For over 30 years, Mario has been the entry to video games for many people. Mario games retain an accessibility that is realized from the moment hands are placed on the controller and players begin to move Nintendo’s beloved mascot. Staple design choices remain simple, but engaging enough to drive the player. “Why are there a row of brick blocks, but one is flashing a question mark? The only way to reach it is by jumping, but will something happen if I hit it from below?”. Many will remember a mushroom popping out and then moving in a direction for the player to chase after it, teaching the player that there’s an entire level to get through. For others, their first memory will be one of being in a courtyard before a giant castle inviting the player to enter it; but do they want to immediately go in or observe the scenery first? No matter which Nintendo hardware gamers have started with and Mario being in either 2D or 3D, the franchise has always remained the same at its core: fun.
Super Mario Odyssey takes the 30+ year knowledge of game design & ideas and elaborately constructs entire worlds as playgrounds gifting the player freedom to experiment and discover fresh platforming elements packed in almost every inch of the game without being intimidating. It’s just remarkably fun controlling Mario and that alone will naturally reward players. Performing his basic moves creates an entire adventure that is purely built around utilizing them, as it always has been with Mario, except this time his range of moves and flexibility is higher and more polished than ever before. It is quite an achievement for Nintendo to once again reinvent certain mechanics of the Super Mario series where it feels perfectly in line with the rest of its main games.
The 3D predecessors set the foundation for which Super Mario Odyssey is built on, yet renovates the landscape immensely. The tight, ever-changing platforming from the Super Mario Galaxy games makes its way in here, but are placed in beautiful sandbox worlds like in Super Mario 64. In fact, the level design is some of the best the franchise has to offer. You’ll be creating the options of platforming… just to get to the actual platforming. This is mostly due to the iconic accessory that Mario wears. His cap. Much like Super Mario 64’s power-ups were in the form of caps with different abilities, the power-ups in Odyssey are instead all around you at almost any given time for you to take. Possess, rather. Mario’s cap has not only been upgraded since Super Mario 64, it’s his companion named Cappy, who not only expands Mario’s move set, but allows him to capture and take control of almost any enemy, inanimate object and yes, even some humans. For any time spent possessing something or someone, Mario is trapped somewhere within taking control. Each capture feels totally unique and it’s this constant discovery of puppeteering that continues to offer something fresh to the gameplay.
Cappy behaves as an extension of Mario. We first meet him in the opening scene where amidst confrontation, Mario is once again out to rescue Peach who has been kidnapped by Bowser, who plans to wed Peach. Bowser (who looks quite dapper, I must add) and Peach are both in their wedding outfits and it’s Cappy who comes to Mario’s aid after being knocked off Bowser’s airship only to be sent flying from one toss of Bowser’s hat. A running yet important gag of the game involves almost everyone wearing a hat. We soon find out that Cappy is around to rescue his sister, Tiara, who rests upon Peach’s head. In an urgent need of preparation, Bowser sends out his bashful bunny mob, known as Broodal (which may be a portmanteau of “Brutal”, “Bridal” and “Brood”), to do his dirty work as he just simply doesn’t have the time for Mario’s heroic shenanigans.
Mario is brought to safety in the Cap Kingdom, which serves as the game’s first world, and also the home of the Bonneton’s who are friendly & eloquent hat-shaped dwellings that live in hat-shaped homes that also double as their flying ships. In this opening level, players are able to get a firm idea of how Bowser is planning the wedding as well as acquiring their first capture. The game is structured to guide the player early on to get them familiar with the basics as well as what the main goal is but soon opens up with freedom after the player earns a few Power Moons under their cap. Power Moons are this game’s objective trophies, much like Stars and Shines we’ve seen in the past, and are used to power up a major part of Super Mario Odyssey — the Odyssey; a ship acquired in order to traverse from one world to another. The ship’s cosmetic advancements deserve to be witnessed for the player themselves as even though it remains the same ol’ ship, a certain part of it ultimately becomes a hybrid of a few inventions.
