This review will be largely spoiler-free; none of the game’s big surprises will be revealed here.
It’s been over twenty years since Nintendo created the 3D platformer genre with Super Mario 64. In that time, they have released five 3D Mario games, each met with lots of praise; however, there was a growing trend of linearity with each new game, and fans were yearning for a return to a style more akin to 64 and Sunshine, with larger, explorable levels. That’s where Super Mario Odyssey comes in.
The plot this time around is a little more complex than your standard fare. Bowser has kidnapped Peach once again, yes, but this time, is trying to force her to marry him. Mario, and his new friend Cappy, must chase after Bowser (who is stealing different things from various kingdoms, such as cake, etc, for the wedding) through each kingdom, collecting Power Moons (this game’s equivalent to Power Stars/Shine Sprites) and defeating bosses along the way. Okay, so maybe not the most complex plot in the universe, but it serves its purpose well.
Traversing the kingdoms will be tough, so thankfully Mario has plenty of moves, both old and new, to get the job done. You have your classic jump, your triple jump, somersault, backflip, dive, long jump, spin jump… you get the idea. Jumps for days. You have new moves too, like the roll, which allows Mario to go full Sonic, rolling into ball, allowing him to quickly go down hills. And that’s before even getting into all the things you can do with Cappy. Basically, Cappy is a weird hat ghost thing that takes the form of Mario’s hat. You can throw Cappy to interact with objects in the environment, fight smaller enemies, get a small boost and quickly change directions mid-air, and of course, capture things.
Capturing is the main gimmick of Super Mario Odyssey, a mechanic that allows the player to possess different NPCs to unlock different abilities. It feels like a very natural addition to Mario’s moveset, much like FLUDD and the Spin before it, but it doesn’t come without its problems. For one, the game does a bad job of making it clear what you can and cannot possess. Friendly NPCs are almost always unable to be captured, which is denoted by them wearing a hat; all fine and dandy, except for the fact that lots of enemies wear hats that you can simply knock off to take control. Those hat-wearing enemies don’t even serve a purpose; you can throw your hat again so quickly that they add nothing other than the minor annoyance of your time being wasted. This is ultimately a minor complaint, but the game should still be much clearer.
Capturing also leads to another problem I have with the game: the lack of traditional platforming challenges. Mario feels amazing to control in this game, so why is it that I have to not be controlling him half the time? The critical path in most kingdoms revolves around the introduction of a capture ability (a Bullet Bill, for instance), introducing new concepts with that ability (blowing things up with it), and finally, testing everything you’ve learned about the ability in a final challenge and a boss fight. This is very similar to the formula used by the Super Mario Galaxy games, and it works quite well, except for the fact that it limits both the amount of traditional platforming challenge, and the amount of challenge in general. As each concept only gets so much use, none of them ever get the opportunity to really be challenging, and as the game is in a sandbox style, it can never really expand upon them with further challenge, as incrementally increasing the challenge of them is impossible when you can just skip over the incremental steps.
So, what are you doing in this sandbox in the first place? Well, let me lay it out for you: Odyssey’s Power Moons are strewn about each kingdom in a manner not dissimilar to Breath of the Wild’s shrines. You’re simply plopped into each kingdom and asked to find them; no mission select screen here. You can gain the names of each Moon, which provide hints, similar to Super Mario 64/Sunshine’s mission names, by talking to a bird named Talkatoo, along with talking to a Toad who will mark a Moon location on your map for 50 coins. These actually don’t end up feeling too hand hold-y at all, and you’ll often find yourself relying on them throughout your journey, as Nintendo decided to make some Moons far too cryptic. There’s one example in the Sand Kingdom, where you have to possess a cactus… …which looks identical to every other cactus. Without the location and name of the Moon, I never would’ve figured it out. That’s just one example of the occasionally cryptic nature of Odyssey’s Moons. In terms of length, Moons that are on the critical path (called Multi-Moons as they provide you with 3 Moons) tend to be the longest, generally having a boss fight or some sort of big setpiece at the end. Said bosses range from cool and memorable to being basically nothing. I’d liken each Multi-Moon to the length of a Super Mario Galaxy level. Some are shorter, disconnected challenges that test specific skills. A few are reminiscent of Sunshine’s FLUDDless missions, except without Cappy instead of FLUDD. Many are far shorter, however, and only consist of a few text boxes, or even just walking into them while they’re pretty much in the open. Remember the Chain Chomp star in 64? Think that, but maybe even less involved. It’s not really a problem though, as with 999 total Moons, some padding is expected.
Odyssey’s progression is gated by the aforementioned Multi-Moons, which is one big problem I have with the game. In, say, Super Mario 64, you have tons of options when it comes to progressing through the game differently. Other levels are gated only by how many Stars you have, so you can play through the game in a lot of different orders; you don’t even have to visit every level. 64’s progression is beautiful, so it’s a wonder why every 3D Mario game since has been a step back. Odyssey is not the worst offender of the bunch, but having to go through all the levels in more or less the same order each playthrough will hurt the game’s replay value, though the game’s solid postgame content helps with that.
Graphically, Odyssey looks great. Every Kingdom is full of vibrant colors and lots of little details that make it look great altogether. While it doesn’t hit 1080p docked, it runs consistently; I only experienced occasional minor dips in portions with a lot of Bullet Bills, oddly enough. One complaint I do have about the aesthetics is how barren the HUD is; it’s bland white text with no character at all, and it really stands out compared to its predecessors, in a bad way. In terms of sound, Odyssey is also a treat. I wouldn’t say it quite matches the soundtrack to either Galaxy game, but those are very, very big shoes to fill. I’d say it’s at least on par with 64 and Sunshine, though I doubt it’s soundtrack will ever be as iconic as either of those games. It also has a better vocal theme than Sonic has ever had; no offense to “Live ‘n’ Learn” of course.
Overall, Super Mario Odyssey is a fantastic game, and certainly a reason to own a Switch if you don’t already. Playing it is often just pure delight, and the fact that I didn’t say that much in the review is proof of that; it’s really hard to say much about a game that’s just so solid. It doesn’t really break new ground, but it’s another fantastic addition to the 3D Mario pantheon and the Nintendo Switch’s library.
- Great graphics and sound
- Memorable levels with lots of things to do in them
- It’s a Mario game, come on.
- Difficulty is fairly low
- Pretty short unless you spend time trying to find Moons
- Limited replay value