Super Mario series has been going strong for decades. In fact, it has been so popular, so critically acclaimed, that many people started seeing it as some kind of conspiracy. Oh, Mario gets good reviews just because he’s Mario, they say. Well, yeah. Because Mario is always good. It is a name synonymous with gaming and quality. It is something that hasn’t really changed during those turbulent times. Loot boxes, microtransactions, crippling DLC – nothing like that is here. Super Mario Odyssey is a classic Mario game in the best possible sense of the word.
2017 has been good to Nintendo. They released their successful new console and a couple of great games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Splatoon 2. But ever since the first announcement the world have been waiting to get their hands on Super Mario Odyssey. The newest and the most creative Mario game yet.
Back to the basics
At heart, Super Mario Odyssey is pretty much a standard Mario platformer. You control Mario, a hero of the Mushroom Kingdom and Nintendo’s most prized mascot. The previous game in the series was released not that long ago, but Super Mario Odyssey looks almost nothing like Super Mario 3D World. It’s not even a sequel to that game – no, the public, and Nintendo themselves, think of it as more of a direct sequel to the fabled Super Mario 64. That game, to that day considered as one of the best ever, can be called as revolutionary and innovative, as the original Doom. Fantastic controls in 3D space, the open world sandboxes and multiple secrets – it has the perfect formula for a Mario game, but Nintendo waited all this time to create a sequel. And the time is now.
But Super Mario Odyssey is not just a remake with upgraded visuals. Mario still has his usual movies like the ground pound, long jump, etc, but he also gets a new ability to control every enemy he sees. That becomes possible with the inclusion of Cappy – a new companion. Cappy, as the name suggests, is a sentient hat. He decides to help Mario after his sister gets kidnapped by Bowser alongside – of course – Peach.
Cappy is so important to the gameplay that it’s hard to believe that Nintendo will ditch him in later games. He completely changes the flow of the game, adding new important abilities to Mario’s arsenal. First, as I said, he CAPtures Mario’s enemies, allowing for full control. There are no more usual power ups like a Fire Flower. There’s no need for it since you get to control just about anyone! This completely changes the the game. Cappy motivates you to constantly experiment and explore. What enemy can be controlled? What can you do with that particular enemy? How far can you go?
Cappy doesn’t only change the way you fight enemies, but also the way you traverse. Usual long jumps and such are back, but with the help of Cappy Mario can also travel to distances, previously though impossible. That requires particular skill with the controller, but after a couple of tries I managed to make Mario do crazy things. The cap mechanic changes so much – and so successfully – that I can hardly imagine future games without it. It just works so good.
“Don’t fight the enemy – become the enemy” is a neat idea, if only a bit scary. Every enemy has a special skill. Usually enemies wear hats to indicate their vulnerability to capture. Some genuinely fear Mario, which is a bit unsettling.
Some things, though, don’t change a bit. The story in Super Mario Odyssey is very typical: Bowser once again decides to steal the princess, but now he wants to marry her as well. In order to do so, he hires the Broodals – rabbit-looking rascals known for their wedding planning skills – to steal the most desirable objects all over the world. Wedding ring here, wedding cake there. Bowser managed to harm the whole world, and it’s up to Mario to fix it.
While the premise is not amazing, you might want to get to the finish line. It will surprise you – that I guarantee.
What makes it special?
Nintendo has proven over and over again that it knows how to make a good platformer. But what separates Super Mario Odyssey from the other games? Firstly, its freedom.
Freedom is something that hasn’t been important for a long time. Super Mario 3D World was a linear endeavor with a very strict structure. Basically, you move from the beginning to the end. It reminded me a lot of 2D Mario games. It was great – there’s no doubt – but it was also very simple. Super Mario Galaxy before that was a lot more open, but its worlds were small and had a clear start and finish. Basically, you had to finish the level to win.
Only Super Mario 64 allowed players to choose their own adventure. Lots of worlds demanded exploration. It was a game with mysteries – some of them lingered for decades. Super Mario Odyssey revives this idea of open worlds. It’s, too, separated into different worlds, every one of them filled to the brim with moons – a source of energy in this game. Moons work a lot like starts in the previous games, except in Super Mario Odyssey there’s a lot more of them. Basically, Super Mario Odyssey is one big collectathon. The more moons you find and collect, the better.
Finding moons is actually easy. It’s nothing like stars in Super Mario 64. And after collecting a couple of them I felt the pang of disappointment – is this it? It seemed so easy. And then I looked at the full list of moons and it all became clear: I only found about 5% of all moons. Others are just not as obvious.
