To sum up its design aesthetic in one word, Super Mario Odyssey is a game about density. Other open-world games tend to focus on sheer size — how many mountains you can climb or how many caves there are to find, but Odyssey instead takes some relatively small spaces and crams them full of interesting things to see and rewards to find.
It’s another impressive move from a series that has managed to innovate again and again. The original Super Mario Bros. was a phenomenon so large that it defined an entire generation of video games. Super Mario 64 led the way for video games on 3D platforming and camera control, and with Super Mario Galaxy they once again managed to find another major innovation to platforming through the use of gravity as a core mechanic. This meant that the bar for Odyssey was set astronomically high, and yet once again Mario (as he is known for doing) has managed to effortlessly jump right over it.
Nintendo Australia has graciously provided us with a review copy of Super Mario Odyssey. (Our review copy came later than expected, hence the delay in our posting.)
Nintendo’s other big success story this year Breath of the Wild was notable because it changed so much about the regular Zelda series formula. However, that’s not what has happened here. At its core, Odyssey has a lot of similarities to previous games in the series and yet very much feels like a natural successor to games like Super Mario 64 or Super Mario Galaxy. (Okay, fine, I’ll mention Super Mario Sunshine too.)
Where Odyssey has innovated though is in getting rid of the each-world-has-about-five-to-seven-Stars level system that we’ve become familiar with and instead giving each of those worlds a huge amount of Moons (a.k.a. this game’s Stars equivalent). The number of Moons per a level varies drastically based on the size of the world, but a few of the larger worlds have upwards of 80 Moons (with the largest over 100 — though that’s largely thanks to a tacked-on “achievement” system) and even most of the smaller ones hover around 50. This means that you’ll be constantly testing out little tricks and techniques on the local landscape. To Nintendo’s credit your curiosity will be rewarded quite a high percentage of the time.
Super Mario games aren’t particularly known for the nuance of their story (a point that is effectively lampshaded in Super Mario Maker by allocating its 10- or 100-life runs a “story” of a five-second introduction of “whoops, Bowser kidnapped the Princess again”), so don’t go in expecting the political intrigue of Game of Thrones. However as Mario stories go this one at the very least uses the setting to allow for some fun set-pieces to occur. There were also a few memorable character moments for our main character trio (sorry, Luigi), especially towards the end of the game, which is a welcome sight in the mainline series considering that most of the quirky character moments in Mario games tend to be reserved for franchises like the Mario & Luigi or Paper Mario RPG series of games.
It would be hard to talk about Super Mario Odyssey without mentioning its main gameplay quirk — namely his new hat. Mario now has a sentient hat called Cappy, who both works as a mid-range combat tool and also as a major new mechanic — possessing other creatures to use their abilities. Well, I say “possession,” but Nintendo insists on referring to the process as Cap-ture, which they must have giggled about for months. A “cap-tured” Goomba, for example, can walk across ice without sliding or can stack up on top of other Goombas to allow Mario to reach high places. The sheer number of enemies (and indeed, objects) you can capture is astounding, and it really rounds out the experience by greatly diversifying the gameplay — especially since this is used in a large number of boss battles. It’s a well-executed mechanic that adds so much.
Something you’ll be familiar with if you’ve played any of the more recent Super Mario games is Nintendo’s design strategy of making the main game itself accessible and relatively easy to complete but then ramping up the difficulty on optional content. Odyssey is no exception to this rule. Beating the game itself is not a long journey, and someone dedicated to only following the game’s objectives without any sightseeing should be able to finish it quickly, but it probably doesn’t make up even one-fifth of the content in the game, which continues to entertain long after the game has technically been “won.”
There are other measures for accessibility available too. The game has difficulty options which can be toggled at any time, basically allowing a mode with arrows on the ground to guide your path. These easy mode options tend to be controversial with some fans, but I’m all for them — provided it doesn’t affect those who choose regular difficulty — as added accessibility brings with it no downside. Super Mario Odyssey has content for players of all ages and all skill levels, which is very much in line with the feel of the game.
The music (and soundscape in general) of Odyssey is outstanding. Between the more modern Mario music, the 8-bit themes, the swing music, and one song that felt oddly reminiscent of Sonic the Hedgehog (you’ll know it when you hear it), there’s a wide range of music including some tracks which I suspect will remain fan favorites for years to come. Some of the musical experiments in this game haven’t been commonly seen previously in the series — Super Mario music isn’t usually associated with vocal performances, for example — but when it happens it somehow feels like a natural fit to an ever-evolving series.
One aspect that Nintendo has said surprisingly little about is the game’s co-op mode. Super Mario Galaxy allowed the second player to have a tiny bit of control over the game in the form of allowing them to shoot Star Bits at the screen to stun enemies and fulfill some objectives. Yet again, Odyssey goes a step further. Co-op mode essentially splits the controls between movement and combat; the first player retains control over Mario (and some control over Cappy) while the second player has full control over Mario’s hat, well beyond the level of control the player has over it in single player. It was a fun experience and well worth a try. In fact, two-player speedruns of Super Mario Odyssey will be particularly interesting to see because of that extra level of control.
There are a variety of ways to play as far as the controls go. I tried playing docked with both the JoyCons and the Pro Controller as well as playing the Switch as a handheld device and they all worked fluidly, though it seems clear that they designed the controls with motion controls in mind. In fact, the game strongly encourages you to play with two JoyCons — one in each hand and not docked within a Grip. While you can generally perform all of the moves from all of the controller variations, a few of the more obscure moves like flicking your hat directly up are slightly less intuitive on other controllers compared to the natural upwards flick motion of playing using the JoyCons.
Overall, Super Mario Odyssey is simply a joy to play. The controls are smooth, the gameplay is fun and the worlds are creative. If you are planning on buying a Switch and you’ve ever enjoyed a platformer, there is very little reason not to buy this game.
|Score||Similarity to other Marios|
|10/10||Super Mario 64 – ★★★★★
Super Mario Galaxy – ★★★★★
Super Mario Sunshine – ★★★★☆
New Super Mario Bros. – ★★☆☆☆