Being the first true Nintendo Switch exclusive, and presumably the means by which Nintendo hopes to steamroll its way into the Christmas release period, Super Mario Odyssey has a lot riding on it. A highly successful E3 and the accompanying Nintendo Direct presentations have made it one of the most hotly-anticipated titles of the year. So, does the return of Nintendo’s moustachioed main man live up to these lofty expectations? Well, I basically had to tear myself away from the game to write this review, so signs are good.
Super Mario Odyssey starts off exactly how you’d expect: with Bowser kidnapping Peach. The spiky git has upped his game this time, however, and his new master plan involves locking the poor Princess into a terrifying inter-species marriage. Luckily, Mario has turned up to put a stop to these shenanigans. A scrap ensues which results in our portly hero being punted into oblivion by the impressively well-dressed Koopa King, who then proceeds to stomp on the shredded remains of Mario’s iconic red hat. To be honest, that last part is oddly shocking for a Mario game, and succeeds in showing that Bowser definitely isn’t messing around this time.
Mario, picking himself up after the aforementioned punting session, finds himself in a little town full of hat-shaped ghosts. Here he meets Cappy, who informs us that his sister, Tiara, was also kidnapped by Bowser to be part of the wedding of the century. Shared interests firmly established, Mario and Cappy join forces, with Cappy taking the shape of Mario’s destroyed hat and lending his mysterious powers to the cause. Together, our two heroes set out to punch Bowser right in his stupid, fat face. Oh, and rescue Peach and Tiara while they’re at it.
To achieve this noble goal, they need a ship. Unfortunately, Cappy informs Mario that all of his people’s ships were destroyed in the fight to save Tiara from Boswer. All is not lost, however, as rumour has it there is still one operational ship in a nearby Kingdom. So, it’s off to the Cascade Kingdom to find the Odyssey. It’s shaped like a giant top-hat because, y’know, of course it is.
The Cascade Kingdom signals the beginning of the game proper, and provides a very effective opening playground for the player to let loose. The Odyssey requires Power Moons in order to be able to fly, and these Power Moons can be found scattered throughout the various Kingdoms. Essentially, they work in the same way as the Power Stars from previous 3D Mario outings such as Super Mario 64, only much greater in number. There are hundreds of the things, making them very reminiscent of of the Korok Seeds in Breath of the Wild. Admittedly, though, the Power Moons are infinitely more stimulating to collect that the Korok Seeds could ever hope to be. Anyway, the more Power Moons you collect, the more fuel the Odyssey has, and the further afield you can travel. Simple.
Or maybe not so simple. Sure, some of the Power Moons in the early game are just hanging out in plain sight, ripe for the collecting, but for how long did you really think Nintendo would let you get away with that? Super Mario Odyssey returns to the more sandbox-style level setup last seen in Super Mario Sunshine, presenting the player with an open-ended level brimming with possibilities and encouraging them to do their thing.
That brings us neatly to one of the most magical aspects of Odyssey: the exploration. Of course, many games place a strong emphasis on exploration, but there are few (if any) that encourage and reward curiosity like Super Mario Odyssey does. This is a game that provides a veritable cornucopia of skills and abilities, and then leaves the player to devise their own plan of action. It’s wonderful how rewarding the “I wonder what would happen if I did this?” approach can be, and that thought alone will have you merrily scampering around each stage, trying ridiculously audacious jumps and chucking your hat at anything even remotely suspicious looking. I’ll spoil nothing, but some of the solutions for collecting hidden Power Moons are hilariously absurd, and are practically guaranteed to bring a smile to the face of any gamer. In other words, the Power Moons are an absolute joy to collect.
Thanks to the more sandbox-y nature of the levels, it is inevitable that Super Mario Odyssey will be compared with Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine. However, certain aspects of the game absolutely scream Super Mario Galaxy. While the abovementioned Sunshine-style exploration focus is present in each level, the game also presents a more linear way to progress through each stage, à la Galaxy. This approach highlights the number of Power Moons needed to progress the plot, which offers the player a more defined structure while maintaining the additional hidden Moons as a bonus, if the player chooses to seek them out. The Galaxy influence is even more evident in certain secret challenges which, without giving anything away, play like they’ve been plucked straight out of a hypothetical Super Mario Galaxy 3. In truth, the feel of Super Mario Odyssey is probably best described as an amalgamation of 64, Sunshine, and Galaxy, with a little extra something thrown in for good measure. It’s as if Nintendo have gathered everything that made previous 3D Mario adventures so great, and combined them into one game, with that extra something special elevating a proven formula to new heights. At any rate, the end product is an experience that feels familiar without being stagnant, and fresh without being overpowering – something that will attract new players and satisfy existing fans alike. It really is admirable.
