In what is far and away the strongest debut year for a console, we have seen Nintendo pump out hit after hit for their latest console, the Nintendo Switch. They started with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, then they moved on to games like ARMS and Splatoon 2. Now, at the end of October, gaming’s number one star has come into the fold guns blazing, ready to show everybody else how it’s done with the game Super Mario Odyssey.
We haven’t had a Super Mario game done in this style since Super Mario Galaxy 2, with explorable hubs and different secrets to find sprinkled throughout. This new title is a mixture of the Super Mario Galaxy titles, Super Mario Sunshine, and the classic Super Mario 64. It blends that freedom with different open-world areas you unlock and explore as you chase after Bowser who has once again kidnapped Mario’s beloved – uh, good friend? – confidant? – side girl? – whatever – Princess Peach. She’s been kidnapped for the umpteenth time, but it seems that years and years of failed machinations have made Bowser grow extremely impatient as he now plans to marry Peach, stealing different items and foods from across the world to have his ideal marriage ceremony. Go figure.
Nobody plays Mario games for their story. The narrative only serves as the comical backdrop, or the reason why Mario goes on his adventure in the first place. Boy, is this a damn good one. What further separates Super Mario Odyssey from previous titles is this entry’s sidekick, Cappy. The extremely on-the-nose and silly name aside (even by Mario standards), he is perhaps the game’s best feature. Throwing around Cappy feels natural and fun, and is never frustrating or poorly controlled. It’s such a key component to gameplay, and the game keeps introducing new ways you can use Cappy, which constantly made the gameplay fresh and exciting. The biggest change that Cappy brings, however, is undoubtedly his ability to allow Mario to possess any lesser being and directly control their movements. Now this was a game changer for me. It gives you different ways to interact with the world, both to progress the story and unlock side content. And, before you ask, yes, the trailers did not lie, you really can control T-rex (something I never knew I needed in a Mario game).
Gameplay feels dynamic, as you are presented with all these different approaches to dealing with your enemies that feels kinetic without overwhelming you. Any one of these approaches, like unzipping parts of the environment, would be considered the main gimmick of another game, but here there are so many it is astounding. There is also a helpful action guide that reminds you about different commands you can give Mario (just in case you ever forget).
The main ‘collectibles’ this time around, which you actually need to keep chasing after Bowser, level up your new ship, “the Odyssey,” and to continue this odyssey of your own are Power Moons. In the vein of Shine Sprites and Power Stars before them, these Moons are sprinkled throughout the different hubs. You are going to have to explore to get the minimum amount required to progress forward. But, don’t worry, many of these Moons are going to be found quite easily if you keep an eye out for them. I’ve even beaten the bonus boss you can fight after obtaining 250 of these moons in the two days since I first put in the game cartridge!
What will immediately grab your attention is the vibrancy of the different explorable worlds. They’re all colorful, brightly lit, and beautiful to behold. I was playing this game for the most part on my 4K UHD TV. While the Switch does not support 4K, Odyssey is gorgeous. The Unreal Engine 4 works wonders. I had to tone down the backlight option of my TV at one point because it had started to hurt my eyes since I was staring at the screen for so long. After I did that, the softer glow was gentler on my pupils.
The sound design and music feel very true to the Super Mario tradition, and there are so many remixes of classic tunes, which were especially noticeable when you enter the 2D platforming sections that are direct homages to the old-school Super Mario Bros. Despite that, a few songs, fell a little flat in my opinion. Even the one that’s been advertised the most as the ‘theme song’ of the game feels a little out of place. You know, the one you’ve heard in trailers that sings about Mario’s odyssey? It does work when it’s played at a certain section halfway through that truly is an awesome piece of fan-service, but in the back of my head I still wasn’t a big fan of it. Thankfully, it only plays that one time, so it wasn’t much of an issue.
Fan-service is one last thing that Super Mario Odyssey does excellently, with a few of the more memorable levels (of which there are many) being homages to old-school Super Mario Bros. and all the greatness that has come before. There are even quite a few costumes that let you experience some old bursts of nostalgia. It’s great to see Nintendo be so aware of the great franchise they have, and evidently thankful for the success they have enjoyed. It was heartwarming to see.
Yet, here’s the big question: Is this truly the best Mario game we have ever had? I’d say it depends on what Super Mario title first jumped out at you as great. Segueing with that, some of the Nintendo faithful may not be happy with what I have to say next but, keep in mind these flaws don’t amount to much.
My biggest flaw with the game is it’s pacing. Why? Because it’s so easy! You don’t really take it into account when you’re playing, but once you’ve taken a breather, it starts to sink in how quickly you tear through it. An example of the easy difficulty is with the final boss, who feels too easily telegraphed. I understand Mario thrives off having simple bosses, but this one felt rather predictable. Previous Super Mario games were simple, but had some challenge to them. What I find Super Mario Odyssey’s biggest flaw is the opposite of Super Mario Sunshine from 2002. The latter was too difficult, while this one feels too straightforward. This is due, in large part, to the penalty of death being completely nixed. You lose ten coins when you die. That’s it. Since death is meaningless, you never feel much urgency aside from certain time challenges or the more difficult puzzles. This contributes to the speed of the pacing feeling like an Energizer bunny downing barrels of Halloween candy while taking an occasional whiff of cocaine. It’s a little too much if I’m being honest. Yet, this is made up for with the sheer breadth of ingenuity that is still on display here, and gameplay is still fun despite the simplicity of the challenge.
Conversely, when exploring the post-game content, I felt it was too cumbersome to sift through. I need to acquire roughly 240 Power Moons at this point to unlock another piece of bonus content, but it’s hard to feel motivated to do so because of how much work you’re going to put in to get there. Not to mention not being given enough substance in return to keep pushing onward.
Another issue that stood out appeared when experimenting with the handheld version. I noticed the dip in resolution from the docked version hit the game hard. It looks like it’s 480p at times instead of 720p, with jaggies and character models looking quite blurry when closely inspected. However, most of the time, the world is still beautiful when captured in motion. It’s when you start to look a little closer that the visual flaws become apparent. I also had frame rate drops in the docked version, albeit rarely. Additionally, while it was my favorite location to explore, the actual look of the Metro Kingdom’s citizens is downright creepy in comparison to the stylized looks of Mario and the city’s mayor, Pauline. I thought it meshed together terribly. It was an absolute blast to play that section, but unsettling to witness.
One final con would be the motion controls. Though I’m not as strongly opposed to them as I have seen others be, I found them indulgent on Nintendo’s part. It was as if they were trying to showcase all the different possibilities the Switch offers in terms of enjoying gameplay. The motion controls in Breath of the Wild were my least favorite part of that game, and it’s somewhat the same problem here. Having played almost the entire game with the motion controls, I can say they are serviceable, but not stellar. It was the versatility of the actual gameplay that made the controls fun to use. I hear from Josh Finney, one of our editors, that the Pro controller is miles better, but I won’t be able to experience Odyssey using that controller until it comes in alongside my copy of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Special Edition.
Make no mistake, Super Mario Odyssey is one of the most fun games I’ve played in years, and one of the best games of this current year. It’s colorful, inventive, rewards exploration, and feels like a celebration of all things Super Mario. A few shortcomings aside, this is a must-own for anybody in possession of a Switch. It doesn’t beat my personal favorite, Super Mario Galaxy, or even my current front runner for Game of the Year, Persona 5, but it is still a wonderful, highly approachable game. I thoroughly recommend it, and am very happy with what we’ve gotten as a lifelong fan of this franchise. Here’s to even more decades with our favorite, fat little plumber! He’s not going anywhere, and he’s still the king.