Players familiar with Mario’s signature moves such as triple jumps, long jumps, ground stomps and wall jumps can all be performed just as easily as they remembered them. What makes Super Mario Odyssey better in that regard is the addition of new moves and Cappy that have players perform moves that transition into another without breaking the flow. An example is Mario is now able to immediately perform a high jump after a ground stomp allowing him to be constantly moving without true animation breaks. The animations in general are fluid and play a big role into making Mario’s movement more refined than ever which ultimately results in precision movement and less guessing for the player. Aside from jumping, Mario will spend most of his time running at full speed and due to this, Mario will take a split-second running in the same spot before taking off, skidding in place getting a head start momentum as seen in cartoons. Since players will often need to get through platforming segments, this allows them to fine tune the directional input before taking a leap. It provides a bit of leeway that feels natural given Mario’s fluid Pixar animation style. Mario will now sink in water if he’s not moving while head-above-waters. In order to better assure the player is at the very top, there is a little sweet spot that swoops Mario to the top like a magnet. It’s these touches that help the gameplay flow reducing player error to a minimum.
Despite Mario’s cute size, he’s always been more athletic than the average person. He can run as far as the eye can see and jump high as the sky – He is the Jump Man, after all. However, without Cappy, he wouldn’t get too far. In fact, it’s Cappy that now allows Mario to be more acrobatic and agile than ever. Attacking and possessing both are performed by tossing Cappy in various directions. A basic toss will send out Cappy forward in a limited distance for a second which can be prolonged by a few additional seconds as long as the pressed button is held down. It’s Cappy’s extended moves which utilizes motion controls, such as tossing Cappy straight up into the air, down below Mario and a continuous spin-attack that can’t be performed by simple button presses. In fact, the first thing you see upon booting the game ever time is a notice encouraging you to use only Joy-Con. A Pro Controller works well, too. I find that it’s up to the player to find their preferred control method. While using separated Joy-Con allows you to perform motion controls without ever losing hand & finger positioning, the Pro Controller offers sturdy resistance to better control the camera. When using a Pro Controller you will inevitably release one hand from the controller to perform a hat spin, but it never breaks the gameplay and I personally never felt I was at a disadvantage when using it. Some Power Moons are designed with motion controls in mind, but they are never unobtainable no matter which control scheme you are using. As such, playing in handheld is technically doable, but not recommended. Shaking your Nintendo Switch in different directions while the view of the screen doesn’t remain stationary is impractical.
Each kingdom is home to two types of currency, both of which are used to spend at Crazy Cap, a store with two merchants; one for each currency type. The first type of currency are the standard gold coins there since the beginning of Super Mario. The other currency type are the rare purple coins, exclusive to each kingdom having their own design and set amount to find. These are often hidden and require a bit of exploring or platforming in order to acquire them. Either types of coins are accepted at Crazy Cap, which sells you kingdom exclusive items such as souvenirs and decals to spice up the interior and exterior of your ship Odyssey. You will also be able to purchase outfits, matching sets of wardrobe and headpiece, that can also play a role in obtaining Moons. Not only do these outfits add extra flare to Mario’s adventure, they pay complete respects to Mario’s history, being a straight homage to the various games and roles Mario has participated in throughout decades. The collector inside of people will want to own every piece of gear and souvenir and in doing so means collecting every purple coin. While a sufficient amount of purple coins will get you the minimum of what you need, optionally you’ll need them all in order to be a completionist.
Likewise, you’ll need the standard gold coins if you never want a game over. Nintendo has done away with lives and 1-up mushrooms. Any time you lose all of your health or fall down an endless pit, it will cost you 10 gold coins. It’s a smart decision made by Nintendo that never disrupts your progression and gets you back into the game from where you left off. Accumulating plenty of coins should come naturally and is something you’ll never have to worry about.
Power Moons are the game’s beating heart. A total of a number shy of a thousand are scattered and tucked away across all of the kingdom you will visit. Shiny Power Moons grab your attention as they float in the distance, while some are nestled in corners and others require simple objectives by observing another character’s dire situation. Many of them also require puzzle-solving by figuring out a riddle hidden in artwork or maybe you just need to participate in one of the many group activities such as races or jump-roping. Some of the mini-games such as races have online leaderboards allowing a competitive element for you and your friends. I’ve had fun trying to best the people on my friend lists and it’s made me come back to compete! The amount of obtainable Power Moons is so high that players wandering around a bit may find a few in a brief moment and it’s that pulse of being rewarded that adds life to exploring and makes it exciting to find the rest resulting in more Power Moons required to advance to the next kingdom.
