that make the journey fun and interesting. You’ll traverse through all sorts of worlds, platforms, baddies, puzzles, tricks, and quests in order to catch up with Peach and Bowser, and along the way you’ll get the skills needed to make it out on top.
Starting off in the rather simple world of Cap Kingdom, Mario gets quickly acquainted with his new friend – the cap character Cappy. A living hat that can be used to up your movement and maneuver skills to inhuman levels, Cappy partners with Mario due to his sister Tiara being stolen along with Peach. He takes the form of whatever hat Mario dons at the time (initially his iconic red cap), and can be thrown to achieve some very unique jumps and actions. Cappy can be thought of like a symbiotic extension of Mario for all intensive purposes, and he even has a power that’s very much to that effect.
Cappy can allow you to capture and control various sentient beings (and even some inanimate objects) across the game’s many worlds, and can augment your abilities to match theirs when captured. Taking on the persona of a frog will allow you to jump high, capturing a bullet will allow you to fly around on a single horizontal plane, and inhabiting a goomba will allow you to stack and gain height. There are many, many different things to inhabit in Super Mario Odyssey, and they can allow you to do strange and wonderful things.
One of the wonderful things the capture mechanic can help with is the game’s moons. There are many ways to collect them, and the reason is simple; it’ll power the ship you use to move from kingdom to kingdom. Some of these moons are found down right out in the open, while others are hidden, at the end of a task, or in tricky to reach locations – hence sometimes needing a capture to reach them. There are almost 900 of them in the wild, and nearly 200 of them are required to get to the end-game (or at least the easiest to reach one), with a total of 500 required to unlock the true ending. You’ll either be doing a lot of collecting or a lot of buying moons in Odyssey (yep; there’s a shop for that), but that’s one of the driving forces of the game’s fun!
Aside from moons, the other big collectibles are coins. There are typical gold coins for purchasing things from the regular shop, and kingdom-specific purple coins for purchasing special items from the kingdom specific shop. Both shop types offer things like costume pieces, but only the regular coin shop offers hearts and moons, and only the kingdom-specific coin shop offers decor items for your ship. You’ll be collecting all the coins you can in order to get all the flashy clothing bits from the game (your goal here to look more dapper while playing), so you’ll have keep an eye out as you hunt and play.
Looking past the collectibles and basic premise, Super Mario Odyssey descends into a chase – having you track Bowser and your stolen ladies through fifteen kingdoms. You’ll see areas of snow, woods, beach, and more; the locations also slipping into the absurd (like the Luncheon, Cloud, and Moon kingdoms). There’s a bunch of notable (checkpoint-style) locations in each kingdom, and lots to explore as you follow the great Koopa through the lands, so stop and take a look around here and there… would you?
Another sight you might want to take in lies when Mario slips down a tube and drops a dimension, coming out in a 2D world painted lovingly on various walls, ceilings, and floors. The shape of these 2D areas conform to what you’re being “projected” on – meaning round, odd, or even 3D shapes can be your 2D canvas. Capturing the charm of classic Mario games with the twist of unique world physics and shapes, these sections of the game are rather epic and nostalgic. They serve to tickle that classic vibe in an entirely new way, and may even be a gateway in introducing new players to the old games.
In the 3D bits however, the mechanics are an evolved version of the Super Mario 64 fare – with Cappy augmenting that further. You can roll, wall jump, triple jump, wall slide, climb, duck, ground pound, swim, dive, and more; your abilities both extensive and useful. While you can get through the game with a mere fraction of these abilities, the real fun comes out when you master them all. It’s safe to say that it’s still early in the days of Odyssey, but I’ve already seen some spectacular moves. This game could almost be called Mario and Cappy do parkour, it’s simply able to accommodate that level of technical ability. That said, you can also muddle your way through with basic abilities… but you’ll not be nearing any speedrun records playing like that. 😛
Cappy of course augments your move set to an unnaturally awesome level, allowing you to perform tricks never before seen in a Mario game. You can use the trusty cap to bridge gaps, fling Mario long distances, reach hard to get coins, attack enemies, capture enemies, and destroy objects – with the ability to string these moves and maneuvers in with all your other skills. Cappy is an extension of Mario, and bolsters his abilities. It’s the ultimate integrated upgrade, and one that very much makes Odyssey a stand out in the mechanics field.
So we know about the gameplay mechanics, setup, story premise, and driving forces – but what about the bosses? Super Mario Odyssey offers a baker’s dozen of the over-sized jerks, and they range from some rather doofy looking bunnies (the Broodals), to the King Koopa himself (Bowser). There are lots of different bosses, mechanics, strategies, and move sets you’ll come up against when taking on each of the kingdoms, and they’re all fun and unique to take on. Bosses in this game seem much more unique than that of the 2D Mario games, though I admit I haven’t played the most recent ones thoroughly enough to make a universal call on that. At the least, I’d like to note they’re more fun than usual.
