It has been a whopping fifteen years since the release of the last 3D Mario sandbox adventure, Super Mario Sunshine, one of the games that I hold most dearest to me, despite its major flaws. The ex-plumber has endured through decades of adventures, and his latest endeavor was backed up by arguably the largest amount of hype the series has ever seen. It’s also a beautiful, splendid odyssey that is a love letter to the series.
For years, Mario’s 3D outings have further distanced themselves from the open explorative gameplay of Mario 64 and Sunshine. Super Mario Galaxy was an amazing game, yet had a more linear design while maintaining an explorable area that was the gateway to each level. Its sequel took the linearity even further by moving to a level selection map modelled akin to the 2D games. Most recently, Super Mario 3D Land and 3D World felt like 2D Mario games pushed into a 3D environment. Each level was used once for a single purpose, and discouraged curiosity and diluted Mario’s moveset. It’s safe to say that the announcement of Super Mario Odyssey and the promise of massive explorable worlds similar to the roots of the 3D Mario series, was a tad exciting.
It’s-a me, the Story
(Spoilers Ahead - Don't Say We Didn't Warn You)
The game quickly takes off with the jumpman in the midst of a confrontation with Bowser on his airship. Bowser is determined to prepare a wedding for Princess Peach and himself, and therefore goes against every storyline in the Mario series by kidnapping Peach and a tiara named Tiara (and by goes against, I mean completely and thoroughly following the Super Mario script for Bowser - just making sure you're paying attention). Sorry about spoiling that. Thusly, Mario is hatted (er, booted) down into the land below where he meets Tiara’s brother, his companion, Cappy. The two of them quickly set off to rescue Bowser’s captives.
Shortly into the game, a top hat-shaped airship is discovered, the Odyssey. This acts as the transport between the game’s sandbox levels, the Kingdoms, and further assists the story progression as it circumnavigates the globe. Visiting each world is backed up by the residents being victims of Bowser’s thieving of a wedding item from their lands, that Mario must retrieve.
Super Mario Odyssey boasts gorgeous cutscenes that continually impress with refined character animations and presentation. Overall, the story is a minor step up from the traditional Mario formula, but advances at such a smooth pace and is displayed with an extravagant and lighthearted tone that encourages the journey without being intrusive or awkward.
While being inspired and encouraged by the past, Mario Odyssey introduces completely new mechanics and world design that the series hadn’t before seen. Mario’s acrobatic moves have always been a joy to pull off, and now Mario wields more actions and intricacies than ever.
Odyssey’s controls are brilliant fun. Running and jumping has never felt more precise, open, and joyful. On top of many moves of past like dives, triple jumps, and long jumps, the headline mechanic comes in the form of Cappy, Mario’s hat companion. Cappy can be thrown, adding the dynamic of adding more leaps to movement. Mario can jump, toss cappy, dive onto cappy, jump again, throw cappy, and dive again, leading to fantastic movement flexibility. Even further, Cappy allows Mario to possess--er, capture--enemies and characters, allowing free control of its abilities. This acts as a replacement to traditional Mario power-ups, and opens up a wide range of abilities. From an oddly realistic Tyrannosaurus Rex, traditional Goombas, to new Octopus-like enemies that can soar into the sky on a water jet, the captures are always a joy to discover and control.
If there's anything odd about the controls as a whole, it’s the inclusion of motion controls. The Switch is capable of highly precise motion controls, resulting in generally positive experiences. But the implementation in Odyssey is downright strange. Motions are first thrown at you by teaching you to throw Cappy with a flick of the Joy-con or Pro Controller, which can be executed the same with the button. The exception, upward, downward, and spin throws all use a directional flick. Although, each can be done though roundabout ways without motion, except for the upward toss of the cap. Furthermore, shaking the controller often can perform an action of a capture target better than the button equivalent. It’s simply an odd decision, but the game can be played completely without the motion controls if they aren’t your thing. Yet to my distaste, the best experience is found within their use.
The levels in Odyssey, known as Kingdoms, are large sandbox playgrounds that evolve over time. Through the story, Kingdoms act as semi-linear levels with objectives leading to a boss battle. During which, there is still freedom, as Mario can freely explore any accessible areas to obtain the main collection objective, the Power Moons. Moons are obtained in loads of ways from simply finding a route to reach one that’s visible, completing sublevels with platforming challenges or puzzles, or completing an overworld task.