Multi-Moons are a bundle of 3 Power Moons. These are gained at certain points of the story in kingdoms and open up paths and new Power Moons to discover. Many of the platform-driven sequences are found in subterranean locations or accessed by other means. No one space feels the same and the variety is constantly displayed throughout the game. What is most special about these areas is its purpose to acquire a Power Moon, but there is always a Secret Power Moon to be found whether done by extra finesse by the player or seen by a clever eye.
Super Mario Odyssey does so well in combining many gameplay elements in one scene that it never feels like you are meant to learn something new before attempting it because the progression rolls out naturally along with player experimentation. The subtle morphing in and out of classic 2D Mario platforming segments are done particularly well and are so much fun. Matching outfits also have their own pixel art and an 8-bit, chiptune rendition of the fully orchestrated soundtrack, which are seamlessly transitioned into for these segments, add charming layers of detail. The soundtrack, by the way, also have voiced lyrics which is a first for the Super Mario series. I think the music is some of the strongest in the entire franchise and always feels captivating, positive and just beautiful. The soundtrack has a lot of variety and influences from different parts of the world and much like 2D segments, different arrangements of the same song are played when underwater. Speaking of underwater, holding your breath is less forgiving this time around where you can run out of air fairly quickly if you’re not around pockets of fresh air.
Perhaps about halfway through the story, the opportunities of Power Moon hunting and world traveling becomes more prominent. At particular moments, longtime fans since the dawn of the NES era will fully appreciate what Super Mario Odyssey sets out to accomplish and does fantastically so. In fact, Super Mario Odyssey welcomes in new players as well as anywhere in the Super Mario series players have began their resonance with the mustachio’d jumper. Traditionally with Mario games, the difficulty ramps up towards the end game and Super Mario Odyssey is no different. The latter kingdoms build up a suspense and shift of different tones that is well-executed and is the best the series has ever been. Everything in both the visual and audio departments come together perfectly. It’s not over until it’s over, however. Completing the main story opens up a post-game that essentially doubles the playtime. This is an epic game.
Super Mario Odyssey runs at a silky-smooth 60 frames per second. The only hitches I’ve found were when many structures were in the scene from camera work, such as the scope of entire buildings in the Metro Kingdom or gathering all the tall trees in one view in the Wooded Kingdom. These were minor occurrences and the overall experience in those kingdoms ran smoothly for the most part. The game’s visual direction and attention to detail is just stunning. Every character reacts and animates with personality and certain charm. Mario especially animates like we’ve never seen before. His mustache will sway in the wind, his nose will bounce in all sorts of directions even smashed against his face, his body will physically transform in different shapes depending on his actions and looks very cartoon-like. This is also extremely fun to witness with the new Snapshot Mode where you can pause the game at almost any given time, pan the camera with a zoom feature and apply a variety of photo filters. The amount of facial expressions and physics creates a seemingly infinite supply of photo opportunities (as long as your memory storage supports it!). If you look for it, you will find cube map reflections on just about any material that would have reflective properties, down to the shiny yellow buttons on Mario’s overalls. I also recommend reading through each one of the tourist guide maps that look like vacation brochures when opening your map on any one of the kingdoms. You may find a hint, but it’s a clever way to incorporate a map and something that compliments the game’s overall presentation. The menus and cursors are colorful and never static.
Players needing help or parents wanting to play with their children are not to worry. Super Mario Odyssey does a fine job of supplying help when needed by our good friend, Toad, who is there to give you a specific location on your map as to where a Power Moon is located for the cost for 50 gold coins. Additionally, amiibo can also be scanned for additional health. At any time, an Assist Mode, found in the Options, is there to guide players with a waypoint if they are ever feeling lost. A 2-Player mode can be accessed at any time where player #2 will take control of Cappy. During this mode, Cappy has more range and time on screen when tossed compared to just playing alone. It actually requires some co-operative synchronization and more fleshed out than the pointer feature found in Super Mario Galaxy because the actions there did not impact the gameplay progression whereas in Super Mario Odyssey it does.
The game’s completion time for the main story will take between 10-20 hours if you stay on the beaten path, but to collect everything will take much longer. After spending precisely 100 hours collecting everything and seeing all that I think I could possibly see, the things found were joy and a constant smile on my face. Pure magic.