It’s hard to believe that the Switch isn’t even a year old yet, yet we’ve already received some amazing games – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild launched a new era (and ended an old one), and we also got a new IP in the form of Arms. However, one of the most anticipated games that was announced during the Switch reveal was a little something called Super Mario Odyssey. From the time Nintendo Karen annoyed her friends during a rooftop party, everyone knew this was going to be a hit. Much more than a love letter to the franchise, Super Mario Odyssey is a delight for everyone, and it will redefine the standard for 3D platformers for years to come. Its mix of new mechanics and boatloads of nostalgia makes this a journey worth experiencing.
While Super Mario Odyssey is light on story, it does hold an intriguing narrative: Bowser has kidnapped Peach and intends to marry her, curb-stomping Mario and destroying his iconic hat along the way. (Hey, at least Bowser looks as dapper as ever, even if the last time this happened it almost ended the world.) Stranded and helpless, Mario is aided by a creature named Cappy (shaped as a white top hat), and together, the duo explores over a dozen kingdoms in order to save Peach and Tiara (Cappy’s sister, who’s currently on Peach’s head). Further complicating things are the Broodals, a team of mischievous bunny wedding planners that help Bowser steal a variety of different items for his wedding. The supporting cast is full of colorful and wacky characters, and each of them is brimming with personality, with gibberish as their only language.
The brand-new mechanic introduced in Odyssey, “Capture”, has Mario fling Cappy onto different enemies and NPCs in order to possess them and utilize their abilities. Because each kingdom is independent from the others, this means that aside from a select few universal enemies, there are a few types unique to a kingdom. Each captured character controls differently, and some even have motion controls, which work perfectly with the Joy-Cons detached. There are many different ways to control the game (I personally played in handheld mode most of the time), but the detached Joy-Cons offer more advantages. You can also call up a second player via local couch co-op to control Cappy, and depending on the people playing, it can be a fun time or an exercise in (lighthearted) frustration. The Capture mechanic works fluidly no matter how you’re playing, and it was interesting to enter a kingdom and see what I could control in order to traverse my surroundings. The only gripe I had with the new mechanic is that you can only control certain uncapped enemies; most NPCs are wearing hats, which means they can’t be possessed by your hat magic. Shame.
The design of Mario has always been about reiteration; here’s a yellow platform—here’s another yellow platform—now here’s a yellow platform that moves up and down—this one moves left and right—here’s a bunch of yellow platforms that move up and down, left and right, flip upside-down, and disappear every three seconds. Like every series entry before it, Odyssey keeps things fresh with a steady flow of new design ideas and constant iteration. Every Kingdom presents at least one new character to Capture, each with its own unique abilities and bespoke obstacles to circumvent. The novelty of controlling enemies like Cheep Cheeps and Goombas adds to the enjoyment of Capturing, but the design behind these characters sold me on each new Kingdom I encountered.
Most importantly, these environments are just plain fun to move around in. Super Mario Odyssey sees the return of the iconic moveset from Super Mario 64, Sunshine, and Galaxy, complete with triple-jumps, long-jumps, and aerial butt-stomps. Cappy adds a few moves, including a cap-jump, allowing Mario to throw his cap and jump off it midair. The wide variety of acrobatics available to the player makes every instance of traversal fun and interesting. The first time I pulled off a triple-jump, threw my cap, dived forward, and jumped off my levitating cap, I leaned back in shock of my own gymnastic prowess and threw my hands up in celebration (protip: split JoyCon make for optimal fist-pumping, etc.). Since then, I must have triple-jump-cap-throw-dive-cap-jumped my way through half the entire game.
Those fellow seasoned 3D Mario fans will welcome Odyssey’s controls like an old friend. But for those new to the series need only glance at the Action Guide provided in the pause menu to learn how to dive (important), roll (important), long-jump (uber important), and do a backward somersault (don’t do this). Unfortunately, some of these moves require motion controls. The cap spin is particularly regrettable, as it proves to be a very useful maneuver, but can only be executed with ease by snapping both JoyCon to the side; not an option when you’re holding in portable mode. I also found the motion controls in general to be unreliable, often misreading my side-snaps for upward-thrusts, etc. (Other GT staff have alleged to have better luck than me in this department, though I suspect either juicing or witchcraft.)
It helps that the locations are vibrant and gorgeous. Aside from Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey is probably the best-looking game on the Switch, with each environment breathing new life into the title. From the muted and drab color scheme of the Cap Kingdom to the serene beaches of the Seaside Kingdom, each place you visit is filled with a striking environment and a whole host of things to collect and visit. While this is still a Mario game at heart, it’s also the most expansive experience of the Mario series, and it shows: there wasn’t a moment when I felt that the environments were boring, and it felt fun and exciting to run around a kingdom, Capturing enemies while collecting Power Moons (this game’s version of Power Stars). You’ll have to collect a certain number to progress to each kingdom, but it never felt like I was obligated to stay and grind in order to advance the story. While you do have different main objectives in each kingdom (culminating in a boss battle for most of them), you can feel free to take your time and roam around. It’s also good to take your time, as each kingdom has an environmental change that occurs once you’ve cleared your main objective.
