I’m sure I’m not the only one who was counting down the days of October for the release of Nintendo’s new Mario game, Super Mario Odyssey. Having grown-up playing my way through every 3D iteration of Mario and loving every moment of it, I was eager to see the outcome of his latest adventure, particularly after Galaxy 2 had left me wanting for something new. Earlier this year Nintendo had shown they knew how to successfully innovate the Zelda series with Breath of the Wild, but now the question is whether they can pull off the same for Mario.
As ever, the story behind Mario’s latest escapade isn’t particularly unique or complex. In short, Bowser’s kidnapped Peach and Mario needs to rescue her. Bowser’s looking to marry Peach (again), only this time the plan involves a lot less mind control and seems to be all about making it a fancy enough occasion to merely woo Peach into submission. Mario is joined this time by a hat-shaped friend, known as Cappy, who provides Mario with the power to “capture” things and temporarily take control of them. Together, they chase Bowser and Peach across the globe on his wedding-planning scheme, attempting to right some wrongs along the way, as well as line his pockets in coins and moons.
The main story missions will push you through your adventure at quite a pace, rapidly unlocking the various Kingdoms that make up this world. You’ll also need to maintain a required minimum of the hidden Power Moons, the primary collectible in the vein of “Power Stars” and “Shines.” Doing so is kept simple thanks to how very numerous they are. All in all, you could find yourself getting through every kingdom and taking out the final boss in no time at all. However, this would largely be missing the point of the game.
As mentioned, the sheer number of hidden Power Moons is phenomenal – the landscape is dotted with them. Some of these are quite simple to get: on top of buildings, given to you by characters, or even literally just on the road in front you. Naturally, there are more complex ones too, where puzzles and hidden rooms will keep them from your reach for far longer. While I would say that none of these were ever overly complicated to locate, there were definitely a few that took a thorough sweeping of the area to discover.
When you then multiply this by the healthy number of different Kingdoms, you’ll find that the total adds up to quite the impressive number of Moons to gather. Along with all the “Kingdom-specific coins” used to purchase adornments for both Mario and his vessel, the Odyssey, there is plenty to locate over the course of your time with the game. If in need of direction, there are two ways to receive hints: either knowing the exact location of a Moon or just the name of it, as the names are no longer witty puns or jokes but in almost all cases plainly a physical description of its location. That said, if you shirk the use of these hints, the treasure hunt should keep you occupied for a while.
This overall design is absolutely perfect for the Switch, and I’ve really got to hand it to Nintendo for fully understanding their own console. While always fun for an extended session on the couch, the ease of collecting the simpler moons, paired with the game opting not to send you out of the level on every successful find like classic Mario, is ideal for the Switch’s portable mode. I found myself able to find anywhere from three to ten Power Moons during only my 15-minute break at work, making my time spent feel worthwhile. Even a three-minute wait for a bus could be enough time to get a quick moon.
The “capture” system deserves special mention, which manages to offer a unique mechanic for the game to function around while not completely overriding the core of Mario’s moveset, as both F.L.U.D.D. and the very concept of gravity do in Sunshine and Galaxy respectively. While Mario’s standard movement is spot-on to his classic style, augmented by a hat-throw here and a hat-jump there, the ability to capture a nearby enemy is frequently an option, changing your capabilities entirely when utilised. Some offer enhanced combat effectiveness, others not so much, but they all alter your perspective on how you tackle your environment.
This is absolutely pivotal to what kept the game so engaging to me. Most scenarios tended to have a “natural” approach, but this was rarely the best way to overcome the situation before you. Generally, there were multiple different ways of coming at it, especially when you considered the unique powers of nearby capturable foes. Learning how to cleverly make use of their abilities, while considering both their points of strength and natural limitations, would reveal alternate solutions – frequently more straightforward to execute, but required you to have worked out the possibility in the first place.
As you’d expect from a Mario game, the controls felt tight across the board including each and every form Mario could take. Every death felt very much like my misjudgement, rather than a punishment from my controller. The motion controls were well implemented, generally relegated to secondary moves from captures. However, if you were hoping to completely clear the game in portable mode, you’ll find yourself limited here. There’s no option to disable motion controls entirely, meaning some moves will require you to violently jerk your portable console to the side. Given that there are captures which put “attack” or other moves that are literally necessary to obtain specific moons onto the motion assignment, you’ll likely need to detach the controllers temporarily to feasibly pull off the feat.
The world itself is a delight to explore and full of vibrant colour and endlessly catchy music. Each kingdom feels unique from the get-go and has specific features that help make your navigation feel tailored to the zone. For example, certain captures only appear in some zones, meaning your primary method of movement and the style of platforming challenges will adjust to suit the region. The variation in size is very refreshing, with some zones being massive while others are far more contained. It’s difficult to burn out on a game when a quick ride to a new kingdom presents you with a sharp change in scale and accompanying scenery.
All that said, I couldn’t personally say the game is perfect as it let me down in one significant factor: difficulty. While a fun, beautiful and whimsical adventure, I almost never felt like I was really being tested anywhere near my limits. Even going into the “ultimate challenge,” as advertised in-game, I found I was able to clear it on my fourth attempt. As Odyssey is aimed at its “core audience,” I felt that more truly rigorous content could have been implemented.
You’ve likely heard the hype surrounding Super Mario Odyssey, and it’s almost entirely justified. The latest Mario game is essentially everything that’s fun about 3D platformers: diverse landscapes to explore, various methods of tackling the obstacles ahead of you, and plenty to find, all wrapped up in a well-presented package. While the ultimate result is a little lacking in the area of difficulty, I would still heartily recommend it to anyone who’s found enjoyment in the world of platforming previously, experienced or not.