Moons are needed in order to visit new kingdoms. The worlds themselves are not that big, but they are very dense. They are also different – some even downright bizarre. One kingdom looks positively steampunk, other puts Mario into a realistic looking New York knockoff. After all these years I though I’ve seen it all. Boy was I wrong. Super Mario never ceases to surprise.
Moons are always the ultimate goal. They are literally everywhere – think koroks in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. But to 100% the worlds is hard work. You’ll never find them all on your own. And even if you find them, collecting them is not easy.
Super Mario Odyssey knows it’s hard and helps its players. Every world has a Toad who help finding moons in exchange for coins. You can also use Amiibo – any amiibo, even cards – to ask for help. Some amiibos even grant a little bonus: an item of clothes or even a special ability.
Nintendo have always been great at balancing their games, making them accessible to anyone. Even someone who is new to gaming will finish Super Mario Odyssey – no problem. There’s even an easy mode which helps to find your way in new worlds. But if you want to master it… well, that’s something completely different. The game has lots of tricks for you to learn.
Controlling in Super Mario Odyssey is a bit different. All tricks from the previous games work the same, but there’s also motion control involved. Yes, I can hear you groan, but even after all this time Nintendo just can’t let it go. Thankfully, motion control is completely unnecessary for finishing the game. If you want to 100% it, well, then prepare to wiggle those Joy-Cons like crazy. Some special moves require serious skill: for example, when you need to use Cappy as a trampoline midair.
I didn’t like the inclusion of motion controls one bit. It just makes little sense and feels like a gimmick. It makes some moons inaccessible in portable mode. Sure, there are some positives to it, like being able to auto aim with one motion of the hand. There are some tricks for the motion control, but most of them should have been mapped to buttons.
The previous game allowed for multiple players. It had wonderful cooperative gameplay, which I positively adored. Super Mario Odyssey returns us to a time when Mario was a solo endeavor… or so it seemed at first. In fact, there is a coop mode for two players. One player controls Mario, the other Cappy. It reminds me of Super Mario Galaxy 2. The coop is great, especially for the inexperienced.
There’s no denying the fact that Super Mario Odyssey looks great. It is by far the best-looking Mario game to date. It runs smoothly both in portable and docked mode. Probably the most beautiful game on the Switch as well.
I particularly enjoyed the presentation. Previously, Mario games lacked any kind of text, explaining its lore, but in Super Mario Odyssey we get more of that. Every kingdom has a special booklet, explaining to us the basics of the world. Players are treated like tourists, and the game overall has this “travelling” feel.
Another addition is the function of coins. Unlike most Mario 3D games, they don’t serve as hearts here. They are, in fact, money – weird, right? Surprisingly enough, one of the most successful Super Mario Odyssey inventions is the an in-game shop, which allows to accessorize and customize Mario. Tons of costumes – both silly and well-known from other games – are a great motivator to return to the game even after completing it. There are a lot of things to buy. And, imagine that in 2017, nothing can be bought for real money! That’s why we love Nintendo. Sometimes, staying in the past pays off.
Not only costumes are obtainable. You can also purchase souvenirs from different kingdoms to put in your ship. It’s all very cute.
By the way, there’s no game over in Super Mario Odyssey. You don’t lose lives and don’t need one ups. When Mario dies, you just lose some of his coins. The game is generous enough so you don’t feel pressure repeating harder levels. It’s a brave way of reinventing the game, and I really like it.
Stylistically, Super Mario Odyssey looks a lot like other Mario games, but there are sections when our hero loses one dimension and becomes completely flat. These are pixelated sections which look a lot like classic Super Mario Bros. A neat idea that is greatly executed.
If there’s one game that can finally make sceptics understand the beauty of Mario, it’s Super Mario Odyssey. If there’s one game that will force you to buy Nintendo Switch, it’s… well, you get the point.
In times of microtransactions, loot boxes and season passes Super Mario Odyssey seems like a mirage. They don’t make them like that anymore! While many big companies try to make us believe that games like that aren’t profitable and don’t interest the general public, Nintendo releases its fastest selling Mario game ever. A game which needs no DLC, no additional money to be fun.
Super Mario Odyssey is also a technological marvel, which shows all that can be expected from the Switch. I have no doubts that Super Mario Odyssey will become a game of the year. It’s a much needed reminder that games like that are important, and honesty and talent are better than any trickery of marketing. Strongly recommended.