The Sand Kingdom and Metro Kingdom both stand out as the most memorable locations during my playthrough: The former is a Mexican-influenced area that’s initially frozen due to Bowser’s meddling but turns into a lively desert afterwards. (As a side-note, I really enjoyed the attention to detail where Mario would shiver because it was cold in the beginning.) While mainly consisting of a small town with Day of the Dead-like creatures inhabiting it as well as a piece of ruins, there are also some brilliant structures and dungeons included within the map. I spent about half an hour just running around the place, snapping pictures with the included Snapshot mode, and trying to see where I could die. The sand that flew around was pretty neat, and the game reliably handled the backgrounds and enemies around me at a smooth 60 frames per second.
The Metro Kingdom, on the other hand, is a sprawling urban area, complete with realistically proportioned citizens walking around. While it did seem jarring when the debut trailer came out last year, it feels pretty natural having Mario jump around the amused people of New Donk City due to the general silliness of the Mario series juxtaposed by realistic proportions. Pauline (from the original Donkey Kong, and more recently, the Mario Vs. Donkey Kong series) makes an appearance as the mayor of the city and provides some exposition to the history of the place. This place is also home to one of the more memorable boss battles: a mecha Wiggler that’s equal parts creepy and cool, while you’re in possession of a tank shooting at the monstronsity. There’s also a surprise near the end of the kingdom that you have to see to believe. The kingdom is also huge, sporting tons of secret rooms and Power Moons in places where I least expected them, and it’s also home to a jump rope minigame that is oddly enthralling. Everything about this place is remarkable, and New Donk City could have been its own game in all honesty.
The thing that I loved most about my time with Super Mario Odyssey is in regards to content and awarding creativity. The problem with most open-world games, as mentioned before, is the fact that environments and locations can feel barren and stale after a few hours of exploration. The issue with collectathons these days is that they’re on the short side (Yooka-Laylee and A Hat in Time come to mind). Super Mario Odyssey rectifies both issues in a way that feels organic and innovative.
Odyssey encourages you to go off the beaten path and find new routes. In some instances, I thought a jump or maneuver I performed wasn’t intended for normal play, but I ended up finding a mound of coins as a reward for my persistence. There are also different Power Moons you can collect within rooms (protip: If you’re in a place that is secluded from the kingdom, there is likely an extra moon lying around as well). The game encourages you to keep doing wall jumps, cap throws, and even chain jumps in order to find these well-kept secrets. While you only need a mere fraction of the game’s 800+ Power Moons to finish the main story, there are a ton of bonus missions and Power Moons available once you do reach this point, ensuring dozens upon dozens of extra hours in an already lengthy title. There’s a litany of things to do in the post-game, and even some pretty hard challenges after the credits roll. All in all, you’re looking at literal hundreds of moons to collect, as well as kingdom-exclusive coins and costumes to buy.
If you would have asked me only a year ago if I would like, in the next mainline Super Mario game, to collect special coins for purchasing little outfits for Mario to wear, I would not have hesitated in berating you for even suggesting such a tarnishing gimmick as unlockable cosmetic items in my classic Mario. Never would I have thought that I would spend hours hunting down every purple coin, obsessing over the expansion of Mario’s wardrobe, filled with doctor’s outfits, pinstriped suits, and aviation gear. Fortunately, Nintendo threw caution to the wind and did away with the singular image of Mario in his plumber’s attire, giving us chef’s wear, safari hats, caveman cosplay, and all sorts of fabulous garments to unlock and don. Every Kingdom has two unique outfits bespoke to the level’s theme, adding further incentive to explore and go coin hunting. Some of these outfits verge on being offensively stereotypical, or even downright terrifying (clown suit from the Luncheon Kingdom), but most are charming and tons of fun to play around with.
While the endgame and postgame can get a bit difficult (though game-overs are eliminated as well, only causing a loss of 10 coins should you end up kicking the bucket), there’s an assist mode for younger players and those who might have trouble with the trickier segments, so the accessible difficulty should appeal to gamers of all ages. The game encourages trial and error and always inspires you to keep searching for a solution to any obstacle that happens to be in your way. There was never a time when I felt too frustrated that I couldn’t acquire a certain Power Moon, and because of the open-world gameplay, I could set it aside and come back to it later. The bosses, save for a few exceptions, were fun to dispatch, and I felt cool beating each one (except maybe the Cookatrice—that boss can leave ASAP). The Broodals themselves, which act as the main miniboss squad, were easy but still innovative by Mario standards, and you’ll have to use Cappy in different ways to defeat them.
It’s not just the amount of stuff to do that’s impressive here, but the presentation is top-notch as well. The game runs smoothly no matter if it’s docked or in handheld mode, and colors pop out regardless of the kingdom. There might be a few jagged edges and textures here and there, but Odyssey’s cartoony look is accentuated here, and each kingdom is memorable in its own right. The sound design is great as well: other than the vocal song that plays in New Donk City (and one that plays at a climactic moment near the end), you also have some nostalgic throwbacks in some kingdoms, with 8-bit versions of the main songs playing in the background. Each piece of music fits well with the situation at hand, and you can hear the effort that went into each track.
Super Mario Odyssey
Super Mario Odyssey is a treat that needs to be experienced by everyone who has a Switch. The attention to detail mixed with a host of expansive content and enjoyable gameplay will have you coming back for more.