Similar to their reveal of Breath of the Wild last year, Nintendo surprised the gaming world with their E3 trailer for Super Mario Odyssey. Sure, we all knew that a 3D Mario game was coming soon, but I think it’s safe to say that no one expected the return of Pauline, the introduction of a sentient top hat, and the possession (er… I mean “capturing”) of frogs and Bullet Bills.
Oh, and a T-Rex. Can’t forget about that one.
Super Mario Odyssey’s unveiling was bizarre to say the least, and now, having spent a couple of dozen hours with the full game, I can safely say that it’s just as wacky. Still, I spent each of those thoroughly enjoyable hours with a smile plastered across my face, and as the game’s finale came to its conclusion and the credits began rolling, I couldn’t help but just sit silence, in complete awe of what had just transpired over a few days of marathon gaming sessions. Not only is Super Mario Odyssey a strong contender for Game of the Year, but it stands as another landmark entry in a series that has continually reinvented our notion of the platforming genre.
At first glance, Super Mario Odyssey seems like the natural progression of the sandbox-style gameplay seen in Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine, but it sets itself apart from previous generations with a handful of new mechanics and ways that Mario can interact with the world around him. The biggest change comes in the form of Cappy, Mario’s newest sidekick that takes the form of Mario’s trademark hat. With a quick button press (or shake of a Joy-Con), Mario can fling Cappy forwards to take care of smaller foes, or (more importantly) to capture (by which I mean, possess) over 50 different objects, enemies, and other non-player characters. It might seem like a gimmick, but Cappy solves the series’ age-old problem of having to balance the use of powerups.
In previous games, Mario could often find powerups which would grant him additional abilities until he took enough damage, or until enough time had passed. In Super Mario Odyssey, Cappy eliminates the need for powerups and special suits; Mario can quickly take control of an object or being, and he can just as quickly return to his regular form.
As you might imagine, Nintendo leverages this new mechanic in some rather inventive (and occasionally hilarious ways). Capturing a Cheep Cheep allows Mario to swim underwater with ease, and you can do the same with a fireball in order to swim through lava. Charging Chucks and Hammer Bros. can be controlled to gain an offensive edge, and there’s a few “surprise” moments that pop up in the finale and post-game that I won’t spoil. While you’ll take control of a wide variety of creatures and objects over the course of the game, most of your time will be spent running around as regular old Mario.
Unlike in some of the more recent entries, you’ll have full control of Mario’s movement (as opposed to being locked into eight/octagonal directions), and as you might imagine, he controls like a dream. There are a handful of moves at your disposal; series staple like somersaults, long jumps, backflips and triple jumps are present, while a few new moves grant you even more freedom.
Personally, I love the ability to continuously roll, and Mario can even jump off of Cappy, which paves the way for some rather intricate chaining of jumps, dives and hat throws. Perhaps more so than any other game in the series, Nintendo has given players the ability to use their platforming skills to their fullest, and it shows when it comes to the game’s later stages and objectives.
In what I assume is an effort to have players collect every type of celestial body, Nintendo has packed well over 800 “power moons” throughout Super Mario Odyssey’s worlds, dubbed ‘kingdoms’ this time around. Not unlike previous games, Mario can complete various objectives to collect said moons, though Super Mario Odyssey marks a dramatic shift away from how content was doled out in years past. Rather than seeking out half a dozen moons per kingdom, Nintendo has stuffed each world full of objectives both big and small, with power moons as a reward for completing each.
Still, each kingdom typically has a main quest, which usually focuses on defeating a boss character and reaching a certain area on the map. Finishing these story quests allows you to move onto the next kingdom, though you can choose to stick around and hunt for moons, of which there are usually several dozen in any given world.
As much fun as I had with Super Mario Odyssey’s story quests, the game truly shines once you’ve freed each world from the control of Bowser and his minions, and are allowed to freely explore each kingdom. Each kingdom is jam-packed full of moons, and it can take hours on end to track down each and every one in a given area. Still, Odyssey avoids the doldrums of other collectathons by tying most moons to some specific task or puzzle, such as footraces with Koopas, or solving block puzzles.
Each kingdom is also chock full of secrets and hidden areas, and for those who are having trouble finding a specific moon, the game will offer up hints and tips in exchange for spending Mario’s hard-earned coins, or by scanning amiibo. For those who prefer a little more challenge, you’ll be glad to know that many moons (especially in post-game content) are centered around precision platforming, and these objectives offer up some of the most difficult moments in series history.
I could spend a few thousand words trying to explain the brilliance that is Super Mario Odyssey, but I’d be doing you a great disservice by revealing all that it has to offer. Unlike Breath of the Wild, which many would argue is a reboot of the Zelda series, Super Mario Odyssey has a lot in common with its 3D predecessors.
That being said, it is, without a doubt, the pinnacle for the series as a whole. Each and every aspect, from its gorgeous visuals to its stellar soundtrack, is fine-tuned to perfection, and its unbridled sense of exploration will keep players coming back for hours on end. But, perhaps most importantly, Super Mario Odyssey kept me smiling for hours on end, which is nothing short of what I’ve come to expect from Nintendo.
This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game. A review copy was provided to us by Nintendo.
Super Mario Odyssey is a pure expression of joy and fun that never ceases to amaze or delight.