Super Mario Odyssey Review
The latest Mario adventure has a lot of Nintendo DNA running through it. Perhaps that’s an obvious statement to make, so let me clarify: Odyssey is part Super Mario Sunshine, part Mario 64, and it also shares commonalities with this year’s Zelda, Breath of the Wild. For those of you scared as you read this, don’t be. This is an incredible, addictive adventure that uses history to its advantage, with nods to long-time fans oozing from every nook and cranny. Odyssey’s many locations beg to be explored, pored over, and savoured.
In fact, so much of what I want to say… I can’t. I want to talk about how the game ends, because it’s one of my favourite closing sequences of any game, anywhere. I want to tell you a bit about the end-game, but I won’t. I will say that you can see the end credits roll in around 5-6 hours, but you’ll be nowhere done with it. Whereas Sunshine was a giant hub with mini-areas inside that hub, each having focused goals that got you shines, here each location is its own hub, with a huge amount of moons to collect in order to power up the Odyssey (your sort of balloon-based airshop-cum-dressing room) and chase after Bowser, who this time wants to marry Princess Peach. Did I mention that Odyssey is a really weird game?
Every Kingdom you visit has a few specific objectives which often amount to changing the environment in some manner, then defeating a boss or two. Once you’ve done those, and grabbed the requisite number of moons, you can get back on your ship and continue your adventure. Post game you’ll return to all these places, draining them of yet hidden moons, and more fun. One of the standout parts of the game, aside the obviously incredible level design, is the boss fights. They are never particularly hard, but they are immensely satisfying. Using Cappy’s ability to capture “things” is so clever, and this hook is leveraged for the boss battles.
Cappy, though, goodness me! Pre-release material has shown things Mario can capture, and I don’t want to spoil anything here. Whereas 2D Mario games have fire flowers or capes, here Cappy is your power-up. Need to get somewhere otherwise out of reach? There will almost certainly be something nearby that you can capture and use to get there. And that is where the Breath of the Wild comparison comes in. Like Nintendo’s incredible Zelda, if you can see it, you can go there. You might see a moon in the distance on a platform that seems impossible to get to, but later on, as you understand more of the game, you’ll figure out a way to get there. Whether it’s taking over a Bullet Bill or a T-Rex (which happens surprisingly early in the game), the smiles keep coming no matter where you are.
A bone of contention with some, may be the motion controls. Odyssey is, perhaps, designed to played with a Joy-Con in each hand, allowing you to shake your right hand to use the motion while retaining control of Mario with the left stick in your left hand. It’s Galaxy-like in how the controller is split. Motions are simple enough, flick up to throw the hat up, down for a downward throw, or even side to side to make the hat spin around you, as a protective barrier. Odyssey gives you the ability to throw your cap, jump onto it, and then dive to get even further – and this skill, mastered, will give you so many movement options.
After a few hours I switched to the Pro Controller (akin to using the Joy-Cons in the controller shell) and found it a far more enjoyable way to play. You can still use motion controls, but my large hands are more at home with a controller, than the split method. It’s worth noting that playing the Switch on the go means that shaking the entire thing is a little cumbersome, and I found it tricky to get the motion to work without being more forceful than I’d like. The option is there, I guess, to take the Joy-Cons off and put the Switch on the kickstand, but that’s not my preferred way to play.
Due to how the worlds are designed, from New Donk City to the Ice Desert, you can pick up and play for short bursts, or for as long as you want. Some Moons are very simple, and obvious to find, others are devious and require you to use the camera to look around, or even the HD vibration to feel something below the surface. There’s even a doge (there’s a phrase I never thought I’d write in a review) in Odyssey, and after thinking it was just a silly thing to include, I realised it can actually lead you to a hidden Moon. This is an immaculately designed game, with nothing left to chance. Everything is there for a reason, and you’ll need to bare that in mind if you want to grab every shine and location-specific coin. Perhaps some walls have a certain pattern – that’s a clue? What about the fact there’s a single platform that seems useless? Trust me, nothing in this game is accidentally placed.
Speaking of which, every unique place has its own finite currency to collect. These are for use in the hat shop, which can get you new clothes to wear, or decorations for your ship. Some clothes are required to access locked doors, and even these doors hold multiple moons. You are never without an objective, and even if you start just looking around, you’ll almost certainly find a new moon, then another, and before you know it you can’t remember what you were even in this place for to begin with.
It looks gorgeous, as you’d expect, running at a smooth 60fps – bar a few drops in a few Kingdoms, and seemingly more notable in handheld mode. The attention to detail is incredible. Mario has different idle animations based on where he is. Inside a shop he’ll lay down and go to sleep, outside in the desert, he’ll wipe sweat from his forehead. Odyssey enraptures you with its visual styles. Some locations give off a bizarre feeling, like New Donk City. At first you start to wonder what’s going on. Because, if these people are… people, then what is Mario, and why is he so small, and how come Pauline is more human? Eventually the confusion passes, and you realise it doesn’t really matter. Each Kingdom is unique, and has different enemies and friends, and a musical score to match. There are 2D elements that will get you from point-to-point, and even here the soundtrack switches to a retro sound. Some of the 2D sections will make you gasp in surprise. It’s a weird game, but it’s also filled with magic.
Moments are present that left me giddy, and made me feel like a child again. Bonus levels directly pay homage to Mario Sunshine, and there are so many similarities, only everything has a modern sheen that makes it eminently playable. I woke up thinking of Odyssey, and when I was away from my Switch I found myself desperate to be playing this game. It feels daft to tell you this because you already know it, but this is the reason to buy a Nintendo Switch. Full of happiness, an antidote we all desperately need, flawlessly designed, addictive, and just incredible. I worry I’ve left things out of this review, but in all honesty, I am desperate to hit that final full stop so I can get back to collecting more moons. This is platforming perfection, full stop.
Incredible level design
Makes you smile
Handheld mode affects motion controls
Full of happiness, an antidote we all desperately need, flawlessly designed, addictive, and just incredible. This is platforming perfection.