Each of the numerous kingdoms contain a ludicrous density of things to do with a constant, satisfying collection of Power Moons and region exclusive Purple coins. A Crazy Cap store occupies every Kingdom, allowing Mario to purchase countless costumes with Purple Coins to dress up Mario, and souvenirs/stickers to decorate the Odyssey. Costumes, while being simply cosmetic changes for the most part, are fantastic fun to collect. They add a special charm to modifying Mario to look the part, while also being required for a few specific moons in each Kingdom.
Kingdoms are lively, colorful, and each so distinct in atmosphere and gameplay. Exclusive capture targets in each separate the levels with design and how players can go about exploration. On top of their density and interesting designs, every Kingdom feels alive and dynamic. There are three main variations of each that transform from first visit, to their expansion after completion of the main objectives, to an expansive addition of Moons and challenges in the post-game.
I can’t talk about the Kingdoms without mentioning one of the shining stars, New Donk City in the Metro Kingdom. The mayor, Pauline from Donkey Kong, runs a metropolitan area of weird realistic people. Without heading into spoilers, the climax of the Kingdom includes the headline song,Jump Up, Super Star, sang by Pauline. When seen in the context of the game, it's simply perfect.
Gone are the days of the archaic lives system. Instead of collecting 1-UP mushrooms and resetting to the beginning of a world after a game over, Mario simply loses ten coins. That’s it. By decreasing the penalty of death, the game is able to encourage experimentation and exploration. The removal of a seemingly defining attribute of Mario seemed odd at first, but it greatly contributes to the fun in the game. Instead of difficulty being from staying cautious, the challenge in Odyssey is derived from discovery. Beyond exploring the Kingdoms, each has loads of sub levels that are pure platforming or puzzles to provide a main Moon, and an extra Moon for explorers. These abstract worlds often take a page from Mario Sunshine by taking away Cappy to force Mario to rely on his moves alone.
Additionally, Mario can go back to his 8-bit nature in bite-sized areas of 2D platforming. These areas are flattened on terrain and are simply creative Super Mario Bros. sections that felt new and interesting. Each area introduced new ideas and was a genuinely useful addition to the worlds.
After completion of the main story, the world of Mario expands even more by providing loads of new moons in each Kingdom and new objectives. While the story was fantastically paced and consistently encouraged the push onward, the post-game allowed for a joyful freedom in the game world while collecting Power Moons to unlock even more Kingdoms featuring increasing difficulty.
Let’s get this out of the way, the sound design and music in Odyssey is stupendous. Every kingdom has a few different themes that fit the atmospheres incredibly well. The music is catchy, varied, feels very Mario, and yet completely original. From the dazzling tune of the Lake Kingdom that screams “water level”, to the energetic beat of the Metro Kingdom, each are stunning and add to the atmosphere.
The visuals in Odyssey are colorful and sharp. It’s simply beautiful with the interesting color palettes in each Kingdom and gorgeous artstyle. Not much more can be praised than it is great, and everything you’d expect a modern Mario game to appear to be.
Everything in the animations, level design, and lighthearted humor is profoundly polished, as any Mario game would be expected to be. Shining brightly, the homage to the Mario series hits the nostalgic sweet point in extravagant ways. Odyssey truly takes inspiration from Mario’s past to bring in a collection of the best pieces of those games.
There’s something to be said for the pure joy that Super Mario Odyssey elicits. It positivity leaks out from every corner in the game and creates an irresistible urge to smile. The joviality in the game shines brightly amidst the current trends in gaming.
Super Mario Odyssey is a downright masterpiece that surprised me every step of the way. The entire game is a joyous, whimsical odyssey of pure fun that exhibits the thirty years of learning and evolving in a way that only Nintendo could. Certainly, Super Mario Odyssey should be included in the conversation of the greatest games of all time, and is a consolidation of everything great about gaming.
- Incredible gameplay and fluid controls are some of the best the series has seen.
- Gorgeous graphics overlay the incredible polish.
- The story steps up from Mario traditions.
- Exploration-focused worlds are densely packed with content.
- Awkward implementation of motion controls.