Just like my experimentation in my Doom review, today I want to try a more narrative style review and less beholden to my typical section by section analysis. Let me know what you think in the comments.
Initial Release Date: October 27, 2017
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Earlier this year, Nintendo unleashed the newest Zelda game on its hot new Switch handheld. Before the biggest outlets could stop salivating over the open world experience in Hyrule, Nintendo followed it up with the only franchise more iconic: Mario himself.
Super Mario Odyssey was teased throughout the Summer and promised to be a successor to the pinnacle of open world Mario, Super Mario 64. Such a bold prediction was followed up with strange screenshots of Mario in an urban, realistic setting. What was this thing going to be?
Super Mario Odyssey opens in traditional fashion: Mario is battling with Bowser over Peach, with Bowser seemingly intent on marrying the infamous damsel in distress. Mario is knocked overboard Bowser’s flying ship, losing his hat in the process.
Mario lands in the black and white Cap Kingdom, where he meets his sidekick for his latest adventure, Cappy. Cappy possesses Mario’s cap, lends a flying hat called The Odyssey, and off our heroes go. As Mario games go, the story is not the focus nor particularly interesting. Normally, the Mario story is simply a context to introduce whatever new henchmen Bowser has decided to recruit for this go-round.
Cap Kingdom is quite bland in color or challenge, but it serves the opening purpose well. Though a fluid “tutorial,” Nintendo does a great job of introducing the abilities and attacks of Mario and Cappy. To get things interesting quick, you are sent up a tower to get the moon collecting started in the huge variety of the remaining kingdoms (which are akin to the different picture worlds of 64).
Power Moons are the name of the game in Odyssey replacing the ubiquitous Stars of Mario’s past. The exchange foreshadows the later stages of the game, but unlike its 120 Star predecessor, Odyssey packs in hundreds of Moons to collect. Just like 64, Odyssey is keen to reward those players that seek to complete the entire Moon collection via endgame content.
Moons are plentiful within each Kingdom, and many are fairly predictable. You will quickly learn to check all the ledges at the edges of the map, or immediately work backwards from a spawn point for a cheap Moon here or there. However, these “easy” Moons do not take away from the game or progression. Instead they set up the perfect reward system for players willing to explore every nook and cranny of each kingdom.
Each kingdom has two “settings” dependent on the current state of each kingdom’s boss. For instance, the urban Metro Kingdom is initially in the middle of a dark and cloudy thunderstorm until Mario arrives and clears out the boss. Post-boss, the city is sprawling with its realistic inhabitants and their strange voices, in a bright, sunny day.
The boss fights themselves are fairly easy and straightforward, but do not lack variety. Sometimes the boss is a Broodal, which are the rabbit henchmen of Bowser introduced early on (although I was still confused of how they were recruited in the first place). Other times you will have to fight a more locally-themed foe such as a giant octopus/squid creature (which was one boss that did initially give me some trouble).
Every step of this exploration through kingdom and boss is littered with hat-themed extravagance. The Broodals all utilize hat attacks. Bowser himself uses a hat. Many secrets have some hat themes. The shops will give you various new hats (and clothes variants, all payable with special specific kingdom denoted coins).
Cappy imbues Mario’s hat with new mechanics, both in combat and platforming. Without a punch attack, Mario now tosses his hat in different directions to attack enemies. Many enemies are then available for Mario to possess, meaning that the player then takes over that enemy and gains certain special abilities. It’s less Kirby and more just enemy now wearing Mario’s hat (and mustache).
The hat motif fits in seamlessly to the distinctly Nintendo sights and sounds. Nintendo has once again added an unmatched polish to the franchise, proving once again that the iconic plumber’s platforming experience will never get old. I played the game in both docked and handheld mode without issue. I also played the entire game with joy cons, and did experience some issues with specifically throwing the hat upwards. I think this might be a symptom of the Switch launch issue regarding the right-side joy con. Something I will need to look into.
Nintendo also manages to add some quality of life improvements that we’d sure like to see in the 64 variant. The lives system has been completely removed, and the penalty for death now results in Mario’s total generic coin total diminishing (coins are used in the various shops). Further, in a callback to Super Mario World, Odyssey borrows the flag checkpoint system to preserve progress. Thus, Mario can jump into a kingdom (skipping cutscenes with an easy push of the + button) and then immediately warp to one of these checkpoints. These details make the game all the less tedious.
Coins, both generic and the special purple kingdom-specific currency, allow Mario to customize his appearance. Various hat shops provide both hats and dress for Mario to flaunt during his triple jumps. My personal favorite was Mario’s samurai get-up in the later stages. As a slight spoiler, Nintendo even solidifies the 64 feel through this process.
The key element is the open world feel, with the player’s exploration adequately rewarded, in addition to the traditional level completion-like objectives. Often in today’s open world titles, I feel overwhelmed with the sheer unknown of what its laid before the player. Odyssey manages to perfectly pack each kingdom full with enough bread crumbs (in the form of Moons) to keep you going, and to keep you interested.
While some moons are obvious, others are keenly hidden, and unlocking those secret Moons evokes a great sense of satisfaction, just like Super Mario 64 did for me many moons ago (pun intended). Jumping into the next kingdom gets you excited to see whats new, but not before you carefully crawled through the prior kingdom to bank the seemingly endless moons.
Overall, Nintendo has once again built a great formula for a fun, colorful platformer that now comes on handheld. More importantly for me, Nintendo has managed to tap into that all-so-critical nostalgia for its 90s masterpiece in a way that truly clicked. While Sunshine, Galaxy and the subsequent entries may have done a lot right, Odyssey manages to evoke the same “feel” of 64 in its design and control (and not just in adding the catch the rabbit and picture frame callbacks). Tapping into that vein, along with integrating the new themes and mechanics, makes for another great title every Switch owner will need to add to their collection.
+Taps into the feel of Super Mario 64 in just the right ways
+Cap mechanics add a great twist on traditional Mario combat and platforming
+Plentiful Moons keep the exploration fun and rewarding
-Slight finicky controls in throwing Mario’s new sidekick
-May not satisfy players looking for a challenging platformer
Overall Score: 9.1/10