Of course, all this talk of exploring and collecting is all well and good, but it means nothing if the controls aren’t ready for prime time. Thankfully, the controls are marvellous. The movement mechanics are your typical 3D Mario affair; long jump, backwards somersault, triple jump, etc. Mario’s movement is as tight as ever, with nicely responsive controls combined with a reassuringly attentive camera to make navigating levels an absolute doddle. What makes Odyssey stand out is Cappy, as a whole host of new movement abilities have been added to Mario’s repertoire to make the most of the little guy’s unique powers. In terms of getting around the level, Cappy brings a lot to the table. To give a brief example: after being thrown, Cappy can be made to hover in mid-air for a short time, giving the player an opportunity to jump off him. This can be combined with Mario’s dive jump to gain an impressive amount of extra distance, allowing access to those sneaky, hard-to-reach places.
The little guy is also rather handy in a fight. Sure, he can be used to deal damage to enemies and can be thrown to collect coins and health but the real showstopper is his ability to ‘capture’ enemies. When this ability was first showcased in trailers for the game, a lot of jokes were made about the fact that Cappy allows Mario to possess enemies like some sort of weirdly-accented demon. To be honest, the skill could indeed be considered rather morally iffy, but damn does it make for some fun gameplay.
See, Cappy’s capture ability is one of the most useful tools in Mario’s arsenal, as allows you to take control of enemies and their abilities, which can be used for anything from combat through to gathering difficult to reach collectibles. For example, capturing a Hammer Bro. gives Mario the ability to go full-scale Thor and chuck hammers all over the place, while hopping into a Cheep Cheep will allow you to swim underwater without having to worry about finding air bubbles. Discovering all the different capture abilities on offer is another reason to explore each level as thoroughly as possible, and of course I’m not going to spoil any of the especially fun ones.
There seemed to be a lot of ill-feeling surround Odyssey’s motion controls in the run-up to release, with players split between the belief that motion controls enhance the experience and the idea that they do quite the opposite. Personally, I can see where both camps are coming from. Wonky controls have the capacity to ruin the enjoyment of any game, no matter how amazing it is. In fairness to Super Mario Odyssey, while it does indeed promote the motion controls on a splash screen as the game boots up, you’re never required to used them. The motion controls open up a number of different ways to throw Cappy and perform certain actions, but each of these can be easily achieved using a more traditional controller setup such as the Pro-Controller, although you may have to experiment a bit to get the buttons down. The beauty of the controls, as with the rest of the game, is that it’s totally up to you how you wish to enjoy Super Mario Odyssey.
The reason the control schemes are important is that you’ll really need to have the controls down-pat for when it comes to conquering the game. Generally speaking, the amount of challenge in the game is commendable, with a nice mix of platforming perfection and impressively reactive enemies. The boss fights deserve special mention, as they are something 3D Mario games have struggled with in recent years. I mean, Super Mario Galaxy is my favourite game ever and I’ll defend it to the moon and back, but there’s no denying that the boss fights in that game were absolute shite. Odyssey has thankfully rectified this, with complex battles that actually require some thought in order to decide the best approach. Again, I won’t spoil anything, but the first fight with Bowser has a very welcome little twist that left me giggling like a complete idiot.
I’m going to meander this wedding proposal, I mean, this review towards a conclusion now because I’m getting itchy being away from Super Mario Odyssey for this long. A few final words, then, as there really is so much to commend about the game that I could gush on here forever. The game is packed to the brim with charm and that wonderfully typical Nintendo magic – it’s been polished to a mirror shine, with beautifully bold graphics and lush environments. The sound design is amazing, with a lovely mix of new and retro tunes that’ll have you humming along in no time. It’s mind-bogglingly huge, with literally hundreds of secrets waiting to be found, and will no doubt keep you busy for a long ol’ while. Honestly, if you have a Nintendo Switch, you need Super Mario Odyssey. If you don’t have a Switch, well, you know what you have to do.