All these adventures and mechanics would be nothing without a risk/reward system however, and Odyssey’s is a bit different from other Mario titles. It incorporates a three level heart system, which can be expanded with a crowned heart to six levels – temporarily. Each level allows you one hit from an enemy, but it’s also notable that there’s no “lives” system. When you die you’ll simply be subtracted ten regular coins and put back to your latest checkpoint flag. It’s an inconvenience, but hardly something you have to worry too much about (especially if you’ve got an amiibo).
Yes, this version of Mario – like pretty much every major Nintendo title for a while – includes amiibo support baked right in. Finding Uncle amiibo somewhere near your ship and offering him a scan of a Mario style amiibo will offer costumes and moon locations, while any other amiibo will simply offer the moon locations. You’ll have to wait about five minutes in game to be able to pick up any rewards given for scanning amiibo, but the wait is usually worth it – especially in the case of costume bits. I absolutely love my new kits. 🙂
In addition to those special rewards however, scanning an amiibo during regular play (by holding the right directional button and tapping it to the trigger point) will offer you a limited amount of invincibility. Think of it as a free “star” from the previous Mario games, and it’s best to use it when you need to relieve some frustration (like when you’re stuck). I tried to avoid using this “timed easy mode” trigger, but it was a nice option to have in your bag.
Speaking of options in your bag, there’s a new one that might catch your fancy in Odyssey; a snapshot mode. This mode allows you to slip into an out-of-time dimension with the camera, enabling you to move about the world and get the perfect shot of Mario or his surroundings. It’s not a flawless implementation as it seems to lock to Mario in a way that makes it less useful than a free-form camera, but it’s quite useful for getting that sweet shot you’d rather not mar with HUD details (or from the angle you can’t normally capture). It’s just another great option that Nintendo have thrown in for the new generation.
As you may have noticed, it’s safe to say here that you’ve got a ton of options when it comes to finding things for Mario and his Cappy cohort to do in Super Mario Odyssey – and thankfully, they’ve also offered a lot of options for how to play. TV, Tabletop, and Handheld modes are all in play here; and both Joy-Con and the Pro Controller are officially supported. That said, playing with free Joy-Con seems to be the best option as it most easily facilitates the game’s motion controls for Cappy. They can be used fairly unobtrusively in the other modes by adjusting the sensitivity, but really you’re going to want to be playing free-hand in order to get the best accuracy and range of movements. Personally, I got by in a lot of areas with using handheld and Joy-Con grip control schemes, but freehand Joy-Con play really is the bee’s knees in comparison.
As we move from gameplay and control mechanics to talk of audio/visual prowess specifically, it’s notable that Super Mario Odyssey displays below the top tier resolution in many cases. Thankfully however, Nintendo has done well to hide the lower resolution bits in motion, and the game looks very good in both TV and handheld/tabletop modes. The TV display is obviously higher resolution, but it’s no slouch on the Switch’s 6.2 inch screen either. Super Mario Odyssey is a top tier looker on the console, and it’s easily the best looking Mario game by a large margin – despite a jagged edge here and there.
The audio aspects of Super Mario Odyssey are higher quality than the visuals, and are augmented to godly levels with a very slick implementation of the HD Rumble effect. Sound effects here are enhanced by the advanced level of vibration coming from controllers in use, and grabbing coins or making moves in game give a rather realistic type of feedback across two additional senses (aside from vision). There are unique and fun sounds for nearly every bit of the game, and though many of them are pulled and enhanced from past titles you’ll find lots of new bits to hear as well. Super Mario Odyssey is outfitted with a hell of a compliment of sounds, and they’re used to practical perfection in game. There’s literally nothing else I would ask for in the audio department, and that’s quite a statement to make.
When taking a step back and looking at Mario with a reviewer’s eyes, I see a game that is very near perfectly executed. The absolute worst thing I can say about Super Mario Odyssey after my thirty plus hours with it is that the outlines of things are a little jagged sometimes, the resolution isn’t perfect 1080p, and the motion controls aren’t always the easiest to use – but those are minor things when looking at the whole picture. The jagged edges and resolution are obviously a factor of the computing power limitations of the Switch (given it’s Nintendo doing the coding for the system they designed), and the motion control limitations are a factor of the chosen control schemes. I really don’t think they could have pulled it off better with the hardware and team they had on it, and because of that I don’t think I can fault the game much for these minor qualms I have with its presentation and usage.
On the flip side however, the gameplay and motivation that Super Mario Odyssey offers you to play and keep playing is astounding. The sheer amount of content offered here is staggering, the routes are plentiful – especially if you’re skilled at harnessing Mario and Cappy’s abilities, and the beautifully sculpted world is yours for the taking. The moon system and the way that everything’s laid out in kingdoms help to create an interesting natural progression, but at the same time you’ll be re-visiting old areas in the post-game unless you’re extremely observant and meticulous.
My opinion after all these observations is that we’ve gained another Mario game that’s well planned out, has tons of things to do and unlock, and offers a bit of nostalgia that’s also paired with modern conveniences and twists. To say Super Mario Odyssey is anything less than a super Mario odyssey would be a disservice to the scope and quality of the adventure the game offers us, and as such I’d like to submit that as my final verdict.