Say what you want about the same old story revolving around saving the princess; Mario has been reinvented and updated with a fine brilliance since the chubby plumber first featured on our screens in the early 80’s. Super Mario Odyssey is the ultimate sequel, including the familiar sensibilities that we grew up with and updating it with a mechanic that feels like a logical progression, while also being very inventive. Mario has always held a special place in my heart. Super Mario Odyssey is everything I want from a Mario platformer and even after “finishing” it, I can’t stop going back for more and more.
The story is familiar, but this time a wedding is being planned, as Bowser kidnaps Peach and is getting set for the celebration of their union. It’s hard to hate Bowser when he looks so incredibly dapper in his white suit and top hat, but this of course doesn’t sit well with our heroic plumber and he sets out with new pal Cappy to save Peach, along with Cappy’s kidnapped sister, Tiara. Cappy isn’t much more than a cheerleader in terms of dialogue, but the ability to “CAPture” enemies and use their abilities lends itself to some very creative ideas.
Flinging Cappy at most foes let’s you become them, complete with trademark Mario moustache that never failed to put a big dumb grin on my face. From frogs to, yes, a T-Rex, the possibilities really do seem endless, and the team at Nintendo have clearly had a lot of fun brainstorming these ridiculous possibilities. Being able to play as some of the most iconic enemies in Mario’s long history such as Goomba’s, different types of Koopa’s and even Bullet Bill’s is well realised, made even more interesting by the fact that each Kingdom is essentially an open playground full of hidden secrets to explore and collectibles to uncover.
Some areas are only reachable using certain characters, requiring their abilities to access them, and others are cheekily hidden in plain sight. Some Kingdoms have an insanely large number of Moons (replacing Stars) to collect, making it a gigantic task for completionists to 100% each area. It’s a good thing that the joy of discovery remains prevalent even after 50+ hours of gameplay, because I’m still going back and combing through Kingdoms to find more and more secrets; some that I can’t believe I missed out on the first time through. From swimming underwater as a fish, cooking turnips, destroying smartly placed blocks with a bomb or playing a friendly game of Volleyball with a crab, the amount of things to do continues to impress you all the way up to the finale and beyond.
Making things even more engaging in Super Mario Odyssey is that each Kingdom is unique, with a distinct colour pallet, style, soundtrack and memorable characters. From the emotional forks in the Luncheon Kingdom to the cute Day of the Dead inspired Tostarenans that inhabit the Sand Kingdom, locals are friendly and full of expression through their animations. I can’t recall a game that so swiftly moved between different styles of environments so successfully, with catchy tunes keeping the vibe light and a clear direction in design for every location.
Add to this the retro throwback sections featuring Mario in all his 2D glory, they are entertaining not just for nostalgia’s sake but because they are built into the identity of each area. Enemies and objects on the 3D plain roll over the top as you combine the new school mechanics with old school game design, keeping things fresh and exciting, complete with Mario’s change of outfits shown in glorious pixel fashion; just another layer to experiment and play around with.
“…a testament to smart game design that there was not one mechanic that didn’t fall perfectly into place…”
The outfits are a fantastic touch to personalise Mario but also allow you to access special areas in each Kingdom. This means you will need to collect them all, but regardless of their gameplay application I just enjoyed being able to switch things up, whether it be the gangster-style Mario that fits in perfectly with the residents of New Donk City or being able to run around the beach in swimmers. The addition of stores with different types of currency for each location adds just another element that brings the freeing open world feeling back to the franchise in a big way.
I have to talk about New Donk City as well. I’m not going to spoil what happens there exactly as the joyous feeling I had there is the highlight of my entire Super Mario Odyssey experience, but I will say that playing as Mario in a “real world” environment is something we’ve always dreamed about as gamers, and it’s a fantastic addition that not only feels exciting but also makes total sense within context. You’ll love leaping between buildings, bouncing off of cars and exploring rooftops just as much as I did, along with inhabiting some of the residents of New Donk City to achieve certain tasks.
It’s this engagement, the feeling that every new Kingdom is completely exciting to dive into and the fact that there are so many options for other characters to capture that I was still discovering new twists and turns even after I thought I’d seen everything possible. Nintendo have done such a fantastic job of establishing their history and style that every gameplay mechanic instantly makes sense, like it’s a game that you’ve experienced before… but you haven’t. Conventions are turned upside-down but are still natural, and it’s a testament to smart game design that there was not one mechanic that didn’t fall perfectly into place just when I needed it to.
The last Mario that truly encapsulated this sense of adventure and exploration is the underrated Super Mario Sunshine, but it’s Super Mario 64 that I remember the fondest for allowing me the chance to explore areas as I chose, solving puzzles, platforming challenges, defeating enemies and making paths to stars. Super Mario Odyssey takes this feeling and amplifies it at every turn, with hundreds and hundreds of moons to find, some simply buried underground requiring you to feel for the rumble in your Joy-Cons and others far more complicated but equally satisfying.
Difficulty lies in finding and collecting everything, but not so much in the platforming or boss battles. Their formulas are relatively easy to read and only on one or two occasions did I find myself having to repeat a fight (and this was usually more due to a silly error on my part) so this isn’t going to make you pull your hair out or feel especially frustrated. This makes it a pleasure to play though really, as there are no roadblocks on your path to new lands and exciting adventures. While the game also plays well as a portable title on Switch, I recommend playing on a TV more often than not, at least until you’ve finished the game. The incredibly large scope just can’t be appreciated on the smaller screen and I’d hate for you to miss what is undoubtedly the best looking platformer in existence.
The Bottom Line
Much like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild before it, Super Mario Odyssey absolutely lives up to the hype and makes Nintendo Switch a must-have console. I lost count of the number of times the game made me smile, the times I had to show my partner something super cool I discovered or the conversations I’ve had with other gamers about hidden secrets that we helped each other discover on our individual adventures. Taking something so familiar and comforting and enhancing it in such a creative and fun way makes this not only the best Mario game I’ve ever experienced, but one of the best games I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing, period.