- Great sandbox gameplay
- Excellent visuals
- Beautiful sound design
- Diverse game world
- Tasteful nostalgia
- Good replayability
- Some repetitive boss battles
- Two-player mode is awkward
- Occasionaly janky camera
- Some actions locked behind motion controls
Super Mario Odyssey review: Whilst we’re still waiting for Samus and Kirby to make a home for themselves on Nintendo’s newest console, the Switch, Zelda and Link have already proven that they can make the leap to this latest generation and now it’s the turn of Nintendo poster child, Jumpman himself, Mario.
Teased alongside the launch of the Switch, Mario’s return to console, as ever, feels long overdue. Whilst we’ve been able to enjoy his presence in some form or another thanks to revamped Wii U titles like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Super Mario Odyssey is an all-new adventure that carries the torch once held by the likes of Super Mario 64, Sunshine and to a lesser extent, Galaxy and Galaxy 2.
So what has Nintendo done to give this latest open-world* Super Mario title an edge over its predecessors? For one, a new hat, or rather, cap, but so much more…
Super Mario Odyssey Review: Story and setting
Whilst Sunshine threw a few curveballs in here and there from a story perspective (and Bowser in a hot tub – thanks for that one Nintendo), detailing the general plot of almost any Super Mario game ultimately falls to the same key components that only those who haven’t yet encountered the moustachioed plumber won’t already have engrained into their psyche. That said, this time around the story feels a little more nuanced and fleshed out.
The game opens on the King Koopa himself, dressed to the nines in a white tuxedo, once again having captured Princess Peach with the intention of marrying her against her will (no hypnosis this time though, just good ol’ fashion abduction at play).
After a quick tussle on his airship, Mario is launched over the side into apparent oblivion whilst Bowser and Peach make their escape in order to accrue the finishing touches needed for their big day.
When Mario comes to he’s in a strange, monochromatic world inhabited by hat-wearing sprites with one in possession of the remains of the plumber’s signature monogrammed red cap, now in tatters after the fall.
Cappy, as the sprite reveals his name to be, is one of the inhabitants of the Cap Kingdom and the tiara Bowser had already nabbed for Peach’s wedding outfit actually happens to be his little sister. The only logical solution is for the two to team up and give chase in order to rescue their respective damsels in distress and thwart the oversized spikey turtle before his plan can come to fruition.
Each level, or kingdom within the game centres around a distinct theme, more often than not featuring a wedding-related element serving as the driving force behind the presence of Bowser and his cronies. Mario and Cappy give chase on a ship they unearth called the Odyssey, a moon-powered vessel (moons appear to be a sought-after power source in the game’s universe that stand in for stars, shines, etc.) that requires refuelling in each subsequent kingdom to reach the next.
You control both Mario and his now sentient cap companion in order to find and locate Power Moons in each kingdom in order to progress, and there are A LOT (supposedly more than 800 in all). Each stage has a critical path that usually has you chasing after Bowser and Peach, having to face off against minibosses unique to each stage and in some cases, a team of wedding planners called The Broodals.
Over the 14 or so kingdom’s in the game, Odyssey offers up a diverse range of settings and characters with consistent themes running throughout each one. There are familiar enemies, masterfully implemented into these new worlds, as well as some unique creatures with designs and abilities that fit perfectly within each kingdom’s motif new to the Super Mario universe.
One aspect of the game that a question mark has hung over since it was first unveiled has been the design and structure of the game’s various kingdoms. *Super Mario Odyssey isn’t actually open-world as some were led to believe but rather each kingdom is a discrete level with its own style, characters, music, missions and other definable characteristics.
There’s a critical path through each kingdom if you’re simply looking to advance the main plot but it’s by no means the only way to play each stage. There are between 30 and 69 Power Moons in each of Odyssey’s various levels and the game does little in the way to steer you into collecting them in any particular order. You as Mario have complete agency with regards to where you go and what you do within the sandbox environment of each kingdom.
Super Mario Odyssey Review: Gameplay
The first thing you’ll notice when you dive into Odyssey is how Mario moves. If you’ve played any of the last fully 3D Super Mario titles you’ll be familiar with the plumber’s standard assortment of acrobatics; the long jump, ground pound, backflip, triple jump and backwards somersault are all there, however, the addition of Cappy adds some new movement options that really open up the game world and how you, as the player, can choose to move through it.
There’s something freeing about being back in a fully-3D Mario game and its creators have given you more than enough tools to traverse the landscape of each kingdom in almost as diverse a manner as Ubisoft’s assassins.
