Reviewed on Nintendo Switch, copy supplied by publisher.
My love of the Super Mario series started with Super Mario World on the SNES. It’s one of the first games I remember playing, and everything about it has stuck with me – from the secret levels, to every note of the soundtrack – it’s so ingrained in my identity that I can’t help but smile when I think about it. Playing Super Mario Odyssey I kept thinking to myself that for many kids this is going to be their first Super Mario experience, and just how lucky that makes them.
The beauty of Super Mario Odyssey is that it’s a love letter to the series’ past, which also introduces some of the most innovative mechanics we’ve seen in a Mario game to date. What’s on offer should be more than enough to blow the socks off of longtime fans and newcomers alike.
The narrative is your standard Super Mario affair, with – surprise surprise – Bowser once again kidnapping Princess Peach in hopes of marrying her. Mario isn’t too happy about this, so he joins forces with Cappy – a sentient hat whose sister Bowser has also kidnapped for… reasons? – to help him rescue the hostages.
Venturing to a range of stylistically distinct kingdoms, Mario and Cappy attempt to stop Bowser gathering everything he needs to prepare for the shotgun (fire breath?) wedding. To do so they need to charge their giant hat/ship, the titular Odyssey, with Power Moons and follow Bowser’s path of chaos around the world.
With 17 kingdoms available to visit, the sheer volume of exploration in this game is kind of staggering. Whilst the story can be breezed through in around eight hours, the replayability and challenge of completing the game 100% makes it a huge title that will keep you going for months, if not years.
Each kingdom is gorgeously realised with a cast of creative NPCs and puzzles to discover, including 2D levels hidden down pipes. Almost every situation you find yourself in will result in a Power Moon, and the ease of collecting Moons usually means you can progress to the next kingdom without much of a struggle. But that doesn’t mean exploring the kingdoms is a waste of time, as you’ll find a tonne of secrets hidden around, and load of coins to collect.
Instead of relying on lives like in previous Mario game, you instead lose coins when you mess up. This means you don’t have to grind for lives ahead of the more challenging sections and boss fights, leaving exploration as the core focus. Alongside the standard gold coins, you can find distinct varieties of purple coins in each kingdom. These can be spent in local stores to purchase new outfits for Mario.
Depending on where you are and who you’re talking to, wearing the right outfit can open up new areas or lines of dialogue. Collecting all the outfits is something that I’m sure completionists will be going nuts over, and the more Power Moons you have, the more suits will become available in the general store, providing yet another reason to keep playing the game once you’re done with the story.
With Cappy at his disposal, Mario is granted some pretty nifty abilities that change the way you look at 3D platforming. Capturing enemies (and sometimes friends) and taking control of them allows you to solve puzzles in different ways, and with skills that would be beyond the reach of a humble plumber. For example blowing water out of a squid’s butt to propel Mario through the Seaside Kingdom is gross and hilarious, and taking control of Goombas on icy levels so you don’t slip is a great feature. More often than not, if you find yourself struggling to reach a particular Moon, you just need to fling Cappy around until you hit the creature that can help you.
Most of the boss fights make use of Mario’s new skills, with the easiest ways to exploit weaknesses coming from a capture ability or perfectly timed hat toss. The main antagonists – aside from Bowser – are the Broodals, which are basically wedding planner Rabbids.. Their purpose in general is to test your reflexes and proficiency with Cappy. And you will face them on numerous occasions throughout your time in Super Mario Odyssey, so get used to their attack patterns.
Across each kingdom you’ll usually have two bosses to fight, and in the later ones that increases quite significantly. Most of the fights aren’t overly challenging, but the way the game gets you to fight and the results of said fights are usually extremely creative and hilarious. Like the giant bird boss, where you have to capture a fireball and swim up streams of its vomit to attack it. It’s extremely weird, but we wouldn’t want anything else in a Mario game.
Each boss looks great and fits into their respective kingdoms perfectly, including the terrifying dragon in the Ruined Kingdom, which looks like something straight out of a Souls game. Without giving too much away, the final showdown is particularly breathtaking, throwing everything you’d expect from a game like this on its head, whilst also paying tribute to the history of Nintendo’s staple series.
Demonstrating what the Joy-Con can do, Super Mario Odyssey makes full use of motion controls. The game is best played with a Joy-Con in each hand, and flinging or spinning your arms around can help you make jumps or hit targets that would otherwise be impossible. For example, you can shake your controller around if you feel you’ve missed a throw, which will then make Cappy home in on nearby targets.
The only real negative I found with Super Mario Odyssey is the amount of weight the game puts on these motion controls. When played in handheld mode you’re expected to shake the console around to complete certain moves, which seems ill thought out at best. You can turn the motion controls off in the settings, but the game simply doesn’t perform as well when not played docked with two Joy-Cons in hand and motion enabled. This wouldn’t be too much of an issue on any other console, but with the Switch it’s kind of an integral part of the system.
For the more adventurous players, you can attempt to play Super Mario Odyssey two player, with one taking control of an invincible Cappy and the other Mario. It’s not a bad way to introduce young kids to the game, but my god will you have to orchestrate well together if you want to attempt some of the harder sections.
Topping it all off is an excellent soundtrack, which includes numbers you’d expect to hear in an anime opening sequence. Every little moment is underscored nicely by the music and sound effects, but that’s no surprise, this is an area Nintendo have shown their proficiency in time and time again.
Super Mario Odyssey is simply a joy to play. I haven’t found myself enjoying a game this much from start to finish in a long time. For those who have been testing the Switch waters, there’s never been a better time to jump in. Between Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey, two of the best releases this year are on the one console. Here’s hoping Nintendo can keep reaching the extremely high bar they’ve set this generation!