Super Mario Odyssey Review (Switch)
Super Mario 64 was one of my defining gaming experiences. The freedom, the spectacle, the pure joy – it remains one of my favourite games to this very day. While Mario’s had some great platformers since, I’ve been hanging out for another game in this open style with the same sense of wonder. The day has finally come where Mario has returned to the sandbox style with glorious pizzazz. Super Mario Odyssey isn’t a revolution in the way that 64 was, it’s merely an incredibly fun and joyous experience. So yes… it’s still very good. Odyssey is Nintendo taking a victory lap through the world of platformers, showing off refined aspects of sandbox and linear Mario platforming while also delving into the styles of games like the Banjo series.
Super Mario Odyssey takes you on a journey through various kingdoms in Mario’s world on a quest to save Princess Peach from being married to Bowser. Each of these kingdoms is a large hub style level, just like those in Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine, which you’re free to explore in search of Power Moons that are needed to power Mario’s airship. No two kingdoms look alike, they all have a distinct style and feel, some of which are totally unlike anything you’ve seen in Mario before. Whether it’s the Luncheon Kingdom with its volcanic soup lava or the Lake Kingdom with its haunting auroras, each one has something that stands out. Exploring each world is a joy not only because of the gorgeous aesthetics but also thanks to the game making simply existing in each world fun. One of the most evident ways Odyssey does this is through a Photo Mode. You’ll have a surprising amount of time eaten up as you try to set up the perfect shots to showcase the various kingdoms. The HD Rumble in the Switch’s controllers is used to great effect in many noticeable, but not gimmicky, ways. One of my favourite touches that brought the Seaside Kingdom to life was the use of HD Rumble whenever you jump in and out of the water. The water in this kingdom is fizzy soda, and you can feel a lingering fizz inside your controller for a few seconds afterwards. The HD Rumble is used in many fantastic ways like this that add an extra layer of whimsy to the world and characters.
Mario’s got plenty of moves for getting around each level that makes traversal itself fun. Remember how fun it was just riding the Koopa Shell around Bob-Omb Battlefield? Well the kids of today will spend just as much time doing roly-polies up and down the dunes of the Sand Kingdom. A lot of Mario’s new moves come from his new companion Cappy, a dapper ghost who acts as Mario’s hat in Odyssey. Cappy can be thrown to take out enemies, but he can also assist Mario with platforming. Throw Cappy and then jump off him for a boost, or dive into him in mid-air to travel far forwards. These advanced manoeuvres open up a host of platforming options, making for a lot of fun ways to traverse levels. While there are some advanced challenges in the game that will make use of these, they’re not necessary most of the time. Instead, they encourage experimentation. Sure, you could take the long way around to the top of this building, slowly climbing up its exterior – but there’s got to be another way, right? What if I you instead did a boosted jump out of a ground pound, wall jumped off a castle wall, threw your hat towards the roof and then dived into it to propel yourself onto the roof? Complicated and totally unnecessary right? But managing to pull off these tricky manoeuvres is super satisfying and allows you to take on the game’s platforming challenges in all sorts of unique ways.
But by far the coolest thing you can do with Cappy is ‘capturing’ enemies. When Cappy hits various enemies and objects in the game, he’ll throw Mario’s essence into them and let you take control. It reminded me a lot of the transformations from Mumbo’s magic in Banjo-Tooie. These ‘Captures’ provide different mechanics and allow you to engage with the game world in different ways. Mario could become a high-jumping frog, a stretchy caterpillar who can weave his way around obstacles, or a GIANT T-REX THAT DESTROYS EVERYTHING IN HIS PATH. It’s a totally absurd addition to a Mario game but it works so well in providing unique scenarios for you to play. Some of the coolest HD Rumble uses are featured by Captures too, like the tank capture which has a physical click in the controllers when you move its turret. It’s all the little touches like this that elevate Odyssey into being such a great experience, it’s full of wonderful surprises at every turn.
Each kingdom has a guided story portion that tells you where to go (but you can ignore that!) which sets you on your way to earning enough Power Moons to reach the next kingdom. The main ‘story’ path acts like a tutorial for a few new Capture mechanics, presenting you with a lot of fun situations that allow you to see what a creature can do. These will often take you through some thrilling set pieces – I never thought I’d be fighting through a dystopian cityscape as a tank in a Mario game. This all builds up to a big climactic sequence (usually a boss fight) that compounds on what you know and acts as a showcase for the Capture abilities you’ve been practising with. It’s a great example of how to integrate an organic tutorial into a game, and the variety of Captures available means that you get engaging tours through each kingdom.
As mentioned before, the goal of the game is to collect as many Power Moons as possible. These are much more plentiful than the main collectibles in past Mario platformers (seriously, they’re everywhere – some kingdoms have over 50 moons in them) and are rewarded for a variety of tasks. This could be solving a puzzle, completing a linear mini-level, playing jump rope or winning a parkour race amongst many other things. Some are given away like a copy of That’s You while others will push you to the limits of your sanity while trying to earn them. This balance is a great way of approaching difficulty because it allows kids and less-skilled gamers to see their way through the story while also providing plenty of challenge that you can pursue should you want it.
Odyssey’s biggest competition is our memories of Super Mario 64. Odyssey can’t compete with the vast, sprawling worlds that the exaggerated fantasy version of 64 inside our heads featured and it contributes to the game feeling small. You can reach the boundaries of each kingdom quite quickly, and opening the map for each one will have you wondering if that’s really it. The story can also be plowed through quite quickly, not feeling quite like the epic journey that it should. But it’s all deceptive because the game is much bigger than it first appears. So much content is densely packed into its kingdoms, including hidden off-map areas and challenges. Heck, sometimes there’s hidden challenges within already hidden areas. And in regards to the story, this time it’s not the main event but rather a grand tour through the various kingdoms, providing you a taster of each before you unlock the bulk of the game’s content at its completion. I think the lack of a hub world is one of the big drawbacks to the game that works against it. In 64 it was a journey just to find and enter a lot of the game’s worlds, and the hub obscured how much content there really was. Odyssey’s kingdoms are travelled between via a menu which lays all the content out for you to see. While there’s a greater amount of content in the game, it looks smaller when it’s presented this way. There’s so much to do in Odyssey and the vast majority of it is great fun, but the game works against itself in conveying this.
Super Mario Odyssey has a few different amiibo functions. The coolest is being able to unlock a few costumes based on certain characters, including Waluigi’s suit and a Diddy Kong costume. The new wedding variants of Mario, Peach and Bowser each unlock wedding outfits for Mario to wear. Yes, Peach’s figure will unlock a wedding dress for him. Those who aren’t into amiibo collecting will be happy to hear that all of these costumes are available to unlock in-game, although not without collecting a lot of Power Moons and coins. You can also use any of your amiibo to get power-ups and hints while you’re playing. Some amiibo will give you cooler power-ups like extra life while others might just give you a handful of coins to spend. For more information on the game’s amiibo functions, check out our Super Mario Odyssey amiibo guide.
I’m running out of ways to say that Super Mario Odyssey is an utter joy through all aspects of its design. It’s fun to play, it’s fun to look at, it’s fun to think about. It’s designed with such a high level of finesse despite its scope and is a remarkable achievement for Nintendo. I couldn’t be happier than sandbox style Mario is back, and it’s heartwarming to think that this could be the Super Mario 64 for the new generation.
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