Nintendo’s love of motion controls is a little bittersweet when it comes to Odyssey though, with some more advanced Cappy-based attacks really only possible when the Joy-Cons are set free. You can certainly play through the entirety of the main campaign in handheld mode if you want but some of those outstanding Power Moons might remain out of reach until you set the controllers loose.
Odyssey also has a knack for conveying to the player the objective at hand, simply through thoughtful enemy, NPC and object placement paired with considered level design. With all the hundreds of moons to collect and secrets to be explored there are certainly hints and tips strewn throughout the place to point you in the right direction if needs be, but so long as you’re persistent you’ll realise that the game lays out all the context clues you need for you.
There are two aspects of moving through the game world that can sometimes prove a touch frustrating. The camera will very occasionally fall into a position that doesn’t always suit the platforming at hand, adding to the challenge, sure, but not necessarily in an enjoyable way. Whilst the other is the option of co-operative two-player mode.
Not unlike Galaxy 2’s Co-Star implementation, where a friend could waggle their Wiimote collect coins and freeze enemies as a Luma, in Odyssey a second player can take control of Mario’s companion, Cappy, but they shouldn’t. We tested this experience with different friends and colleagues of varying skill and familiarity with Mario and concluded that unless you have the pilot-to-pilot synchronicity of Pacific Rim’s jaeger teams, this only results in frustration and stunted progression.
The other play mode, Assist mode, meanwhile is great for younger players not necessarily as au fait with 3D platformers like Odyssey or casual gamers looking for the fastest path to play out the game’s main story.
There is one other fundamental component of Odyssey’s gameplay that we haven’t yet touched on and that is its capture mechanic. The game introduces you to the concept pretty early on. Throw Cappy at some of (but not all) the enemies and inhabitants within each kingdom and you can effectively take control of them and the unique abilities that they possess.
Speaking of possession, Nintendo has been quick to draw a line in the sand between Cappy and his ‘capturing’ technique, compared to actual possession. Despite this, the visual representation that the game uses to show Mario’s essence temporarily consuming the being at which he’s thrown Cappy at certainly appears to be as disturbing as you would imagine possession would look like from the inside. Either that or a pretty powerful acid trip.
The capture mechanic is a ton of fun though, not only letting you traverse areas inaccessible to Mario as a humble plumber but granting you access to a wealth of interesting new abilities in order to solve puzzles or take down otherwise insurmountable enemies. The game also ties it into the final act of the main story rather beautifully, in a moment that will make your face light up with surprise and excitement.
Super Mario Odyssey Review: Visuals and sound design
Not that there’s ever really been any doubt but for all of the clamouring for a richer third-party game library on the Switch, nobody ever really brings out the true potential of a Nintendo console’s hardware capabilities like Nintendo.
Just as Zelda’s outing on the console took our breath away, so too does Odyssey. The contrast of the different kingdoms is clear-cut and visually diverse. The elements making up each world are fleshed out with detailed, crisp textures and impressive lighting and environmental effects. There are points that really showcase just how surprisingly capable the Switch is from a graphical standpoint and spell a surprising shift in tone for a Mario title all at the same time.
As for how the game sounds, there’s an equally diverse range of scores designed to suit each kingdom. Odyssey’s soundtrack features a full orchestra and draws from the cultural influences seen in each stage to inform the music and instrumentation at work.
So long as you’re comfortable with the Sims-like nonsensical speech of the characters, each is designed to allow for enough of a nuanced performance that, for the most part, the way they sound ties in neatly with the written on-screen text.
The team behind Odyssey’s sound has also employed some smart tricks to help bring the worlds that you play through to life; streams bubble, birds tweet, the city hums and the moments at which you encounter the game’s rather brilliant original 2D Super Mario Bros. platforming segments within the 3D world of Odyssey also see the score and soundscape transform into the same 8-bit audio that accompanied the original NES title.
Super Mario Odyssey Review: Verdict
Mario’s journey beyond the Mushroom Kingdom really is fitting of the name Odyssey, with a host of diverse and beautiful worlds to explore, challenging puzzles, great visuals, arresting sounds and a tastefully nostalgic tip of the
hat cap, to some of the defining elements that have made the franchise what it is today.
You can’t break apart what makes Odyssey so good without comparing it to its most like-minded predecessors. As Breath of the Wild delivered on the promise of Ocarina of Time, so too has Odyssey when compared to its antecedents. This is part current-gen platformer, part love letter to long-time Super Mario fans and it is well worth picking up.
Super Mario Odyssey is available to pre-order online and from the Nintendo eShop right now for £49.99. It launches on October 27th.