With the Nintendo Switch riding high on the success and popularity of games like Breath of the Wild, Mario Kart 8 and Splatoon 2, and with the way that developers are starting to flock to the platform, all it’s missing is one more big hit to put the icing on the (wedding) cake. That game is Super Mario Odyssey and it’s the perfect way to cap off an already fantastic year for the console by making it even better.
The game starts suddenly with Mario on the receiving end of a punishing beatdown by Bowser before Peach is kidnapped yet again – yep, she’s the ever-reliable damsel in distress – and sets sail on a flying galleon to make good on his plans to wed the Mushroom Kingdom’s ruler. However, Peach isn’t the only one kidnapped in Bowser’s plans, as he’s also stolen a living tiara to be part of Peach’s wedding ensemble and plans to visit many of the kingdoms of this world, waging wars and stealing everything he needs to put on a wedding.
Luckily for Mario, Tiara’s has an older brother, Cappy, who’s eager to rescue his sister and the two make a great combo – Mario’s hat got torn to shreds anyway, so he was due a trip to a hat shop. Mario’s main moves since the start of the 3D era return and they feel as great as ever, from the iconic hop, skip and jump to the butt stomp and more recent like a fast roll. However, Cappy adds so much more on top of that, opening up a ton of new possibilities as Mario throws him around.
Cappy can be a thrown weapon, which is a fantastic inclusion for those who find the precision needed to jump on a Goomba’s head quite tricky, and can be thrown straight, can home in on enemies or be thrown in a spiralling attack around Mario. However, he can also be held in place and make an impromptu platform for Mario to bounce off, adding to the potential complexity and nuance that players can create for themselves in the platforming, with the ability to chain together leaps, throws and dives to get to otherwise unreachable areas.
If there’s one complaint here, it’s that the extended techniques now added are really fiddly to pull off and require a great degree of dexterity with your thumbs. Additionally, motion controls are thrown into the mix, and while there are button and stick-based parallels, things like Cappy’s spiral attack are much trickier to pull off with traditional controls compared to shaking the controller. On the other hand, between Cappy, Assist Mode and co-op play that lets a second player control Cappy independently, this is certainly the most accessible 3D Mario.
Of course, Cappy’s greatest trick is allowing Mario to possess or capture other creatures and objects, and it instills an inherent playfulness in how you approach the game. Nothing is safe from getting hit by a spinning sentient hat, from a kingdom’s denizens to enemies, manhole covers, electricity cables and so much more. So many of them can actually be captured as well, and there’s usually a very good reason to do so. Goomba’s feet don’t slip around on ice, Hammer Bros can jump high and chuck an endless flurry of hammers, there’s octopus enemies that live in bubbles of water and can propel themselves on jets of water, that T-Rex from the trailer is great for stomping around and smashing through blocks, and on and on and on. It’s endlessly creative and engaging.
The same is true of the many kingdoms that you visit, as Mario and Cappy hop into a patched up Odyssey airship and follow the trail of chaos left by Bowser and his gang of wedding planning lagomorphs, the Broodals. There is a shock to how this game breaks out of the established visual style that Mario games have had in the last few decades, and the game can vary quite dramatically from one kingdom to the next. There’s an oddly realistic take on New York with New Donk City, which clashes strongly with the Seaside Kingdom, or the Luncheon Kingdom’s freakishly pink and boiling hot seas and luridly colourful oversized vegetables. Yet after 30 second, it’s the last thing in your mind, as you rush off to explore.
Even though you land in each kingdom with it beset by chaos, looking to restore order and bag some Power Moons to power up the Odyssey, it’s still incredibly easy to get distracted and venture off the main path. Each world is filled with dozens of Power Moons to collect, wether you follow the main path and defeat the big boss, find them tucked away in corners of the world, trigger secret events and objectives, or play a number of mini-games. You can easily spend an hour exploring and finding all sorts of things, only to then look at the list and discover you’ve not even found half of the Moons in the area. It’s no wonder that there’s little clue boards that you might find, a clue-giving parrot that appears after beating the main area boss, and amiibo scanning will also give you hints.
That variety pays dividends as Mario and Cappy reach the final stretch of their journey. Even the game’s grand finale is filled with the same kinds of diversions that can be found in every other kingdom, while returning boss fights are given a new twist or simply made more challenging. It starts to feel like it’s outstaying its welcome, drawing out the time until you get to face off against Bowser, but if you think Nintendo had finally run out of ideas, you’d be sorely mistaken.
There’s a huge number of nods and winks to previous Mario games and even other Nintendo games. As a well publicised example, certain pipes can lead to playing in 2D, running and jumping along a wall in an homage to Mario’s origins, but that could just as easily be seen as a reference to The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds and the way that Link could become one with the walls. There are plenty of other examples of this throughout the game which, for the purposes of this review, we’ll avoid spoiling, but fans on Nintendo’s games will invariably end up with a smile on their face.
Plenty of other touches will put smiles on faces too, from the music to the sense of humour in some of the cutscenes, from the way that you can play dress up with Mario, mixing and matching from dozens of different outfits, to the exceptional photo mode that is always accessible by pressing down on the D-pad. Truth be told, it’s far from the most technically accomplished photo mode when compared to other games, but what it shows is just how detailed and refined every single frame of Mario’s animation is. It’s rare for video game characters to have such expressive faces in the normal run of play, and I can and have spent far too much time throwing Cappy and trying to freeze the game at just the right moment to capture the photo I want.
Super Mario Odyssey is bursting at the seams with creativity, as Nintendo play with new ideas while also paying homage to their long history. Cappy’s abilities are a perfect compliment to Mario’s own, and there’s a wonderful silliness and humour to their adventure as they visit a string of contrasting kingdoms that just beg you to find the secrets hidden around every corner. Simply put, Super Mario Odyssey is a masterpiece.