Mario is back, with a triumphant return to the 3D sandbox style first seen in Mario 64 and Sunshine, blending together both old and new elements from Mr. Nintendo’s history to create an imaginative, inspired, incredibly fun masterpiece - Super Mario Odyssey.
Jumpin' All Over The World
Bad news! Bowser has kidnapped Princess Peach yet again and is preparing for their wedding by hiring “The Broodals” to steal treasures from around the world. Mario must go on another epic adventure to save the damsel-in-distress by teaming up with his new ghostly hat friend, Cappy, who also must save his sister, Tiara (which Peach is currently wearing).
Visually, the world of Super Mario Odyssey is so beautiful and imaginative that it makes this simple story all the more memorable. It truly feels like a globe-trotting adventure because every "kingdom”, even ones with biomes from old Mario games, are created in a way that’s inspired by the real world (for example, Sand Kingdom is Mexico-themed), while still leaving room for creativity, like with the delicious Luncheon Kingdom. But it doesn't stop there. Each area having its specific NPCs with fun personalities and dialogue, Mario reacting to the temperature of hot or cold worlds, and clever attention to detail like the world maps being brochures: all these really add to the adventure aspect and make this world feel lived-in.
The best of the bunch is the New York-inspired Metro Kingdom, cleverly named “New Donk City”. It has architecture authentic to the real-life city, human NPCs that are so inexplicably realistic compared to Mario, and countless references to Donkey Kong. All of this culminates in the magical “New Donk City Festival”, a wonderful love letter to Mario’s history, right down to the Broadway-themed musical number “Jump Up Super Star” (sung by Pauline, the damsel-in-distress from the original Donkey Kong)!
Speaking of music, the whole soundtrack in general is phenomenal. From quirky arrangements of classic tunes to refreshingly original music in a Mario Galaxy-esque orchestral score, each track is instantly memorable and gives the player a sense of wonder and adventure.
Throwing Your Hat In The Ring
Super Mario Odyssey is a return to the 3D sandbox platforming gameplay of Super Mario 64 and Sunshine, but a whole new evolution. Aside from a couple of small arena-based stages, most of their level designs are more open than they’ve ever been, and while it’s ideal to take the intended pathway, it’s just as rewarding to find alternate pathways using Mario’s many abilities. Overall, the level design is one of the game’s strongest aspects as it’s open for anyone of any skill level to play the game in their own way.
This game implements Mario’s new ability to throw his hat (currently possessed by Cappy) by enabling him to attack enemies or jump off his hat to make platforming a little easier. However, the game goes above and beyond with the “Capture” mechanic, which allows Mario to possess any object, person, or enemy that isn’t wearing a hat, expanding his skillset and helping him overcome various creative platforming challenges and bosses. For example, you can destroy giant rocks as a realistic T-Rex, or stretch upwards as an “Uproot”, or even blast enemies as a tank—the possibilities are endless! The only issue is that playing on handheld limits the potential for Cappy’s motion control moves, but this is of little importance as the Capture mechanic still works as intended and actions can still be performed without motion controls.
However, the best part of this 3D Mario gameplay is Mario himself. This is the best he’s ever controlled in 3D. He has just the right running speed and weight that’s easy for first timers to get the hang of, but it’s so much fun for experts to build their momentum and perform tricky actions to reach heights they’d never expect. Whether it’s performing Mario’s famous triple jump and long jump, or travelling faster with the power of rolling, Mario has more tricks up his sleeve than he ever did before. Heck, there’s even times where you play as an NES Mario in cute 2D sections inside walls after going in an 8-bit pipe, so that’s nostalgia done right!
The game’s main story has a comfortable level of difficulty without being too easy or hard, and since Mario now has infinite lives, dying has no consequences outside of losing 10 coins, which makes this game suitable for newcomers as well. However, there are plenty of optional challenges during and after the adventure that are extra rewarding to beat!
Reach For The Moons
Previous 3D Mario games had you collecting multiple Power Stars and using them to unlock levels and progress the story. In this game, Mario must travel the world by powering up his ship, The Odyssey, using Power Moons scattered around each kingdom. Just like in Super Mario 64, Power Moons are obtained by completing platforming challenges, finding them in hidden areas, and beating bosses, all of which can be done in any order the player wants.
However, since the levels are bigger than before, collecting Power Moons doesn’t boot you out of the stage like in Mario 64, and you can take all the time in the world to grab as many as you can. The story progression isn’t difficult since it doesn’t take that many Power Moons to power The Odyssey. However, the overall total of Power Moons in the game is massive, and while it may sound overwhelming at first, it’s definitely a good reason to come back to the game even after the main adventure is finished.
Additionally, Mario can collect gold coins and purple coins and they can be spent in Crazy Cap shops seen throughout the world for various objects and cosmetics. Gold Coins can also be given to the Hint Toad to help players find the locations of more Power Moons. Purple coins are used to buy kingdom-specific costumes for Mario to wear and souvenirs to decorate the inside and outside of The Odyssey. Every costume for Mario to wear is wonderfully designed and makes plenty of visual references to various Mario games of the past.
The Adventure Continues
An adventure this grand is perfect for a friend to join in with. Considering the game is designed to be single player, the multiplayer implementation is surprisingly strong. The second player gets to control Cappy and go anywhere they like, while also helping Player 1 on their adventure by giving them an extra jump to make platforming challenges easier, or by defeating multiple enemies around them or even capturing objects for Player 1. However, I’d still recommend playing this game alone if you want more of a challenge.
The Amiibo functionality has a great range and variety in this game and makes it even more accessible for newcomers. Firstly, scanning one after talking to a robot called “Uncle Amiibo” will reveal the location of Power Moons after a short time, making it an easier alternative to find some of the better-hidden Power Moons. Also, scanning the Super Mario Odyssey Amiibo not only gives you wedding-themed costumes to prepare you for Bowser’s big day, but repeated use during gameplay gives you power-ups to help you beat difficult challenges (e.g., Wedding Mario gives you invincibility).
Finishing the main story of Super Mario Odyssey unlocks a fun online minigame called “Luigi’s Balloon World”, starring Mario’s taller, timider brother. In this 30-second mode, the player can choose to either hide their balloon in any kingdom they’re in, or search for balloons placed by players from around the world. This mode even has a ranking system based on collected coins and balloon-popping streaks that encourages replayability. Overall, it’s a neat little side-track from the main game.
For those who love taking photos, Mario Odyssey even has a Photo Mode with advanced camera movement features and lots of creative filters such as black and white, pixelated, and even kaleidoscope: the perfect feature for capturing countless memories of the adventure!
With its imaginative world and endlessly replayable gameplay, and with a high skill ceiling and a ton of substantial content, Super Mario Odyssey blows expectations out of the water as another unforgettable entry in the portly plumber’s catalogue. Whether you’re a long-time fan of Nintendo games or a newcomer who just bought a Switch and can’t decide which game to get first, definitely pick this one up: it’s easily one of the best Mario games of all time.